ELCA Endorsement Essay Background
I’m currently going through the ELCA candidacy process to become a rostered leader in the church. The first step in candidacy is entrance, which includes an interview with a synodical candidacy committee, a psychological evaluation, and an entrance essay.
Click here to read my candidacy entrance essay and learn much more about me!
After entrance into the candidacy process and one year of seminary, candidates complete a unit of clinical pastoral education (CPE), which is basically an internship as a chaplain. My CPE placement was at the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota.
A second year of seminary follows CPE, then the next step is internship in an ELCA church. However, before beginning internship, candidates must be endorsed by their candidacy committee. That process involves another interview with representatives from the committee and the seminary faculty, and a lengthy endorsement essay. I was indeed endorsed for internship, and I will be starting at St Peter Lutheran Church here in Dubuque in July.
Unlike the entrance essay which was primarily autobiographical, the endorsement essay has three prompts, so I’ve divided it into three separate posts. This was written at the beginning of my second year as a Master of Divinity student at Wartburg Theological Seminary, right after completing CPE.
Endorsement Essay Part 1
Prompt 1: Call to Ministry (2011-2013):
Reflect theologically on your vocation as it is grounded in baptism, in contexts such as family, confirmation, friendships, work settings, school and community.
State your understanding of the church’s leadership needs and the contribution of the form of ministry in which you seek to serve: ordained, consecrated, or commissioned. What gifts will enable you to serve in this particular ministry? What challenges or excites you about your sense of call?
God gives the gift of ministry to the whole church. What does that mean to you? What is your relationship with others in the church?
This first year of seminary has been a time of tremendous growth for me in my understanding of my vocation and call to ministry. Being in seminary in an intentional community of people focused on continually discerning where God is calling them to be has helped me to consider my own sense of calling and my role in ministry as an ordained leader.
My clinical pastoral education (CPE) experience this summer has also helped me to grow in my own sense of pastoral identity, both in figuring out what it means to be “pastoral” and in being able to see myself in the office of ministry.
Particularly during my recently completed spring semester, I have pondered the meaning of being “ordained.” Through both my introductory homiletics class and my introduction to Christian worship class, I have come to new understandings of what ordination means to me in the context of the Lutheran tradition.
Theologically, as a Lutheran, I resonate with Martin Luther’s idea of the priesthood of all believers. I believe this doctrine is a central contribution of the Lutheran tradition. As the ELCA Constitution says, “This church affirms the universal priesthood of all its baptized members.” (ELCA Constitution 2011, 7.10)
And yet, although we hold to a priesthood of all believers, we continue the practice of ordaining specific women and men as pastors. Ordination still has a specific meaning.
In Luther’s medieval context, the priest served a distinct, vital role in the church as the one who represented God, set apart to act as a holy intermediary between God and the people. He was the only one who could offer the sacrifice of the mass. Luther, of course, rejected the idea that becoming a priest made one more holy, since if that was true, then becoming a priest was a good work that could bring one closer to God through one’s own power.
For Luther, being a priest was simply a specific calling, one form of ministry, one vocation among many. He writes in The Pagan Servitude of the Church, “I quite fail to see the reason why a man, who has once become a priest, cannot again become a layman, since he only differs from the laity by his ministry.” (Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings, ed. John Dillenberger, pg. 350) I understand my call at this time in my life to be towards the specific vocation of professional parish ministry in the Lutheran church, but I know that God could call me into other roles in the future, and I think discerning vocation is a lifelong process.
When Luther rejected the medieval interpretation of the mass as a sacrifice, he redefined the role of the priest to the role of a pastor. The role of an ordained pastor today is to minister in Word and Sacrament to God’s people, not to offer sacrifices on behalf of the people, or to serve as a unique intercessor providing access to God.
Luther argues that when the Spirit of God comes and indwells the Christian in baptism, all who are baptized are ordained in the sense of being commissioned by God to act as priests, given direct access to God through Jesus.
“Now we, who have been baptized, are all uniformly priests in virtue of that very fact. The only addition received by the priests is the office of preaching, and even this with our consent.” – Martin Luther in The Pagan Servitude of the Church (1520)
And yet, even with all of this in mind, Luther did not abolish ordination into the office of pastor. Just as in any other vocation, there is something unique about this vocation. Although all are called to worship, prayer, and being ready to give “an accounting for the hope that is in you,”1 not all Christians are specifically called toward the public ministry of proclaiming and teaching the Gospel.
Although I may not be the greatest speaker, the most comforting presence, or the most well-read, persuasive teacher around, I do think that I am being called by God through the church into this public ministry, equipped and sustained by the Holy Spirit and shaped by my seminary education and experiences.
A helpful example for me in seminary has been Barbara Brown Taylor’s image of ordination. In The Preaching Life, a book I read for my introductory homiletics class, she writes that the chief difference between the ordained and the baptized is that the ordained consent to be visible in a way the baptized do not.2
The ordained pastor is not someone with special powers or abilities, but someone called from within the church into a role of public leadership and servanthood.
Similarly, Thomas Long writes in The Witness of Preaching,
“The authority of the preacher, then, is the authority of ordination, the authority of being identified by the faithful community as the one called to preach and as the one who has been prayerfully set apart for this ministry, the authority that comes from being ‘sworn in’ as a witness.”3
Although to be a pastor in the Lutheran tradition involves receiving a significant level of education that ought to be helpful in ministry leadership, the pastor is not any wiser or more gifted than others in the congregation. She or he is simply the one charged, ordained with the responsibility for leadership. Long writes,
“To call the preacher an authority does not mean that the preacher is wiser than others. What it does mean is that the preacher is the one whom the congregation sends on their behalf, week after week, to the Scripture.”4
As Luther put it in To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation,
“Therefore, when a bishop consecrates, it is nothing else than that in the place and stead of the whole community, all of whom have like power, he takes a person and charges him to exercise this power on behalf of the others.”5
Yes, in our Lutheran system the pastor comes from outside of an individual congregation into the congregation as a leader, but it is the congregation who calls the pastor. Symbolically, the pastor is coming from within the assembly of believers like any other member. The church calls a pastor to a specific vocational position.
Public ministry means leading a church in the sense of accepting responsibility for making sure the church’s “business” of proclaiming the Word and celebrating the sacraments gets accomplished through conducting public worship. It means providing pastoral care, “speaking publicly to the world in solidarity with the poor and oppressed,” and “witnessing to the Kingdom of God.” (ELCA Constitution, 7.31.12.) It does not at all mean that the pastor is the only one with a message to proclaim, or that the pastor ought to do all the work of the church. Rather, the pastor is a servant leader who must enable others to lead.
A significant part of my discernment process in recognizing my own call to ministry has come through being empowered to lead. I grew up in the church and I don’t have a specific “conversion experience” that I can point to, but I can recognize the time in my life when my faith became real to me.
When I was in middle school, I participated in the Alpha Course, a course my church put on intended to serve as a basic introduction to the Christian faith. The course was targeted to adults, but some of my friends and I went through it, and I was given the opportunity to serve as a small group leader for other youth participating in the course in future sessions. Being empowered by my leaders engaged me in both my personal faith and in the ministry taking place in the church.
Similarly, being trusted and empowered to have responsibility for running the projector during worship as a youth helped me to become much more engaged in worship, enabling me to get more involved in leadership roles in College Ministries during my time in college.
As a pastor in the church, I see a key part of my calling as enabling others in ministry. The church is a body with many members. The pastor ought not and cannot do it all. I know myself well enough to be grateful for this understanding of the pastor’s role. There are areas of ministry that I am very gifted and skilled in, such as organization, engaging others through technology, praying with people, and writing sermons. There are also aspects of ministry that are more challenging growth areas for me, such as engaging people I don’t know in small talk (as I worked on this summer in CPE), leading musical liturgy, remembering names and faces, and working with young children.
But I don’t believe I can or ought to be gifted in every area of ministry, as nice as that might be. As the called, professional leader of a congregation, the pastor is responsible for leading the church in proclamation and mission, but much of that is done as a servant by empowering others to use the gifts God has given them for ministry.
As I look at my call to ministry, I continue to be excited at the opportunity to walk with other children of God through their different life stages. I believe that God, as our Creator, gives ultimate meaning and purpose to our lives, and if God can use me in the church to help people recognize the good news of the Gospel, I am excited for my words and hands to be a part of God’s work.
- 1 Peter 3:15 ↩
- Taylor, Barbara Brown. The Preaching Life. (Boston: Cowley Publications, 1993), 30. ↩
- Long, Thomas. The Witness of Preaching. (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2005), 48. ↩
- Long, Thomas. The Witness of Preaching. (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2005), 48. ↩
- Luther, Martin. To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate (1520) in A Reformation Reader: Primary Texts with Introductions, ed. Denis Janz (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1999), 91. ↩