An Update on Call Processes in the Texas Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod

Oct 26, 2022

By Tracey Breashears Schultz, Bishop’s Associate for Leadership

St John’s-Waller Call Committee

In December 2021, I wrote an article about call processes in our synod which was published as part of the January 2022 Connections. At that time, we were just beginning to see the effects of the pandemic. I made a number of comments in that article that I still stand by: We do not know when God will stir the heart of a pastor to consider a new call. Call committees can’t know how many people they will interview before finding a match. We cannot know how long the process, from forming the call committee to installing a new pastor, will take. We like to try to predict these things or to put a timeline on them, and although that may be a comfort to us, it’s not particularly helpful in this moment.

During the height of the pandemic, pastors who had once made themselves available for call took their paperwork down and decided to see their congregations through all there was to navigate. Since then, some have made themselves available for call, but others are still committed to staying where they are and leading through change. Additionally, some pastors have decided to retire. Some of those retirements were planned, but others have come about unexpectedly and after a period of discernment. Those retirements mean fewer pastors in the pool of those available for call. Plus, some pastors, in need of rest and restoration, perhaps even pondering whether they are still called to serve the church, have gone on leave from call. This means they have left their current ministry but have not made themselves available for another one just yet.

All of this adds up to fewer pastors available for those congregations awaiting names. When I last checked, there were, in total, 380 pastors available for call—those who have completed their profiles and are actively seeking new congregations or ministries. This number is the lowest I have seen it since I started in my call (March 2019). If each of the 65 synods has about the same number of open calls as we do, then the math works out to about 1 pastor for every 4 calls. This is not hopeless, but it is new, and none of us can predict how long these present circumstances will last.

At the time of this article, there are seventeen congregations in the call process in our synod. Of these, three call committees are interviewing potential pastors. Six call committees are awaiting names so they can begin interviews. As the call process administrator for our synod, I feel a great sense of responsibility for matching potential pastors with these call committees so they can meet one another and see whether they’re called to ministry together. One of my delights in this work is getting to present profiles to a call committee and then seeing what God may do! The problem is: none of this is happening quickly. I am finding, on average, that when I invite a pastor to consider a call in our synod, they are being approached by 4-5 synods at a time. (They will often ask me to give them a couple weeks to see if one of the interview processes they are already in results in a call, or if they can come back to me.)

I presented this reality about call processes recently during an adult forum for one of our congregations in transition, and I was asked a question, a couple of times: “Ok, but what are you doing about it?” In conversation with the bishop, I am doing more new things and bending rules more often than I am usually comfortable with, if I am honest, ☺ but I trust these changes are Spirit-led and for the good of the church:

  • In the past, we have had a rule that interim pastors cannot be considered for the settled call at the church they are serving. We have been more flexible about this of late, but always in consultation with call committees and church councils.
  • We prefer to have ordained ministers in interim positions, and ideally, we like to place intentionally-trained interim pastors in congregations in transition. Lately, we have invited candidates for ministry who are seminary-trained and in good standing with the candidacy committee, to serve in interim roles. We’ve done this in three situations in our synod in the last six months, and the results, in all three, are stellar. We are coming alongside these students with additional training and supervisor-mentors.
  • It is our practice to go first to the national database, to those who have made themselves available for call in the ELCA, and to read profiles to see whether a pastor’s gifts match the needs of congregations in our synod. This is still our first and most common practice, but it is not enough. Additionally, we are inviting pastors from within our synod to consider calls, even those whose paperwork is not currently active. Sometimes, we find pastors enjoy being invited to processes but are clear they want to remain where they are. Other times, this invitation opens up a time of discernment and wondering that seems very much like God’s timing. Moving a pastor from one church to another creates a new call process, but we would not want to stand in the way if the Spirit is indeed at work.
  • Additionally, it is a time to consider clergy couples, or spouses who are both ordained. This works well in a case where calls are close enough together that they each have about a 30-minute drive to their churches. The tricky thing about this is: if a call process falls through for one spouse, then the other spouse is likely to take their name out of the process they were considering. I can see it working in a few cases, though, and really well!

I continue to have a great deal of respect for call committee members – these servant leaders volunteer to help their congregations, not knowing what the outcome of their work or what the time commitment will be. I know it is an anxious time to serve in this role because there are so many unknowns, but the call committees with which I work are modeling faithfulness and trust, and I join them in gratitude for what God is doing, especially in times of transition.