Let’s get the basics out of the way. I am the wife of a man who is studying to become a pastor. My husband, Joel, is entering the final stretch of his second year in the master of divinity program at Concordia Seminary. We’re currently waiting for the next step in this seminary process, which is the placement service for vicar and deaconess internships. Anyone who has been through this knows the agony of the wait. It feels so different from any move I’ve made before. I’d like to invite you into an understanding of how we are feeling and ask you to pray for the students and their families during their formation for pastoral ministry.
How It Works
Some people may not be familiar with the process for vicarage placement (and the similar one for a first call) in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. When you go into one of our seminaries, you go in knowing that it is very likely (unless personal or academic reasons bar you from moving at the usual pace) that you will spend your third year (of four total years) on vicarage. Similar to a year of interning or student teaching, vicarage is a chance for the seminary student to gain practical skills under the guidance of a healthy church and established pastor.
At the beginning of your second year, you start learning and preparing for your year away from the seminary campus. And then you interview. Your interview (which also involves your fiancée or spouse) consists of questions related to your experiences in church, your preferences for where you’d like to spend vicarage (think: Do you want a large city or rural community? What aspect of ministry would you like to spend the most time learning from?), and any special requests or needs. And if you’re like my husband and me, you leave with just as few clues about where you’re heading as you came in with.
On Call/Placement Day, like medical school Match Day, each member of the placement class discovers where he or she is headed, and then the true planning and preparation begins.
Why It’s Hard
Currently, we cannot plan at all for our post-semester lives. Although we know a big move is coming (we’re saving all the large, sturdy Amazon boxes in preparation), we don’t know where we’re going. We don’t know what size our new place will be, how much we’ll actually be able to bring with us, or what really comes next. Sure, we have some summer plans, but until our placement service, none of those can truly be solidified. But it’s more than planning. When you move and transition into a new stage in life, there’s an emotional aspect. Even though we know we will return to the seminary for a final year, it is still an emotional process to leave behind the connections and routine we’ve created here.
Additionally, it’s difficult to mitigate those sad feelings about a move without knowing where you’re headed. I was talking to a fellow almost-vicar’s wife the other day. We were talking about how the closer placement and vicarage gets, the more stressful it feels. She said to me, “It’s hard to be excited when you can’t get your hopes up about a specific place or even feel.” You want to be excited about finding out where you are headed, but what if you don’t end up in a place you were excited about? How do you get excited about being at a church that possibly has an awesome school attached without setting yourself up to be disappointed when it doesn’t have that? It’s a tension that vicars and wives waiting for their placement or first call sit in currently.
Sent to Serve
In our denomination, there is a pastoral shortage. Most people think that seems backward since a lot of churches aren’t retaining or gaining members. How can there be a shortage when church growth is stunted? But that’s the reality we live in. There are many congregations that are seeking a shepherd for their flock. Although I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous for my husband to enter the ministry, I recognize how needed and necessary his entry into this vocation is. Vicarage is a great way to understand what pressures and challenges lie ahead while being offered support from both the seminary community and your vicarage church. I am sure those awaiting their first call are feeling excited, nervous, and ready to know where they will be sent to serve.
Being sent on vicarage or your first divine call is an exciting adventure. Especially once you know where you are going. Please join me in praying for our seminarians and their families at both Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, as they await news of where they will spend the next year serving the Lord.
The favorite gift for a Seminarian, Vicar, and Pastor.