Call Day is one of the high holidays in the life of many LCMS pastors and their families. The months leading up to Call Day are some of the most stressful and exciting and infuriating one can imagine. The game of trying to guess where one might be called is entirely futile, and yet, it can’t be avoided. Soon-to-be pastors and their families are just so excited for the next chapter of their lives to be revealed that it is all they can talk about for months. The time leading up to Call Day is a time of preparation and hope amid chaos. It’s almost as though the season before Call Day is Advent, and Call Day itself is Christmas.
A Normal Call Day
In previous years, this pre-Call-Day season was experienced in community—in person. I recall just two years ago as I went through this season myself how nearly every conversation before and after every class was spent dissecting how interviews went with specific congregations and trying to decode veiled comments the placement director made. I know I wasn’t alone when I began to wonder if casting lots would serve as a less stressful, entirely legitimate system for Call Day.
Oh, but then the day finally comes. Families must arrive an hour early just to find a seat in the chapel. Everyone sits through the longest service of their lives. There’s a sermon that’s probably very good, but the candidates can’t focus on it no matter how hard they try. And then finally, the moment comes. Names are called. Churches are assigned. Giant envelopes are distributed that hold the secret information everybody has been longing to know for months. Some amazing pastors, professors, and presidents stand in line to congratulate each candidate. Of course, there is a bittersweetness to being scattered across the globe, but mostly it is a time of celebration with friends and family and classmates, and everyone can’t wait to get started.
A Quarantined 2020 Call Day
Call Day 2020, however, is going to be experienced quite differently. Due to the COVID-19 virus, the class of 2020 at both Concordia Seminary in St. Louis and Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne have been meeting remotely for classes for several weeks. The community experience leading up to Call Day is likewise remote and distant. Call Day itself will not have the usual crowds. This service, like thousands of others across the globe, will be happening via livestream. There will still be waiting and nerves and a thousand questions leading up to the day. There will still be joy at the wait finally being over, but it just won’t be the same. Like so many other things we are experiencing in this time, Call Day 2020 will be muted, subdued, and different.
The process for these candidates beginning their ministries will be far different as well. It’s uncertain when large gatherings of people will be allowed again, but it is likely that many ordinations and installations in 2020 will be small, in-person gatherings. These newly called pastors will likely not meet all of their parishioners face-to-face for several months. These new pastors will, in all likelihood, need to begin caring for their people from a distance. Their first sermons may be livestreamed. Their first hospital visits may be prevented. Their first visit to the bedside of a dying saint may have to be done via Zoom. The first months of pastoring for the class of 2020 may be very challenging indeed.
Christ Is with the Class of 2020
And yet, despite the challenges, Christ remains faithful to His Church. Despite the uncertainty that surrounds us, God’s Word and His Sacraments remain certain. Despite the difficulties ahead, the class of 2020 will be called and sent. They will answer their calls, not knowing what lies ahead but certain that their Lord Jesus is leading them. To each candidate receiving a call in the coming days, remember what Luther himself writes: “I know not the way God leads me, but well do I know my Guide.” The lost will be sought. The seeds of the Gospel will be planted, and God will provide the growth.
And since I probably won’t be able to attend any ordinations or installations in 2020, I offer this word of encouragement to the class of 2020 from St. Paul: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). Your labor is not in vain, dear brothers, for God’s Word never returns empty.
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