Starting Over – Call Night

People “start over” many times in life – some more than others. I remember feeling like getting a new start when I graduated my K-8th grade school and started high school. Likewise, I felt I had a new beginning when I graduated high school and moved into a dorm at a university, away from home for the first time. Getting married was another fresh start.

We’ve been married for 5 years. We moved from our parents’ homes to our new apartment in Ann Arbor, Michigan after we were married. I finished my 5th and last year of college, and then we moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana so my husband could join seminary for graduate school. A year later, we switched apartment units within the city due to crime. Then my husband was assigned a one-year internship (called a vicarage) in Moline, Illinois. We moved back to FW for my husband’s final year of seminary when I was 31 weeks pregnant. We have moved five times in five years. Our 6th anniversary is coming up this summer, and we will be moving our 6th time this summer. (Hopefully, we’ll be done moving for a long time after that!)

The scary part of this is, I don’t know where we are going. In the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, the seminary decides where a pastor gets his first Call.

A Call is basically an offer to work as a pastor at a church.  A pastor will think about the Call, pray over it, and perhaps even visit the church and city. Whether or not a pastor accepts the Call depends on how he feels God is leading him. It is a very faith-based process.

For a graduating seminarian going out to his first church, the Call process is a bit different. The placement director interviews each seminarian and his family. He works with churches who have requested a pastor fresh from seminary. He prays about the decisions he has to make. Some churches interview pastors and have a say in who they Call; others simply leave it up to God.

During the placement interview, a seminarian can make requests. One request we made was to be within 8 hours driving distance of either my parents or my husband’s parents. However, there are no promises, no guarantees. The seminarian and his family could end up literally anywhere in the country, and if he has given permission to leave the country, he could potentially end up anywhere in the world accepting LCMS pastors.

A seminarian can also request certain aspects about a church. Perhaps he would like to be the sole, senior pastor, but perhaps he would rather be an assistant pastor. He may feel better suited to have a sole parish (work at one church) or maybe he feels called to work in a multi-parish setting (working at two or more churches). He may be passionate about contemporary worship, or he may feel more comfortable with traditional worship. Perhaps he enjoys working in a rural setting, or maybe he feels God leading him to work in an inner city church. All these things are discussed in the interview, but again, nothing is promised.

Some churches offer housing as part of the salary. The house is called a parsonage. The parsonage is owned by the church. Sometimes it is on the church property or next to it. Other times, it is more of a commute. Other churches offer a housing allowance as part of the salary, which the pastor can use to buy his own home. Again, the seminarian does not get to pick.

On Call Night (also called Placement Night), the seminarians and their wives go to the chapel to worship and also find out where they are placed. Before this service, they do not know where they are going to live. The seminarians sit up front in alphabetical order. The seminary wives sit with friends (or if they are lucky, any family who traveled to town). Some families bring their children, believing it is a family affair. Others leave their children at home with a babysitter because they are worried about all the emotion and crowding being scary for their kids.

The church service then begins. Hymns are sung, and a sermon is preached. Finally, the seminarians are called up one-by-one. Their name is announced, and then the city, state, church name, and district. They shake hands and smile (much like a graduation ceremony) and then sit down.  After each seminarian’s placement has been announced, the church service closes with prayer and a hymn. Then there’s a mad rush for seminarians to reunite with their wives and families or friends to talk about what has happened and learn more details, such about when they must move and what type of housing they will have.

This is what I will experience this week. As of right now, I could move anywhere in America. I could move closer to my family than I have been in years, or I could move to the opposite side of the country. I just don’t know.

People ask me if I am scared or excited. I’m both.

I’m excited because I don’t enjoy the city that we live in now. I am so done with the crazy schedule of seminary and work. I’m beyond tired of moving. I am so ready to settle into home with my little family and feel stable.

I’m scared, too. Obviously, I’m scared about moving far away from my parents, sister, and relatives. They are all so important to me, and I hate the thought of rarely seeing them. Even more, I hate the thought of my daughter not knowing her relatives. What will our holidays look like? Who will be at her first birthday party? Will it just be the three of us?

But I worry about stupid, trivial things, too.

If we have a parsonage, can I paint and decorate and do landscaping and make it my own little space? Will I have a dishwasher?  How many bedrooms will we have? Will we have room for more kids if we decide to try for more? Will there be a yard for my daughter to play in? Will it be fenced in and safe for her? Will we have a garage? Will we have a basement or storm shelter (especially if we are in tornado alley)? Will it have nasty, ancient carpets for my baby to crawl on? Will it smell of cigarette smoke? Will our home be private, or will church employees/volunteers have access to the home if the church uses a room for storage or office space?

If we have a housing allowance, we need to become acquainted with buying a home – and QUICK. How do you buy a home long-distance? What do we do if we can’t find a home right away? How are we going to afford this on top of our student loans? How will we afford a washer, dryer, stove/oven, lawn mower, and all those other big appliances every home-owner needs?

What if the people of the congregation don’t like me? Will they think I don’t participate enough if I don’t go to every single church service, Bible study, meeting, and event? Or will they think I’m too involved and controlling if I volunteer a lot? Will they think I am a stuck up, thinks-she-is-perfect person? Or will they see my faults and expect me to be perfect?  How am I supposed to act? Who am I supposed to be? If I don’t measure up to what the congregation wants, am I misrepresenting God?

There are so many questions. I’m a control freak. I’m an introvert. I am quiet, yet I am opinionated. People often say their first impression of me is that I am withdrawn or depressed. And the thing is, I do have so many obstacles of my own to overcome – clinical depression, general anxiety disorder, PTSD, OCD. And situations like this – the unknown – the uncontrolled – make those issues flare up like a wildfire.

But here is the main thing:

Ultimately, those questions are not important. The beautiful thing about the Call process is that it really is up to God. The director prays about each of his decisions, and he makes no decision until he feels God leading him in a certain direction. Wherever we go, it’s where God wants us to go. Maybe the congregation won’t love us. Maybe we end up in a house that is falling apart. But God put us there for a reason.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.'” 
– Jeremiah 29:11

And another thing:

No matter where we go, God goes with us. He leads us, and He never leaves us.

“It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” 
– Jeremiah 31:8

The human side of me is going to worry. I’m  going to feel anxious. But the faith side of me is going to trust. God has gotten me through much, much bigger things – things terrifying and deadly. A possible cross-country move is nothing for Him.

My God defeated sin and death. He defeated Satan and his demons. Whom shall I fear?

So, Call Night… bring it on.

 

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