Call Process

West Virginia - Western Maryland Synod
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

In updating material related to the call process, we outgrew the Pastoral Transition & Vacancy page. Here is a page dedicated to just call process. If you are looking for information regarding the ending of a call or pulpit vacancy, visit our Pastoral Transition & Vacancy page.

There are three sections here: one related to calls and pastors in general, another related to the search process for both congregations and pastors, and yet another related to finalizing a call.

If you are calling a deacon or would like more information about what a deacon could mean for your congregational ministry, contact the bishop.

A Call and a Pastor

No small amount of confusion has arisen from the variant uses of the term pastor and misunderstandings related to the various types of call.

First, the term pastor can refer colloquially to any person on the roster of Ministers of Word & Sacrament or the ELCA. The term, however, also has a technical usage in that pastor refers to rostered Minister of Word & Sacrament who is under a letter of call. This differentiates a minister of Word & Sacrament who is under a letter of call from one who is not. A Minister of Word & Sacrament who is appointed by the bishop with the consent of the congregation and serves that congregation without a letter of call is an interim pastor.

A Minister of Word & Sacrament who is not under a letter of call remains on the roster only through conferral by Synod Council of status as on leave from call (which may be normal pattern, family leave, or educational leave), disabled, or retired. There are limits on the number of years that a Minister of Word & Sacrament may hold on leave from call status.

A candidate for ordination becomes a pastor upon the acceptance of a valid letter of call and ordination.

The governing rule for extension of a letter of call is a required provision in The Model Constitution for Congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

*C9.02. Only a member of the roster of Ministers of Word and Sacrament of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America or a candidate for the roster of Ministers of Word and Sacrament who has been recommended for this congregation by the synod bishop may be called as a pastor of this congregation.

As indicated, a congregation wanting to call a candidate for the roster of Ministers of Word & Sacrament may only call a candidate who has been recommended by the bishop. Candidates for the roster of Ministers of Word & Sacrament are those who have been approved by a candidacy committee of the ELCA. They may include seminary graduates, TEEM candidates, those seeking reinstatement to the roster, and those currently ordained as presbyters (pastors) in other church bodies who seek reception in the ELCA.

Special Cases Beyond *C9.02

A congregation wanting engage in the role normally filled by a pastor of the ELCA a presbyter (pastor) of a full-communion church may request of the bishop and Synod Council the issuance of a letter of extended ecumenical service. Such pastors serve under contract and letter of extended ecumenical service, not letter of call. It is important to consult with the bishop prior to formalizing any such arrangement. The governing provision follows:

C9.15. Under special circumstances, subject to the approval of the synod bishop and the concurrence of this congregation, a minister of Word and Sacrament of a church body with which the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America officially has established a relationship of full communion may serve temporarily as pastor of this congregation under a contract between this congregation and the pastor in a form proposed by the synod bishop and approved by this congregation.

Interim pastors do not serve under letter of all. An interim pastor is not eligible for call to the congregation served unless regularization of call is authorized by the Synod Council prior to inception of interimship.

*C9.07. During the period of service, an interim pastor shall have the rights and duties in this congregation of a regularly called pastor and may delegate the same in part to a supply pastor with the consent of the bishop of the synod and this congregation or Congregation Council. The interim pastor and any rostered minister providing assistance shall refrain from exerting influence in the selection of a pastor. Unless previously agreed upon by the Synod Council, an interim pastor is not available for a regular call to the congregation served.

Normally, a call to a congregation is in perpetuity. A term call may, however, be issued. Consultation with the bishop is required. A term is typically three years, but other lengths of term may be negotiated.

*C9.11. With the approval of the bishop of the synod, this congregation may depart from *C9.05.a. and call a pastor for a specific term. Details of such calls shall be in writing setting forth the purpose and conditions involved. Prior to the completion of a term, the bishop or a designated representative of the bishop shall meet with the pastor and representatives of this congregation for a review of the call. Such a call may also be terminated before its expiration in accordance with the provisions of *C9.05.a.

Search Process

The search process is discussed here under two headings, one for congregations, the other for pastors. For general information, how-to documents, and search tools, you may find the ELCA's webpage on call process helpful.

For Congregations

The search process may be broken down into multiple phases:

  • initial consultation with the bishop
  • development (and approval) of the ministry site profile (MSP)
  • active search and reception of candidates from the bishop
  • screening and interviewing of candidates

Some congregants wonder why a new pastor is not in place the day after the departure of the previous pastor. If we had a system similar to the United Methodist Church, there would be no pastoral vacancies because the bishop would be moving pastors (i.e., the bishop would not only be assigning pastors but also reassigning pastors by terminating calls). Since neither congregations nor pastors would be too keen on such a system (and given the provision in the Lutheran Confessions that preserves the right of a congregation to refuse to call any particular pastor), we invest most of the authority in the process in the hands of both the congregations and the pastors. Consequently, the process is not dissimilar to the hiring of a higher-level executive with this one big difference: all the voting members of the congregation have the right to vote. So, it's not a fast process, and it is even slower because our church chooses to function, in its congregational polity, as a direct democracy with an interim limited representative democracy. Just as any business would have to first develop a position description after figuring our what was needed and then advertise the position, screen applicants, and conduct interviews before ever making a job offer and entering into subsequent negotiations, so must a congregation (with the complicating feature of having to make a lot more people happy).

Initial Consultation with the Bishop

The Model Constitution for Congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America states,

*C9.01. ...Before a call is issued, the officers, or a committee elected by [this congregation][the Congregation Council] to recommend the call, shall seek the advice and help of the bishop of the synod.

Normally, the bishop will initiate this conversation when first meeting with the Congregation Council in connection with the beginning of a pastoral vacancy. The bishop will explain process and timeline, providing resources to assist the congregation and answering what will be the first round of questions. There is no need for the congregation to get ahead of this consultation.

The committee referenced is the Call Committee. The recommended provision of The Model states,

C13.05. When a vacancy occurs in a position for which this congregation calls a rostered minister, a Call Committee of six voting members shall be elected by [this congregation] [the Congregation Council]. Term of office will terminate upon installation of the newly called rostered minister.

While it is the right of the congregation to elect a call committee upon the inception of the pastoral vacancy, the bishop recommends that an initial consultation with Congregation Council take place prior to doing so. An important item in this consultation is the development of a ministry site profile (MSP). There are different ways to go about developing an MSP along with other items that should be taken into consideration prior to electing a call committee.

IMPORTANT: It is advisable that the Congregation Council keep the congregation informed as to the consultation taking place and the appointment of the Call Committee. After the Call Committee has been appointed and announced, the Call Committee should periodically report on progress to the congregation. This progress report maintains appropriate confidentiality regarding the names and information about the candidates but can share where the Call Committee is with respect to the phases of the process.

Development (and Approval) of the Ministry Site Profile (MSP)

Regardless of where, when, and with whom the development and ultimate approval of the MSP is vested, an MSP will be requested by the bishop to facilitate the search. ELCA.org provides several online resources:

Developing an MSP is not an easy process, and there are several ways to tackle it. The bishop will discuss this with the Congregation Council. The Director of Evangelical Mission (DEM), The Rev. Sherri Schafer, is also available for conversation, especially as relates to clarifying the vision of the congregation, its mission possibilities, and matters of stewardship. Contact information for both is on the Contact Information & Communications page. When developing the MSP, the following (all linked on the Clergy Compensation page) should be consulted:

Some MSPs are aspirational, some are descriptive. A mix of both is probably not a bad thing. It is important, however, that there is transparency regarding the difference. If aspirational elements in the MSP are presented as already being the case, and a candidate accepts the call on the basis of the MSP, there will likely be trouble later. Imagine a situation in which the MSP talks at great length about a youth program (as if it is already in full swing), and the new pastor arrives only to discover that he/she is expected to create a youth program.

Another thing to think about is clarity of terms. For example, an MSP may state that shut-in visitation is important. What exactly does that mean? Weekly? Monthly? Quarterly? Or to say that it is important that the pastor be a musician. Imagine the difficulties if the congregation's musical life is Christian contemporary, but the candidate is trained in lyric opera. Remember, you know what you know by a term, but it might not be identical to what someone else means by the same term.

Upon completion of the draft MSP, approval is sought. Most congregations insist that the MSP be approved by either the Congregation Council or the Congregation Meeting. Some few congregations invest the Call Committee with full authority in developing and finalizing the MSP, meaning approval by neither the Congregation Meeting nor the Congregation Council is necessary. This is a matter for the congregation to determine. It may be wise for the committee developing the MSP to submit informally a draft to the bishop for review before sending it to the congregation for approval.

Once approved by the congregation, the MSP is formally submitted to the bishop. The bishop will review. If there are no problems, the bishop will activate the MSP, and the active search phase will begin. It is possible that the bishop will request a consultation with the Call Committee and/or Congregation Council to clarify this or that point. In some cases, the bishop may send the MSP back to the congregation for revision.

In addition to the MSP, a congregation may want to develop supporting documentation. Remember, just as much as a congregation is interviewing the candidate, the candidate is interviewing the congregation. If the Call Committee is going to "snoop around," looking at a candidate's Facebook page or website, you can bet the candidate is doing the same thing.

  • Is your congregation's website up-to-date, and what does it say about your congregation?
  • What does your congregation's social media (Facebook, X, etc.) say about your congregation?
  • Do you have a dedicated web page on your website that talks about the call, the congregation, and the community?

Active Search Phase and Reception of Candidates from the Bishop

IMPORTANT: Up to this point the work of the Call Committee may be fairly public. From this point forward, the work of the Call Committee is confidential. While it is entirely appropriate and advisable that the Call Committee report periodically to the congregation on progress (e.g., "We have received names from the bishop," or "we are actively interviewing candidates"), the names of the candidates and other information about the candidates should not be shared with the congregation. Even something as seemingly innocuous as, "We have dinner with a candidate this evening at Denny's," can become the occasion for nosy parishioners to "coincidentally" show up at Denny's for dinner. Remember, your candidates may very well serving calls elsewhere. If it became public that your candidates are being considered for your call, it could undermine their ability to serve the calls they currently hold; this could be disastrous for those current calls should the candidates not receive your call. Your Call Committee should also be free from interference from within your congregation. The Call Committee has been given a job to do, and they should be allowed to do it.

With the MSP completed, the bishop attempts to find candidates that appear to be a reasonable match for the congregation. How long this takes is never guaranteed. In some rare cases, it has been very fast (only a few months). In others, it has taken well over a year, sometimes two, or even more. There is not an overabundance of candidates for call at this time, and the ELCA is particularly short of graduating seminarians. Depending upon the parameters stated by the congregation in its MSP, there may simply be no candidates willing to relocate to WV-WMD who could well serve the congregation in light of local and synodical circumstances.

The Call Committee has the right to suggest names to the bishop.

The bishop, when searching for candidates, consults with each prospective candidate, sharing the MSP with the candidate and asking whether the candidate would like to interview with the congregation.

Depending upon the circumstances of the potential call, those names are shared with the congregation in different ways.

  • For first call situations (i.e., a candidate coming from seminary), the bishop presents only one name to the Call Committee.
  • For experienced candidates,
    • when there are three candidates, all three names are given to the Call Committee, but
    • when there are more than three candidates, brief descriptions of the candidates are given to the Call Committee, and the Call Committee is asked which three candidates it would like to interview.

The rostered minister profile (RMP) for each candidate to be interviewed is provided.

Screening and Interviewing of Candidates

Upon reception of RMPs for the candidates, the Call Committee will want to review the documentation provided. IMPORTANT: the Call Committee Chair should within 24 hours contact each candidate. When doing so, the Call Committee should indicate that the Call Committee is in possession of the candidate's paperwork and provide an estimate as to when the candidate will hear about a potential interview.

During initial review, a Call Committee may want to dismiss one or more candidates based upon the paperwork. IMPORTANT: When a candidate is dismissed, the Call Committee Chair should within 24 hours contact any candidate dismissed, informing a dismissed candidate that the Call Committee has decided release the candidate; notify the bishop too.

How a Call Committee interviews is up to the Call Committee. Zoom has become popular for initial interviews. More than one interview per candidate is permitted.

When hosting a candidate onsite for an interview, it is customary to cover lodging and meals.

As mentioned above, the candidate is interviewing your congregation as much as the Call Committee is interviewing the candidate. You will most likely want to provide

  • a copy of the last parochial report,
  • samples of worship,
  • the minutes of the last Congregation Meeting,
  • the last annual report to the congregation,
  • the most recent audited financial report, etc.

What additional materials are you providing that might convince the candidate that your call is the one to accept? In this, remember that the candidate isn't just looking at your congregation. Think about it this way: were you to be looking at a change in employment that required relocation, would you be looking at the community, the schools, housing options, etc.? Your chamber of commerce may be helpful in this regard.

During the interviewing process, one or more candidates may be dismissed. IMPORTANT: When a candidate is dismissed, the Call Committee Chair should within 24 hours contact any candidate dismissed, informing a dismissed candidate that the Call Committee has decided release the candidate; notify the bishop too.

IMPORTANT: Throughout the process, the Call Committee Chair should, even when there has been no movement, contact each candidate still under consideration at least every two weeks to inform the candidate as to progress and anticipated timeline for the next step.

Some Call Committees benefit from doing a practice interview. If a practice interview is desired, contact the bishop.

Eventually, the Call Committee will have to settle on one candidate. When this happens, the candidate is considered the primary candidate, and all other candidates are released. IMPORTANT: Within 24 hours, notify the primary candidate immediately. As soon as the candidate in question accepts being the the primary candidate—sometimes the candidate withdraws at this time—notify all other candidates that they are released; notify the bishop too. Forward the primary candidate's name to the Congregation Council. The Call Committee Chair should assist in arranging an interview between the primary candidate and the Congregation Council. Refer to the Finalizing the Call section on this page for the next steps.

At any time in the process, the Call Committee Chair should feel free to contact the bishop with questions.

For Pastors

Here are some documents that you should be looking at as part of transition into a new call. Everything here deals with pastors; once we have a congregation exploring the call of a deacon, we'll develop documents appropriate to that roster of clergy. First-call candidates should consult with the bishop regarding special procedures applicable to first-call candidates.

  • Definition of Compensation, Benefits, And Responsibilities for Ministers of Word and Sacrament Under Call: this can be downloaded from the ELCA resource depository. This document is critical and serves as the contract that governs your call. For information related to compensation and related matters, click here.
  • Attestation of Records and Financial Requirements: This form documents satisfaction of provisions *C9.08 and *C9.14. If you are a pastor leaving a call in another synod to take a call in the WV-WMD Synod, our bishop will want to receive the equivalent documentation used in the synod you are leaving (or, at least, a confirmation from the bishop of the synod you are leaving). If you are a pastor of the WV-WMD Synod moving from one call inside the synod to another call inside the side, this is taken care of in your departure process. If you are a candidate for ordination, this does not apply to you.

Being in More Than One Call Process

Some synods do not allow a pastor to be in more than one call process at a time. This is not the case with the WV-WMD Synod. If a congregation may interview more than one candidate for call at a time, it is only fair that the candidate be able to interview more than one congregation. Still, if one is interviewing in more than one synod, one has to be mindful of the rules employed in each. If one of those other synods allows only one call process at a time, the pastor in mobility will simply have to choose which synod to work with. As WV-WMD allows multiple call processes, a pastor may prefer to work with WV-WMD rather than a more restrictive synod.

Becoming a Primary Candidate

When a pastor becomes a primary candidate during a call process, the candidate must wit draw from all other call processes. This cuts both ways. If primary candidacy is with a congregation of the WV-WMD Synod, the candidate withdraws from all other call processes whether inside WV-WMD or outside. If primary candidacy is with a congregation outside of the WV-WMD Synod, the candidate withdraws from all call processes inside WV-WMD, regardless of the rules of the synod of primary candidacy.

Finalizing the Call

Negotiating the Details of the Call

While the Congregation Council is ultimately responsible for working out the details of the call (e.g., compensation, benefits, responsibilities, etc.), it makes sense for the Call Committee to cover some of this material in the call process. If there is a particular sine qua non (e.g., living in the parsonage), it is best to make it explicit in the MSP and wise to make sure that it is covered in the interview phase before selecting a primary candidate. Some coordination between the Call Committee and the Executive Committee of Council (with input from the treasurer and finance committee chair) is not a bad idea.

This phase is a negotiation. There can be significant back and forth between agents of the congregation and the candidate. As with all negotiations, there might be some give and take. The resources named above should be consulted by all parties.

Clarity on start date is important. N.B., there is a start date and then there is a start date. The start date in terms of call may be a few days or weeks earlier than the first day that the newly called pastor is in the pulpit (or otherwise performing duties). It is also possible for the start date to be the first day that the pastor is on duty. Clarity is needed on this point. It is ideal that a new call have as its effective start date the beginning of a calendar year, or, if not that, the first day of a month. This makes things easier from a financial point of view (especially when it comes to working with Portico). If a pastor wants to begin actual work a few days after the effective start date (as one might in order to move residences), it is appropriate for the pastor to take that as vacation time, just as it is appropriate to take terminal vacation at the end of a call in order to move. Regardless of the course of action, documentation and mutual agreement is in order.

The primary document to be executed is the Definition of Compensation, Benefits, And Responsibilities for Ministers of Word and Sacrament Under Call. This is essentially a contract between the congregation and the pastor. It may be modified by mutual consent. If it is not in the document or the coordinate provisions of the governing documents of the church, it is not binding. Assumptions are the killers of calls. When either party assumes things based upon prior experience or understanding (not recognizing that the other party does not have the same experiences or understandings), future problems are likely.

Technically, a call may be issued prior to the execution of the Definition of Compensation, Benefits, And Responsibilities for Ministers of Word and Sacrament Under Call. When this happens, the negotiation of compensation etc. takes place after the issuance of the call but before the acceptance of the call by the candidate. There is always a possibility that the call might be declined, in which case, we have a failed search and start over.

It is common, though not required, that the candidate preach and lead worship in the congregation prior to the call vote. This is to be arranged by the Call Committee once the Council has indicated that it is ready to proceed with a call vote. It is common to have this "trial sermon" the week of (or the week before) the call vote. When the pastor is brought onsite for this service (traditionally called the trial sermon), transportation, lodging, and meals are customarily provided by the congregation.

Call Vote

Assuming the negotiations between the Congregation Council and the candidate are positive, the Council calls a special meeting of the congregation according to the rules in its constitution. The primary motion on the floor is the call of the candidate. A ⅔ vote is necessary to call. N.B., if the local constitution states that the vote is to be taken by ballot, the vote must be taken by ballot; this cannot be dispensed even by unanimous consent. If, however, no voting method is stipulated, the vote is viva voce or by whatever method has been used traditionally or by the method the body orders. Only those who meet the requirements for voting membership may vote, said requirement being a contribution of record to the congregation and a communion in the congregation during the current or preceding calendar year. The congregation's secretary and financial secretary should prepare a voting members list in advance of the meeting.

Up to this point, confidentiality has been maintained by the Call Committee. It is appropriate in the call of the special meeting to disseminate to the voting members information relevant to the call. This information, except in the case of a seminarian, should not be made available to the general public (in other words, do not post it on social media or the congregation's website). Even after a call has been issued, no public announcement should be made until the candidate confirms that the candidate has accepted and notified his/her current congregants.

Acceptance of a Call

The candidate has a maximum of 30 days to accept a call once issued. It is customary for a pastor to give 30-days notice to his/her current call before terminating service. There are exceptions to this. Contact the bishop for details.

Installing a Pastor

We have a dedicated page for installations. Click here for everything from ritual to refreshments.


West Virginia-Western Maryland Synod, ℅ St. Paul Lutheran Church, 309 Baldwin Street, Morgantown, WV 26505
304-363-4030  +  Porter@WV-WMD.org

Last update: 27 January 2024