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
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
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
*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
Special Cases Beyond *C9.02
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.
The search process may be broken down into multiple
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
Some Call Committees benefit from doing a practice
interview. If a practice interview is desired, contact the
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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