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July 12, 2010

What's Happening?

by Rev. A. J. Iovine

“So, what are you hearing?”

That was a question posed to me in a late afternoon telephone call by a fellow clergy person regarding our Synod’s convention currently being held in Houston. To be honest, I don’t know much, but according to some people I know who are there, they have described the atmosphere as “tight,” especially as discussion and votes are being held on the important topic of Synodical governance.

One of the issues relayed to me was that this convention continued the downward spiral of the erosion of a regular congregational pastoral call. In the Augsburg Confession, Article XIV clearly states no one without a regular call is to preach or administer the Sacraments. For our LCMS over the past couple of decades, this has been eroded. District Presidents have been given the authority to consecrate people in congregations without a pastor to do the job of a pastor.

Or, as I like to think of it, “WHY THE HECK DID I GO TO SEMINARY AND GO BROKE TO BECOME A PASTOR IF I COULD HAVE JUST LEECHED ONTO MY DISTRICT PRESIDENT AND BEG HIM TO CONSECRATE ME?”

On June 25th, I celebrated my 5th anniversary of my ordination, a day that is truly a blessed one for me. On that day, after years of study and practice, I was now called “Reverend.” On July 17th five years ago, I became a “pastor” to this congregation. Duly and regularly called to Saint Matthew’s to serve as God’s under-shepherd, I am able to preach and bring the Sacraments to God’s children. That four year seminary journey was important for me. I took myself out of my regular life (or, as I like to say, “God pulled me by the shorthairs and dropped me in Fort Wayne”) and spent three years studying (not studying as hard as my professors wanted me to study, I admit). One year of this seminary experience was spent on vicarage in Sayville, New York at a blessed congregation where I saw the true application of that study first hand under the guidance of a terrific supervisor and a wonderful staff at Saint John’s. And since my ordination, I have spent endless time reading, studying, praying, trying to learn more about the Lutheran faith and a true understanding of the Christian life through the Word of God — all of which is part of the life of a pastor because the education never ends.

Would I have liked to stay in my old life and continue what I was doing while at the same time being able to play “Pastor” on weekends? Of course. That would have been ideal. I could have had none of the hardship of leaving family and friends, zero of the hard work, the opportunity to continue to live and play in New York, and still have the ability to act as clergy person on Sunday morning.

But no, God decided to lead me to seminary to study — to do it the hard way — and then get a regular call to Saint Matthew’s and serve this blessed congregation. It was a long and winding path, but I thank God for leading me here.

By making it easier for district presidents to appoint these pseudo-pastors, they are blatantly ignoring our Confessions we clergy people have sworn to uphold and believe. In fact, we are supposed to hold these Confessions and our Lord Jesus Christ so dear to our hearts that we would rather die than go against them.

See, our Confessions are more than just words on a piece of paper. They are who we are. By watering them down, we are acting as if they were written in invisible ink.

We pastors need a kick in the pants sometime. Deacons, deaconesses, consecrated whatever-you-want-to-call-them, elders, church council people, the people on the building’s committee — they are not pastors. We don’t live in a world of perpetual Halloween — the clothes someone wears doesn’t make them a pastor. A district president doesn’t have magical powers to make someone a pastor. Only God makes the pastor. That is why the call process is sacred.

And I don’t want to hear the whiny moans that cry, “Well, we need pastors to serve small congregations and since these churches can’t pay a full time pastor, we have to do something.” Yeah, how about letting pastors serve these congregations. We do have a method of vacancy pastors. Guess what? Pastors are more than willing to serve. Just ask.

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