Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A CRM Appeal

My name is Alan Kornacki, and I am a parish pastor. That doesn’t sound like a very profound statement. However, though I was Ordained into the Office of the Holy Ministry in June of 2000 and have been pastor for over thirteen years now, for over four and a half years, I was not a parish pastor. In the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, this is often called “CRM,” an acronym from Candidatus Reverendi Ministerii—translated as Candidate for the Holy Ministry. In other words, I was a pastor without a congregation to serve.

You can read the full details of the circumstances that led me to Candidate Status on my blog if you’re interested, but there are two highly relevant details in the matter. The first is that the Board of Elders felt justified in asking for my resignation (and in threatening me if I didn’t resign willingly) even though I did not commit one of the “big three”—gross and/or unrepentant sin, false doctrine, or an inability to perform the functions of the Office—that usually merits a pastor being removed from a Call. In addition, I did not violate confidentiality or the Seal of the Confessional. The Scriptural grounds for my forced resignation were sketchy at best. Second, my District President (DP) felt justified in placing me on Restricted Status pending an investigation as to whether or not I should be removed from the clergy roster—meaning I could not consider or accept a Call to another congregation or serve in any pastoral capacity in any congregation other than the one which I was Called to serve until he decided whether or not I could still be a pastor. I had to ask permission to baptize my own children. For ten months I was on Restricted Status—unable to consider Calls to serve congregations, unable to even fill in for a vacationing pastor—because I kept a blog. Again, I was not guilty (or even accused) of committing one of the “big three,” nor did I violate confidentiality or the Seal of the Confessional, yet for ten months I was Restricted.

While I was on Restricted Status, the DP threatened me with the possibility of suspension and even removal from the clergy roster of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. In December of 2005 he promised to remove me from Restricted Status as soon as I completed paperwork he was sending to me, but he did not remove me until August of 2006, though I returned the paperwork immediately. He wanted me to see a specialized counselor (affiliated with the ELCA) to assess my suitability for the Ministry, and he made this a condition of my removal from Restricted status. In his assessment of me to be shared with the specialized counselor he provided a list of concerns, and in that list of "concerns" he included the fact that I am "very conservative theologically". Finally, he warned me not to speak to other pastors who were on CRM, and he also warned me away from “rigid and ultra-conservative pastors, who do not have good relational skills.”

When I was forced to leave my congregation, my wife was thirty-two weeks pregnant with twins. We were told to be out of the parsonage in four weeks. Having nowhere else to go, we along with our seven year-old daughter moved from Ohio to southern Louisiana, into housing provided by a family member. This was right after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, and the job market within an hour of where we were living was glutted with workers. For the first year I couldn’t even get a McDonald’s job. I applied for every job available, even ones for which I had no qualifications. Our twin children, delivered a month early, were mostly healthy other than the older twin's jaundice. However, the delivery, a c-section, caused painful physical issues for my wife, and emotional issues also arose for her after the birth of the twins. Needless to say, she wasn't able to work. What savings we had were depleted by the time I was finally able to find work, which happened a year to the day after my forced resignation, and our credit took a major hit. My DP, to be fair, did send some financial assistance in that first year, but inevitably it was accompanied by the command to "find some menial job" and the encouraging word that the district was "under no obligation" to aid my return to parish ministry.

Though finally employed, I still desired to return to parish ministry. Even after my removal from Restricted Status (after jumping through a number of hoops, including a clean bill of ministerial health from the ELCA counselors), first the DP who had placed me on Restricted Status, then the DP who replaced him when he retired, and then finally the DP who served in our new location did little to bring me relief during my time outside the parish. They didn't call to check up on me or pray with me. They did little to reassure me about my status on the clergy roster. Were it not for brother pastors—the "rigid" men the DP warned me against—I would have lost any and all hope of returning to the parish. As for the DPs, I *did* receive cards from the district office on the anniversaries of my Ordination. That's something, anyway.

These brothers against whom I was warned were also instrumental in keeping me emotionally functional and spiritually healthy. They called to check up on me—and my wife!—and to pray for us. They asked me to fill in for them when they went on vacation and even manufactured preaching opportunities for me at times. They made sure I received the Lord's Supper and offered themselves for Confession and Absolution. They listened when I complained, kicked me in the seat of the pants when I needed it, and encouraged me at all times to entrust my burdens to the Lord.

As time went on, the stress of the situation mounted. For me, weekends were hard times. Though it was good for me to be with my family, Sunday mornings in particular found me withdrawn. My wife finally had to point out to me that it felt to her like I was abandoning the family at times. And dealing with a withdrawn husband and father—who tended to be grumpy when he was around—was tough on my family.

Finally, after nearly four and a half years, my current congregation extended the Call to me to serve as their pastor. This was not the work of DPs. The congregation asked their outgoing pastor and the vacancy pastor for names of pastors they knew and trusted, and my name was among those they shared. My Installation—four years, seven months and four days after my forced resignation—was for my family a day of great joy.

Yet the scars remain. For me, meetings are still times of great stress. I start tensing up before a meeting, and it takes an hour after the meeting for me to loosen up. I second-guess decisions frequently.  Though my current congregation has had little negative to say about me, there's still a little something in me that can't help but worry that every meeting will have an ambush. I still wrestle with the shame and anger and frustration of those four years all the time. (Thank God for Individual Confession and Absolution!)  I escaped with little in the way of depression, and though I admit there were times when I thought my family might be better off without me, suicide was never more than a passing thought.

For me and for my wife, criticisms are still unnaturally hard to handle. "Is this the first sign of trouble?" "Is this the beginning of the end?" Again, my current congregation has never given even the slightest hint of seeking our removal, yet that seed of doubt that was planted nearly eight years ago and which was allowed to grow into poison ivy with little resistance for over four years is so hard to eradicate. It took a long time for my wife—raised in the Roman church—to see Lutherans in a positive light after seeing how we were treated, though the pastors and congregations in Louisiana who showed great love to us certainly did their part to help her see the positives.

As far as finances go, I doubt we'll ever fully recover from the damage of that year without work—especially not with the student loans accrued by attending one if the colleges of the Concordia University System instead of a more reasonably-priced state school. Maybe I'll write that bestseller someday.

I know that's a lot to take in. Believe me when I say I know. I don't share all that to garner pity for me and mine. We're actually one of the rare CRM success stories, such as it is. We're among the fortunate ones who have returned to the parish. I know pastors who have languished for a decade or more without a sniff at a return to the parish. That's why this issue is so near and dear to my heart. There are a lot of hurting pastors out there, a lot of hurting pastors's wives and pastors's kids. Most of them receive little in the way of comfort or support from their DPs, much less any hope for a return to the parish. Some of them are dealing with physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, or financial difficulties—and some are dealing with all of those afflictions at the same time.

Our church body is talking a lot right now about "witness," "mercy," and "life together." One of the marks of the early church was the love these Christians showed for their fellows, and this was evident even to their enemies. "See how they love," one said. Their mercy in their life together was a witness to the world.

Well, these CRM men and their families could use some mercy. Some of them need a fair, impartial, and judiciously speedy hearing to settle their status on or off the roster, along with an appeal process that doesn’t involve appealing to the man who made the initial ruling.  (And yes, some men may need time on CRM to help them deal with real issues they face, but some are just the victims of bad financial circumstances, for example, or congregations who had itching ears.) Some of them need help with rent or groceries or medical bills. Some of then need a counselor to help them deal with the stress and shame they face while on CRM. Some may need some help even after returning to the parish to deal with PTSD.

This is something the LCMS needs to address, and quickly! There is a resolution being brought before the 2013 Synodical Convention to address the situation of Candidates…at the 2016 Synodical Convention, after a task force is formed to study the problem. While I’m glad that the Convention plans to take up this issue in some capacity, waiting three years to deal with the meat of this tragedy is a wait three years too long. A task force might be able to come up with ideas for, say, a fair adjudication system or a fair way to address a way to return over two-hundred Candidates to active ministry while not failing our seminary graduates, but we don’t need a task force to commit to contacting these wounded men to pray with them and ask what kind of help they need. We don’t need a task force to set up a fund to help address the financial difficulties these men and their families face. We don’t need a task force to encourage our DPs to bring to bear the love of Christ to these men instead of treating them like proverbial lepers, tax collectors and Gentiles. We don’t need a task force to commit to sending these pastors to Doxology or to ask Doxology to develop a program under their purview for the purpose of addressing the mental, emotional, and spiritual needs of these pastors and their families. Perhaps a friendly amendment to the appropriate resolution might be drafted to speak to some of these needs immediately.

While we wait for Synod in Convention to do something, Pastor Ken Kelly is spearheading an effort to help CRM men and their families. Among other things, he is trying to raise funds to address the financial needs of CRM families. He is selling t-shirts and pins with artwork that reminds us of the plight of these pastors, and any money raised beyond the cost of producing these items goes into a fund to help these families. He is not collecting any administrative costs for himself. Here is a link to the page: THE LEAST OF THESE

In addition, the Augustana Ministerium, an organization of Lutheran pastors, along with its lay counterpart, the Augustana Confraternity, has been allotting a portion of their membership fees to helping pastors and families in need. You can find their page here: THE AUGUSTANA MINISTERIUM

Finally, you can help these men and their families without spending a dime. Commit to praying for pastors who need calls and the families who support and depend on these men. Commit to praying for the congregations who need pastors. Commit to praying for faithful pastors and congregations who will love each other with Christ’s love.

These men and their families need your support and prayers. They are lying on the side of the road—bruised, bleeding, broken—and we have the means of picking them up and helping them. They, too, should receive mercy, so our life together may be a witness to the world.


John Wurst said...

Thank Pastor Kornacki for this heart-wrenching story.

Eric Stefanski said...

Pr. Kornacki, you write:

"In addition, the Augustana Ministerium...has been allotting a portion of their membership fees to helping pastors and families in need"

and I would like to clarify that: The Augustana Ministerium *not only* has a portion of members' dues go to pastoral aid, but *the vast majority of its income* is directed to pastoral aid--as in over $40,000 in the past 12 months, while we have collected less than $5000 in dues.

Indeed, The Augustana Ministerium has in its short existence given pastors *over $150,000* in aid. By my estimates, that's about $750,000 *less* than we should have been able to give in the same period of time, but we can only give what we get. The "portion of our members' dues go to aid" thing actually came about because we found we could do the rest of our work (providing a theological conference every year on some aspect of the doctrine and practice of the Church and Office of the Ministry, etc.) with less than half of what we were charging for dues; our primary objective in raising funds, however, has *always* been for the assisting of pastors and their families in times of need.

Thank you for this opportunity to clarify; if anything is still not clear, let me know, and I'll try again.

Rev. Eric J. Stefanski
Dean of Communications
The Augustana Ministerium

Pastor of Holy Trinity Ev. Luth. Parish
Harrison, Bull Shoals, Conway, and Rogers, Arkansas

Rev. Alan Kornacki, Jr. said...

I wasn't trying to write a thesis about the organization. Thank you for your additions.

Eric Stefanski said...

Oh, I appreciate that such was not your intent--and am truly thankful for your including TAM in your post--but I always want to make sure that people are aware that 100% of their donations go to helping pastors financially (even the stamps and envelopes and bank fees are paid for from members' dues, never from donations to pastoral assistance).

Thank you, too, for putting out your own CRM history in your attempt to gain support for those who have been wounded. Doing so not only shows your firsthand experience with the havoc being wreaked upon Christ's Church by unjust officials and unlutheran parishes but, every bit as important, the fact that CRM *doesn't have to be the end,* if only Confessional laity and pastors will donate *and* put solid CRM men on Call lists.

To that end--and having heard that a district president was recently called on the carpet for tampering with a parish's Call list, I am heartened to think that bringing this to your readers' attention will give them ammunition that will play well even in St. Louis--I would like to commend to all pastors and laity a document found at the Ministerium's web site, "Calling a Pastor: The Rights and Privileges of a Congregation." It is a two-sided half-sheet, suitable for distribution in a Sunday bulletin, and is found at (if Blogger lets me post the link!).

Again, thank you for bringing all of this into the view of as many as you are able, so that this blight might be ended and Lutheran churches may be served by a distinctively Lutheran ministry of Word and Sacraments.