Monday, February 01, 2016

CRM, Inactive Candidates, and the Resolution 3-10a Task Force

From October of 2005 through May of 2010, I was a pastor without a congregation to serve. If you’ve been along for the ride here on my blog, you know my story. I’ve written a book on the subject. I’ve presented on the subject for the ACELC. I won’t repeat my story yet again. However, you must know by now that I see this as a serious problem in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in convention thought it was a pretty serious problem too. The 2013 Convention passed a resolution to address the issue, asking the President of the Synod to form a task force. It finally looked like the problem would be addressed.

And then the task force met. I was not in the virtual meeting room (the task force met through conference calls), so I don’t know what was said or what any of its members were thinking. However, having seen their report, which is now on the LCMS website, I have some concerns.

I’m going to do my very best to give my first-look answer each of the recommendations made by the task force without violating the Eighth Commandment. God help me and forgive me where I fail…and I know I will, because my first response was very heated.

I also encourage you to read President Harrison's response to the report.

But before I get to the recommendations, I would answer two points the report made before the recommendations were offered. Quotations from the report are indented.

Addendum II to Task Force Membership: LCMS First Vice-President Rev. Dr. Herbert C. Mueller Jr. communicated to the task force that he received correspondence from a pastor on candidate status who expressed disappointment that someone who is, or has been, on candidate status was not appointed to the task force. Dr. Grimenstein provided clarification that he was on candidate status following his medical retirement from the United States Army as a military chaplain and has a fresh perspective of what it means to be on candidate status.

My response to Addendum II: As one of those who spoke to First Vice-President Mueller about the lack of Inactive Candidate representation on the Task Force, my point was not only that there should be members of the Task Force with first-hand experience with Inactive Candidate status—though there should have been more than one—but that the Task Force must also communicate with men who continuously endured said status for extensive periods of time. My knowledge of such men is not exhaustive, but even in my small circle, I’m acquainted with men who have spent eight years or more without a Call. None of the Inactive Candidate or former-Inactive Candidate pastors within my circle of acquaintance were consulted directly by any member of the task force. That doesn’t mean such consultations never happened with others. Still, if it happened, I’m surprised I didn’t hear of it, having been in contact with numerous Inactive Candidates and former-Inactive Candidates.

From the report: “A survey of questionnaires returned from District Presidents reveals…”

My response: The answers to the questionnaire are most likely based on a form called the “Explanation of Candidate Status Form,” a form the Candidate/Non-Candidate/ Emeritus pastor must fill out. But what the pastor fills out must first be approved by the district president before it becomes official. I pretty much had to lie on my form before my district president would approve it. That makes the forms a questionable source of information, the data skewed by the bias of the very people asked to answer the questionnaire. Furthermore, collecting such information from District offices without contacting individual Inactive Candidates is akin to asking the spider to give information to help the fly stuck in a web. I wish more Inactive Candidates and former-Inactive Candidates would have been contacted directly, but I imagine the time such contacts would take might have seemed daunting.

Now for the Final Recommendations of the Task Force:

1. Military and institutional chaplains and returning missionaries should notify their respective district president as soon as possible when leaving their current call. Graduate students on candidate status should notify their district president of their date of availability for pastoral call. The district president will distribute a list of available chaplains, missionaries and graduate students (biannually – quarterly—as requested) among other district presidents and calling agencies where appropriate.

My response to Recommendation 1: Well done.

2. District presidents should guide pastoral candidates who are no longer qualified to be placed on call lists to explore another vocation.

My response to Recommendation 2: Clarification is needed. By what definition are these pastoral candidates “no longer qualified”?

3. Recommend a Synod-wide process that utilizes existing resources, such as Concordia Plan Services, Soldiers of the Cross and professional counseling, to assist and support candidates while they are in the midst of vocational discernment.

My response to Recommendation 3: Agreed...with the proviso that counseling is not used as a bludgeon against the Candidate. 

4. In circumstances where a pastor resigns as a result of conflict between the pastor and members of the congregation, the district president will provide pastoral care to the congregation and urge that issues be resolved prior to submitting a call list for future calls. The district president will ensure that the pastor and his family receive pastoral care.

My response to Recommendation 4: Clarification needed: “resolved” by what standard? How will the district president “ensure that the pastor and his family receive pastoral care”? How will he be held accountable?

5. Congregations are encouraged, where appropriate and feasible, to provide the opportunity for pastoral candidates to provide pastoral functions under a supervisor who is approved by the district president.

My response to Recommendation 5: Unless a supervisor is himself under discipline, this should not require approval from the district president.

6. Recommend to the Council of Presidents to discuss and clarify candidate and non-candidate status and time limits of candidate status.

My response to Recommendation 6: In my opinion, asking the district presidents to make clarification on this issue is asking the blacksmith to give an unbiased opinion regarding his favorite tool.

Closing Statement: District presidents are encouraged to provide for the pastoral support of workers while on candidate status and provide periodic information that the candidate’s information has been shared with calling agencies (congregations, schools, Recognized Service Organizations).

My response to the Closing Statement: The words “are encouraged” should read “should be required”.

General response: The list of recommendations is inadequate: skewed toward the power of district presidents and lacking in adequate specifics for providing for the care, rehabilitation, and return to Called duty for Inactive Candidates.

That being said, I know that there will never be universal satisfaction with any report or recommendation. Whether or not I agree with their recommendations or the information they were given to form those recommendations, they put in a great deal of work, and I thank them for their efforts. I hope this report and any response to it will lead to further mercy shown to our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ.

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