Vocation of First Call Congregations
What is the Vocation of First Call Congregations Project?
In 2005, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Vocation and Education unit received a $525,000 grant from Lilly Endowment, Inc. to extend the Transition into Ministry
work of the previous five years.
The emphasis of the new project, "Vocation of First Call Congregations," was to study the characteristics of congregations that do a good job supporting first call pastors as they start their ministry following completion of their seminary education.
About the Project
In 2005, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Vocation and Education unit received a grant from Lilly Endowment, Inc. to extend the Transition into Ministry work of the previous five years. The emphasis of the new project was to study the characteristics of congregations that call new pastors into ministry following completion of their seminary education. Lilly Endowment Inc., Indianapolis, a private philanthropic foundation, provided a $525,000 grant for the project, "The Vocation of First Call Congregations."
"Lilly Endowment has expressed excitement about probing the concept of vocation in terms of an organizational identity," Seraphine said. "The ELCA is the only church in which the whole denomination is involved," she said. The stated purpose of this four-year grant (2005-2009) was to learn what attributes congregations have that lead to early successes for new seminary graduates.
The previous TiM project focused on leaders in their first ministry calls, as well as ELCA synods, seminaries and continuing education centers that prepared and supported a person in the transition from seminary into a first call. For a summary of this five-year effort, see Sustaining First Calls , a 2006 best practices handbook for synods and seminaries.
After learning a great deal from new pastors about their perceptions of seminary preparation, transitional concerns, and efforts to support them by synods and FCTE programs, the project director felt it was time to learn more about the receiving end of this equation — the first call congregation.
"We know that the congregation plays a significant role in the first call process," Seraphine said. "We haven't worked directly with congregations in how they see their roles with first call pastors and that would be helpful information to know,” Seraphine added. Nearly half of new ELCA pastors' first calls are into congregations located in small towns and rural areas or multi-point parishes in which one pastor serves several congregations in nearby but different locations.
A 2004 synod progress report of FCTE identified the need to work more effectively with congregations in support of their newly called pastors. This common theme formed the rationale for the TiM renewal grant to Lilly Endowment, “The Vocation of First Call Congregations.”
The project team wondered if these first call congregations would see themselves as part of the wider church's responsibility to raise up and develop leaders. They also wanted to explore whether these congregations might understand their work with new pastors as a vocation.