By The Rev. Steven Brackett, Assistant to the Bishop
We have just completed the first round of the new ELCA First Call Process. This replaces the ELCA Assignment Process that had been used for decades to assign seminary graduates first to one of the nine ELCA Regions, then to a Synod within that Region.
The former process worked well for many years, but it became less and less efficient as the number of seminary graduates decreased, and the number of graduates wishing to restrict to a certain Synod or area increased greatly. With fewer graduates available to be assigned without restrictions, most Synods only received one or two graduates during each Assignment, and some received none.
To streamline the Assignment Process, it was changed from a top-down process where the process started on the Regional level, to a bottom-up process in which the Synod of Candidacy takes on the primary role for working with their own candidates on determining where their First Call will take place.
In the old process, candidates would be approved for ordination by their seminary faculty and home synod Candidacy Committee before they could be assigned to a Region. Candidates could list preferences for where they would like to be assigned, but no one had any conversations with candidates regarding the reasons for these preferences.
In the new process, each Synod bishop has a conversation with each of their candidates who are in their final year of seminary.
This conversation happens long in advance of the Candidacy Approval process. In this meeting, candidates discuss their preference for the location of their First Call. While bishops encourage candidates to be open to the needs of the whole church, candidates have three options: to remain in their Synod of Candidacy (assuming there are appropriate First Call congregational openings), to remain in their current Region, or to seek to move to another ELCA Region.
A month or more after their meeting with the bishop, a Regional Consultation is held to consider the requests of all candidates from each Synod in the Region. Those candidates wishing to remain in their Synod of Candidacy with the approval of their bishop remain in their home Synod for First Call. Those that wish to go to a different Synod in their home Region are placed in an appropriate Synod in the Region. Those candidates who request a different Region are moved into a Region Consultation with their Region of choice. In the Northeastern Iowa Synod, two of our candidates remained in our Synod for First Call, one was places in another Synod in Region 5, and two asked to be placed in other Regions.
One of the great benefits of this new process is that the Synod Candidacy Committee and the Synod bishop walk with all of their candidates through the entire process.
Their work is only finished when each candidate has received a First Call. There are still some bugs to work out in this new process, but I think it will serve the church well for many years to come!