Wednesday, October 13, 2010

On the President's Part Time Job

Father Matthew Harrison, President of the LCMS, just received a call to serve as assistant pastor at a local St. Louis area parish. Such things don't happen without a little prearrangement - so what does this decision by Fr. Harrison mean?

Overall, I think it is a positive development. It is a loud signal of two things. First, his desire to take a churchly approach to administering the LCMS. Second, it is the latest chapter in Fr. Harrison's obvious affinity with the early history of the LCMS (See: At Home in the House of My Fathers).

It is this second point that contains a potential negative aspect to this new part time job for the president. It was once common in the Missouri Synod to say that a "clergyperson without portfolio" (In Dr. Scaer's felicitous phrasing) was not really a clergyperson. That once you didn't have a call to a parish you were not rite vocatus, could not administer the Lord's Supper, ceased to be a minister.

This is nonsense and I have already been somewhat disappointed by analyses of this new part time time job that have called on AC XIV. Father Harrison received his call to serve the church in the process that culminated with his ordination and included his seminary education, examination, and election to the pastoral office.

Your ordination marks the end of the path of the church making you rite vocatus. Everything after that is detail work.

So let us congratulate both Fr. Harrison and the parish that will gain his not inconsiderable pastoral service on a part time basis. And let us hope this portends a churchly approach at the purple palace. But let's not return to that unfortunate theology that would insist that he wasn't rite vocatus this past Saturday.



  1. Heath, I think you have to put things in perspective a bit here. You can't have the whole package over night. This is a step in the right direction for our synod, to AT LEAST recognize that a minister without the functions of the Ministry may not have the Ministry. (Read one of Scaer's articles in Logia on the Ministry and its functions). We are not like the WELS (functions = Ministry), but the lack of functions calls into question whether one has the Office or not, just as the lack of good works calls into question whether the person has genuine faith.

    Long story short, this is a step. That the POTS would actually be tied to an altar is a very positive thing. No need to rain on the parade, so to speak.

  2. Fr. Beisel,

    I think you are right - this is a positive. I'm not criticizing Fr. Harrison at all - it's just that some of the other analyses I've seen have leaned on that Old Missouri understanding which I find so troubling.

    But you are right: a minister shouldn't just sit around in a cubicle not ministering. He's called to do these tasks not matter what else he is doing. My point is that you don't need an assistant pastor call to do that. It's fine to have that call, but you don't need it to do the minister thing.


  3. "It's fine to have that call, but you don't need it to do the minister thing." HRC

    Riiiight. Just tell that to all those no-status, lower than whale do-do CRM guys filling whatever vacancies they can while they wait for a "Call" to make them visible again.

    Karl W. Gregory

  4. Dear Pastor Curtis:

    You can't see the bishops for the mitres. The significant thing is not that President Harrison can satiate his latent Missourian desire to be functional (or get the appropriate nod from the burnished crowd), but that he desires to fill the office to which he has been elected as a bishop, and bishops need altars.

    Yes, Missouri is silly. Our president knows that. He also knows how to play both sides. He gets the nod from the bronzies while also moving us toward a proper and Lutheran catholicity. It is hard for me not to claim the man is a genius, even though that word is over-used. He is certainly the most astute and theological bureaucrat/administrator in the entire LCMS and may well be the most theological and clever of any we've ever known on these shores. And don't knock him for being a bureaucrat/politician. That is what is needed! Thanks be to God that President Harrison wasn't too proud to do this, to campaign to consider his rep, etc. For Aristotle, politics is the highest love, because it is love of your neighbor and desire for the good of the city that drives it.

    Anyway, his part-time job is great news and, in hindsight, no real surprise.

    - Petersen

  5. Fr. Gregory,

    Indeed - I don't mean to diminish that very real plight. But the very fact that they can fill in vacancies makes my point: they are pastors, even when they have to sadly be pastors without portfolio.


    Fr. Petersen,

    Well said. He is playing both sides with this and he is a genius. But that's why I post this - because the Old Missourian wing (and how many are there left? Does anybody really believe this anymore - that you become a layman the day you retire?) might get the wrong idea.


  6. Rev. Curtis,

    Isn't this (the issue of once a pastor always a pastor, not anything specifically pertaining to Pres. Harrison) along the same lines of a post you made a couple of months ago?

  7. Sem. Osbun,


    Exactly. I'm thrilled that Fr. Harrison is going to get the chance to be connected to a specific altar and pulpit and live as a pastor within a congregation of real people. That is excellent and bodes well for his administration.

    At the same time, I think it is very important to confess that he has been a pastor ever since he was ordained and that no such part time call was necessary to make him a "real pastor."


  8. As a point of clarification, I'm not sure that I rightly bear the title of "seminarist" anymore. I'm a graduate. I think my proper title would be "candidate," as I am still awaiting a placement. Either way, "Josh" will suffice.

    I think Rev. Beane hit the nail on the head in the other discussion. There's a difference between a pastor in the sense of one who has been ordained but doesn't serve a parish and a pastor in the sense of one who has been ordained and is a shepherd. That's where I appreciated his differentiation in terminology: pastors (shepherds) and presbyters (ordained, but not shepherding).

  9. Rev. Candidate!

    Yes, Fr. Beane was spot on. It's a pity we in America can't get over our hang up with the term "priest." That would help make everything a lot clearer.


  10. This is most definitely a step in the right direction, even if only a step. On the one hand, he now serves an altar, which I have been saying for years that our bureaucrats need to be doing; another brilliant and stellar move on his part. On the other hand, it's really a bit goofy that he's now an assistant pastor.

    So perhaps once everyone gets used to this, he can take the next step of becoming the head pastor in that parish some day.

    And next after that, some day further on, we could make the permanent 'parish' for the SP to be some church in St. Louis; you know, with a cathedra and all . . .

  11. Wouldn't it be more appropriate if he served the altar at Trinity in Soulard?

  12. I realize that I am in a distinct minority here, but I am troubled by this. It absolutely gives credence to the idea that if you are not in a parish setting, you are not a pastor and you do not have a call. This is ridiculous and now the people who say this can point to the SP. At St. Louis the professors presided at the Mass and preached. Is Dr. Nagel not a pastor? Or Drs. Feuerhahn or GIbbs? They are. They have been called by the Church rite vocatus. They do not all need another call on top of the one they already have to be a pastor.

  13. Fr Anderson,
    Perhaps it's a case of 'legitamacy'. The teaching and practice of the LCMS aren't necessarily the same thing. It seems we have to decide if we are "Congregational" or catholic. I would like to see a mass ordination at the sems to serve the Church as needed. The congregational 'stamp of approval' comes from the local congregation and district that sends the candidates to the sem.

  14. Pastor Curtis,

    Thank you! It's nice to hear someone else acknowledge the problematic functionalist view of the office of ministry behind much of the rejoicing about this call. Especially when AC XIV is cited!!! On the whole, I think this is a great and very positive development - our head bishop / SP should be tied to a specific altar. So the call is 90% to the good. But the assumption that Pastor Harrison was in fact not a Pastor capable of preaching or teaching publicly without such a call is unfortunate.

    Bethany Kilcrease

  15. Dan Pharr,

    Have you been to Trinity Soulard lately?


  16. What amazes me is the lack of any real consensus on this point, even after all the years of discussion and ink spilled over it. Is he a pastor or not without a Call to a specific altar? I think what Heath is saying is that once he has been ordained/called into the Office, he doesn't need another "Call" to do what pastors are supposed to do: preach, administer the Sacrament, etc. Once "rite vocatus" always "rite vocatus." The Confessions aren't saying that one must be called multiple times. Correct me if I'm wrong Fr. Curtis.

    I'm not sure I completely agree with this view though. I feel like I'm somewhere in the middle. Is it good order for an ordained pastor to go around preaching, administering the Sacrament, and doing other duties of the Ministry when he has no God-given sheep? I don't think so. All things should be done decently and in order. So, that is what is being done.

    On the other hand, there is the view that says that unless one has a current call to a congregation, he is no pastor. This I cannot abide either. There is more to a pastor's duty than what is done in a parish. In the NT there were missionaries who were understood as being in the Ministry, and yet they did not have "calls" per se to a local parish. There were evangelists, church-planters, whatever you want to call them. Seminary professors are, in my opinion, carrying out a duty of the Office--catechizing future pastors. Plus we have retired pastors coming in and preaching and administering the Sacrament. My uncle, good man that he is, said I was in error for having a retired pastor celebrate the Sacrament at my parish when I was absent. But not for preaching! Why in the heck is that?

    However, in defense of our Synod's practice, in the book of Acts, those who were already in the Ministry (Paul and Barnabas) were given another "Call" if you will, another assignment perhaps (Acts 13). They were formally commissioned to a specific duty. Let's read the Bible more. And read more Scaer. "In Scaero veritas"?

  17. Fr. Beisel,

    Yes, you've got my position right. But no, I don't think it leads to disorder. I didn't say that pastors should just mosey around doing whatever pastoral acts they want as free agents apart from a specific assignment in the church.

    That's another matter. A matter of practice. But the matter of theology is this: once placed in the office of the ministry are you suddenly yanked out of the office of the ministry if your parish closes due to lack of funds?

    I say no, you're not out of the ministry.

    But that doesn't mean you stop being a presbyter in the NT ministry. It just means you are "without portfolio."

    MO actually does this quite well: you stay on the clergy roster, are under the DPs authority, must fill out paperwork every year, but are eligible at any moment for pulpit supply, etc., without another "call."


  18. If you put it that way, then I fully agree.

  19. 1 Corinthians 12:27-28 may point toward the practice of the ordained serving in non-shepherding positions (i.e., healing, helping, administrating).

  20. Josh:

    Just to add my own two cents' worth, while on the one hand, it may seem like a stretch to say a man is a seminarist after he has walked across the chancel (stage?) and received his degree, on the other hand I suggest that there is something healthy and helpful in taking the broad view that a man is a seminarist until he is ordained a priest. I would, however, qualify that by saying that if a man were ordained a deacon, I would be glad to refer to him as a deacon. Now as to the term 'candidate,' I am not utterly opposed to it. But what I would suggest is that all seminarians are technically 'candidates' for the priesthood.

    And I agree with, & Beane, and others, about the proper relationship & distinction between pastors and priests. Sometimes I hesitate to refer to a priest as a pastor, when he is not serving a pastorate, but then I am also sensitive to the fact that many get offended because they jump to the thought that I am disrespecting their status in the Ministry. But in the long run, it would be good for us to clean up this nomenclatural messiness. The instinct to address all priests as "Pastor so and so" comes to us from Pietism, not from the Catholic tradition of the Church.

    (responding to this comment) "As a point of clarification, I'm not sure that I rightly bear the title of "seminarist" anymore. I'm a graduate. I think my proper title would be "candidate," as I am still awaiting a placement. Either way, "Josh" will suffice.

    I think Rev. Beane hit the nail on the head in the other discussion. There's a difference between a pastor in the sense of one who has been ordained but doesn't serve a parish and a pastor in the sense of one who has been ordained and is a shepherd. That's where I appreciated his differentiation in terminology: pastors (shepherds) and presbyters (ordained, but not shepherding)."

  21. Latif,

    You are providing your own definitions for "seminarist" and "candidate."

    A seminarist is one who is enrolled at the seminary. That's how Merriam-Webster defines it.

    A candidate is one who is eligible to receive a call. This is how bylaw 2.7-2.10 defines it.

    Interestingly, fourth-year students are not allowed to accept their calls until the middle of June after it has been verified that they have successfully completed their seminary coursework.

    Seeing as I am not enrolled in the seminary and seeing as I am eligible to receive a call, if someone desired to address me by a proper title it would be "Candidate" and not "Seminarist."

  22. I am not providing my own definitions. I am dealing with the terms in a manner consistent with the tradition of the Church. Doing so is sometimes to diverge from the editor of a secular dictionary, and also from synod bylaws. That doesn't bother me. By at least try, as a brother, to refrain from accusing me of coming up with my own definitions.

  23. "A seminarist is one who is enrolled at the seminary. That's how Merriam-Webster defines it."

    By the way, one of the problems with going with the dictionary definition of 'seminarist' is that deaconess students can then be called "seminarians." It would also be odd, and inappropriate, to use the term "seminarist" for presbyters who are enrolled in a doctoral program, or some form of continuing education at the seminary.

  24. Josh,

    Do you think the Reverend term is fitting?

  25. Pr. H. R.,

    I haven't been to Trinity for years. I had the honor of being a field worker there under the supervision of the sainted Sam Goltermann back in the 80's. "Sam" brought a sense of dignity and respect to the Liturgy seldom found.
    Each time I come to this site and see the chalice from which I was honored to serve our Savior's Blood many times, fond memories return.


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