Sunday, December 18, 2011

Just how many new pastors do we need again?

From the latest meeting of the LCMS Council of Presidents:

At the conclusion of the meeting, COP Secretary Rev. William Klettke, president of the New Jersey District, reported that 221 LCMS congregations were calling sole pastors; 37, senior pastors; and 45, associate or assistant pastors. He also reported that 430 congregations were listed as having temporary non-calling vacancies.
Numbers from all 35 LCMS districts were included in his report, Klettke said. He also noted that since the September COP meeting in St. Louis, districts had reported 21 new starts and seven closures.

What does this hold for May? I assume that those 37 congregations looking for senior pastors won't be looking for seminary graduates. That leaves 261 calling congregations. Do half of them really want seminary graduates? Doesn't there need to be some room for mobility among veteran pastors as well?

Given these numbers do we really need the SeminaryLite of SMP?

And those 430 "temporary non-calling vacancies"? What does one make of them? Didn't we used to keep track of "permanent non-calling" and "temporary non-calling"? Have we lumped those into one category now? I can't see a bail out fund of calls coming from them this spring.

Will the LCMS rationalize its seminary process? Can both seminaries survive without a new method of funding their mission? You've seen my plan for how to save them.

Some have argued that this dip in demand for pastors is like unto the dip in demand experienced during the Great Depression. Things will turn around, they say. But our problems are much deeper today than a mere lack of money in some congregations. In the 1930s we had a robust birth rate and (though we didn't know it then) we were just 10-15 years away from another influx of German Lutheran immigration and a cultural baby boom. None of those things holds for today. Surely it is passed time to face facts and plan for the future we are likely to have instead of kicking the can down the road. I do not envy our Synod's leaders at the district, Synod, and seminary level. I pray God gives them wisdom for the hard days ahead.



  1. We should consolidate to one seminary. But when that is mentioned, all sorts of people scream bloody murder. Many of those non-calling congregations should consolidate, but the reaction to that is the same. Until folks are willing to stop being so protective of their turf, I don't think much is going to change.

  2. I think there is a lot of value in having two seminaries. I hope both can survive. In the same way, I like those plucky small congregations that refuse to close down - so long as they remain real congregations that support a pastor and not fly by night "lay ministry" set ups.

    Places like that will stay open as long as they can keep the lights on. The question for the two seminaries is how long they can keep the lights on with a funding model based on tuition.

    I think the Synod would be hurt by consolidation, so I hope the powers that be will take steps to move away from our broken funding model - soon.


  3. The seminaries once existed as two separate entities sharing one campus. I think that might be more realistic.

    Sell the Saint Louis property. (The Fort Wayne property cannot be sold.) Use the funds to build whatever extra is needed at Fort Wayne in terms of housing. There's certainly more than enough room to grow. Have both seminaries in one place. Heck, with two classroom buildings you could even designate one for CSL classes and the other for CTS classes. Let them maintain their academic independence, even if they become codependent in terms of space.

  4. Fr. Osbun,

    It is a myth that the Fort Wayne cannot be sold or used for purposes other than a seminary. The stipulation in the donation of the land simply says that it must always be used for "educational purposes." It could be sold, for instance, to one of the Concordias for expansion and new programs (CURF, Mequon, and probably Irvine would all be interested) or used to transfer one of the Concordias root and branch (Ann Arbor, for instance). It could be a senior college again. I don't advocate selling it - but it's a false misleading dream to think that it can't happen. Once upon time folks said that Grace - River Forest couldn't leave the Missouri Synod and keep their property. The devil is in the details of the legal documents.

    And the chain of events that would have to occur for the CSL campus to be sold is almost unimaginable. Like it or lump it, CSL's campus is the flagship. It's architecture screams permanence and grandeur where CTS's screams, well, Swedish fishing village. I have long argued that Dr. K lost votes by selling KFUO FM - woe betide the Synod President who sells either campus on his watch.

    We need to focus on workable solutions. Selling either campus is possible, but highly unlikely to happen and sure to cause deep rifts. Of course, things that can't go on, won't: if things go badly enough for one or the other seminary then pieces of the respective property will start to sell. But I think it's better to focus on solutions that will be more workable.


  5. Yes, yes, I am well aware of the provisions of the Fort Wayne campus being used for higher education purposes. Mequon already tried satellite campuses in Fort Wayne in a couple of different areas. It didn't go very well. I don't see the Fort Wayne campus being used for any other higher education purpose than seminary.

    The architecture at St. Louis is impressive, but that's no reason to keep a campus. Indeed, St. Louis has more square footage as well, much of which is not being used, and could easily absorb Fort Wayne.

    But there are two differences between St. Louis and Fort Wayne that jump out at me right away. 1) St. Louis is landlocked and can't go anywhere. Fort Wayne has a ton of room to expand. 2) The St. Louis property is probably more valuable, especially being right next to another university. You could get more with less. If we're strictly talking fiscal matters, it makes more sense to sell St. Louis.

    Yes, there are going to be ill feelings if either campus is ever sold. That's the problem with assets. People cling to them.

    And lastly, if we wait until things go "badly enough" then it's already too late.

    Unfortunately, with the way our bureaucracy works, that's how it will happen. This discussion really is quite academic for it will never be the case where we look ahead and make plans for down the road. It will always be the case where we look back, wonder what happened, and then try to figure out how to scramble our way out of the mess.

  6. Quite right - which is why right now we should try to focus on solutions that don't involve selling the campuses. Those are the only ones that have a chance of getting us out of the scramble scenario.


  7. I do not think we should sell either property. We should consolidate seminary education to St. Louis. We should let go most of the Concordias and turn the Fort Wayne campus back into a senior college for men going into the seminary. Also, I do not have the fondness you do for tiny congregations that cling to life for years or decades with no full-time pastor, going week to week, year after year, with retired, vacancy pastors. How is that "plucky"? Perhaps selfish. With 25-30 people they sit on property sometimes worth 100s of thousands of dollars that could be at work somewhere else. Why? Because it is "theirs." If you sold every LC-MS church building in Chicago that is perpetually vacant with about a dozen active members, you would have millions of dollars for missions starts with pastors being paid a living wage. As we say in the NID, "New Starts, New Believers."

  8. Fr. Anderson,

    Well, perhaps this is a country mouse, city mouse thing then. I'm a pastor at two parishes, one of which is a tiny little country church that, if it were a Roman parish, would have been shut down by the bishop long ago. I'm glad it's still there, though only about 20 people come each Sunday.

    But why worry about what somebody else owns, making plans for what you could with somebody else's property? Isn't there a commandment about that? Isn't this the line of thinking that recently led a district to sell a certain campus ministry they didn't feel was vibrant enough?

    For all I know you are surely right: there are probably a lot of places in Chicago and elsewhere that should sell their property and give it to others. But I don't trust myself to make those decisions for others.


  9. Fr. Curtis,
    It was explained in some detail at our most recent district Pastors’ Conference (ND) that the COP has done away with the “permanent non-calling vacancy” category. Since the majority of those vacancies are currently served by pastors who also serve other congregations, they are now considered (by fiat, it seems) to be multiple-point parishes.
    I don’t think the situations have changed any, just the official designations. But it is a neat and clean way to take hundreds of "vacancies" off the books.

  10. Fr. Anderson,

    I think I see where you're coming from, but I have a hard time believing that the only (or even main) reason they want to keep their doors open is because they selfishly believe it is theirs. I think we can give the laity more credit than that.

    The way I see it, as long as they can afford bread and wine and there's at least one person in the pew, I'll happily say Mass there.

  11. Believe me, I have done so. I have served my entire ministry in the City of Chicago. My first call had about 40 active members when I began and I stayed there for 4 1/2 years. I found great joy in it. They were dedicated Lutherans who were committed to the Word and Eucharist. They also tried to reach out to their community. During that time I also helped out at numerous other, even smaller city churches. One of them, with 8-15 people would lock the doors when the Service began so the community could not get inside. Some have godly and honorable intentions. Some are simply clubhouses for senior citizens.

  12. Fr. Hojnacki,

    So let me get this straight - they simply removed the "permanent non-calling" parishes from the statistics? They are now not counted as vacancies? That would be helpful in keeping honest stats.

    But, alas, I don't think that can be the whole story here. Some of those old "permanent non-calling" parishes must have been lumped into the new "temporary non-calling" category. For here are the numbers the COP reported last fall: "He also reported 203 congregations with temporary non-calling vacancies and 395 with permanent non-calling vacancies."

    Have temporary non-calling congregations really gone up from 203 to 430 in just one year? I suppose it is possible - but it looks to me that some of the old "permanent non-calling" congregations make into the new "temporary non-calling" category.

    Either term is, I suppose, subjective based on the DP's view of the situation.


  13. There may be hope yet.

  14. Fr. Curtis,

    The synod-wide numbers were not discussed, only the effect of the nomenclature change within the district. So this is speculation, not fact: The reclassification I mentioned would only apply to those congregations that were being regularly served (in an official capacity) by a vacancy pastor. Where no pastor is present, those would still have to be considered officially "vacant," which likely accounts for the increase you noted.

    I also get the sense (again, speculation, not fact), that there is an intentional move to slow down the congregational calling process, to spend more time in self-studies and candidate selection than has been done in the past. This could also account for part of the increase in temporary vacancies.

    I don't know if the "Intentional Interim" program is included in any of those numbers, but I doubt it, since an "Interim Pastor" is now considered to be (again, by fiat) a "regular call."


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