There’s an ELCA Draft?? While it may not look as sparkly as the image below, the process of Assignment for those of us who are M.Div students in the process of ultimately being ordained is real. Having watched the process from the far off shore, this horizon looms off in the not so distant distance for me as well as the rest of the Senior class in 2015. The Assignment process happens twice a year, once in the Spring and once in the Fall, which happens to be literally, tomorrow. LSTC Alum and another good friend of mine Chris Brown gives us some insight as where the Triune God will be calling him.
Assignment…. It’s a word most of us have heard around campus. For those who have not, it’s sure to be a word you’ll become very familiar with. The very sound of the word around these parts brings with it a mythical notion, much like the Golden Fleece or the Loch Ness Monster – something you’ve heard of, something that is talked about with the utmost curiosity and wonder, but not fully comprehended. What is assignment? For students on the ordination tract, assignment is the final stage of the process in which candidates are assigned first to one of the 9 regions in the United States, and then narrowed further into one of the 65 synods. It is from here that candidates can then interview with churches and, God willing, begin a first call.
For me this is a day that will start to come to fruition this Wednesday, as the bishops and regional coordinators from around the county gather at the Churchwide office to conduct what has commonly become known as “The Draft”. As with any predecessors it’s a day that brings with it quite a bit of trepidation. All of my evaluations and paperwork, from my endorsement essay and interview, to CPE evaluations, to all of the paperwork from internship, and finally with my approval essays and interviews, are all taken into this one decision of where my first call will be. For someone from the more tropical climate of Southern California, all of this paperwork can mean the difference between going back to California, which is my hope, and going to a rural Midwest area, which is my fear. For others, it’s the complete opposite. Regardless of where one hopes to go, it all rests on this one day, mysteriously regarded as Assignment.
I want to offer this blog as kind of a roadmap of how this has taken place from my own perspective. A lot of questions arise with the assignment process from those of us who are going on to ordination: Am I allowed to want to go to a particular area? Is it appropriate to network prior to assignment? Who should I network with? Who can I talk to along the way for guidance and help? I can’t speak officially on any of these, but I can talk about what I’ve done. My hope is that as the assignment process unfolds over the coming week I can offer some guidance on this blog, and ultimately, a person that any of you can contact should you want to talk in the future about how this process is for me.
Let me start by bringing up another phrase of trepidation: The Spirit’s Will. It’s not particularly a phrase that any of us want to hear after getting assigned to the one place we didn’t want to go, but we also cannot deny that the Spirit’s will in all of this is not only present, but ultimately more knowledgeable than any of us wants to admit in a moment like above. Yet part of the process of assignment at the ELCA is one of partnership with the Spirit and not one of manifest coin toss. This is most apparent in the paperwork that is filled out specifically for assignment, in which candidates are asked to write which regions and synods they would prefer to be placed in. This part of the paperwork might not guarantee that you go to the exact area you wish to be in, but it does show to the bishops and regional coordinators in a general way the type of place you’d like to be, and the type of place you really do not want to go. Let me also say at this point that if you do not preference anywhere, the greatest need right now for pastors is in the rural Midwest – just sayin’.
Aside from preferencing the areas I would like to go, I was also very honest and forthcoming in my Approval essay and paperwork as to what kind of area, geographically, I think my ministry would thrive in. I took extra time on this part because the preferences we list, this part of the paperwork gives bishops and regional coordinators a good feel for the general areas you might be comfortable in. Lastly, to supplement what I’ve said so far about the paperwork, throughout all of my approval paperwork, I was open and honest in any appropriate place as to where I think my own ministry would be most effective geographically, socially, and demographically.
Now there might be the assumption that once the paperwork is completed and turned in, there’s little else you can do – it’s in the Spirit’s hands at this point (there’s that phraseology again). However, this is where I want to add the greatest insight I’ve had so far, and that’s in regards to networking and building relationships. Every year LSTC has a group of Bishops come to the school and meet with the seniors. In the time I’ve been here it’s been in this avenue that I’ve seen many of my peers develop relationships with bishops and bishops develop relationships with students. Yet I noticed that most of the bishops who’ve come in the past have been from the more surrounding Midwest areas. In noticing this, and after some conversations with previously assigned friends, I decided that it’s completely appropriate to try to start conversations and, hopefully, develop relationships with bishops from the areas I hoped to be assigned.
So I made a call to my home synod, asked to speak to the bishop, let the admin. assistant know I was a student at LSTC, and then had an open and honest conversation. I asked the bishop what they layout of the synod was, how many openings were available, or going to be available, and then in my opinion and most importantly, I said without flattery that I was interested in coming to that synod and why. Upon these words coming out of my mouth I was freaking out, thinking that I was just ruining any chances I had, but what I discovered was the bishop liked hearing this. He appreciated the desire I had, and whether it was possible or not, also liked talking about what my hopes were for assignment. Even if there are no openings to the synod I want to go, this at the very least created a system of support, and an advocate.
After feeling much more comfortable making the phone call and having this conversation, I made the same phone calls to the other synods I was interested in. Many times I was not able to talk to a bishop, but I also found that the Assistants to the Bishops for Rostered Leadership were just as supportive and beneficial. I think it’s important not to overwhelm any one person and I probably had two or three conversations total over the course of a year with each, but I have concluded that networking and having those conversations does a few things. One, it lets them know who you are and puts your name on their radar. Two, it may not guarantee you a spot in that synod, but they’ll at least pay closer attention to your paperwork. I had one assistant tell me that they would intentionally put my Approval paperwork “on the top of the pile” for the Bishop to read. And lastly, this creates an advocate. That Bishop, while perhaps not having a spot in their synod, can advocate for you during assignment and hopefully find a spot that is more fitting to your paperwork.
Finally, the last great help you can do along the way is Paul Landahl. He’s the school’s contact for the assignment process and he’s present at every draft. Paul has not only been a great system for support, as well as one of knowledge in how assignment works, he’s also another great advocate. There are moments in which bishops and coordinators will ask his opinion on a person who’s name is up, and if you haven’t developed a conversation with him, all he can offer is what’s on your paperwork. On the flipside, when two or three bishops are fighting over you, Paul can really make the difference. So I strongly encourage using him as a support system.
These are all the steps I’ve taken in my own process. Our system at the ELCA has opened a way where we can be in partnership with those around us. And none of us needs to walk this process alone. Yet to go back to the beginning of this blog, when everything is all said and done, it ultimately rests on the will of the Spirit. And although we don’t like to hear it at times, God does have a will for us in our lives and we have to trust that God knows what God is doing.
As for me, I have no idea what will happen this Wednesday. I don’t know if the conversations I’ve had or the relationships I’ve developed will bear fruit in the ways I want them to, but I do know that I’ve done everything I can do, and I trust that the Spirit is constantly leading us to the places that we need to be. I will report back in the next week or so how the assignment process goes from my own perspective and hopefully keep this blog up as I enter the call process. I wish you all abundant blessings as you navigate your own waters of assignment and/or seminary education, and again, offer myself as any kind of a system of support or answers on your own journey.
In Christ’s Peace,