Calling a new Pastor


Calling a new pastor to serve in a faith community is not the easiest of tasks. Some congregations spend months. Some, like Emerald City Metropolitan Community Church in Seattle, spend years in the search of a shepherd for their flock. That’s why some denominations give their bishops the authority to appoint pastors to congregations. But even then, some congregations are too small to afford a full time pastor. Pastors can end up serving two to three congregations that may be very far apart. This is often the case in rural areas.

The Pacific Northwest is one of the least religiously affiliated areas of the United States. Likewise, ordained ministers are also in short supply, especially in Mainline Christian denominations. While Pacific Lutheran University maintains a relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), according to statistics published by the Office of Admissions, only 17 percent of the student body identifies as Lutheran, 10 percent identify as Roman Catholic, and 33 percent identify as Other Christian.

While the university would most likely be able to hire any ordained minister to serve as a University Chaplain, the same is not so for the University Congregation. The University Congregation can only be served by an ordained minister on the roster of the ELCA. Since the staffing in Campus Ministry was reduced to one ordained position from two, the University Pastor has to serve the University Congregation and the campus community, and therefore, must be an ELCA pastor. The tough thing about this is that the university will be required to hire a University Pastor that, from first glance, only represents 17 percent of the student body.

In their search for a new pastor, the university will have to look for candidates who are ecumenical, who will reach out and work with all Christians and non-Christians on campus, will have to be able to run a ministry to the nearly 3,000 members of the Lute community with minimal staff, and will have to be very knowledgeable about and be able to lead contemporary and alternative styles of worship that cater to the needs and wants of of our diverse student population.

It can be done. The university will be able to find a pastor who can both represent our Lutheran tradition and our diverse community. But the process will not be without its challenges, and may take longer than just a few months. 🅼

Eddie J. McCoven

Eddie J. McCoven is a music maker, public speaker, writer, media personality, Libertarian, and follower of Christ. Originally from the Desert Southwest, Eddie studied at San Diego Mesa College before completing his BA in Communication from Pacific Lutheran University. While at PLU, Eddie was a writer and Program Director for Mast Media and Lute Air Student Radio. He also worked at 88.5 FM, formerly KPLU. In addition to Student Media and Public Radio, Eddie also sang with the University Men's Chorus, Choral Union, and Chapel Choir, and was active in Campus Ministry.

2 thoughts on “Calling a new Pastor

  • February 29, 2016 at 2:57 pm

    Thanks to Maddie Bernard for her article, “The Search for the PLU Pastor”, and Eddie McCoven for his opinion piece, “Calling a new pastor.” (Mast Magazine, February 26, 2016). The Campus Ministry Council and the Nominating Committee appreciate your efforts to keep the campus community informed about the process for calling a new University Pastor.

    While the role of the Interim University Pastor is a necessary one, credit should go to the Campus Ministry Council for crafting the job description and the Nominating Committee for selecting the finalists. The Interim University Pastor’s role is to accompany the PLU community through this time of transition. The choice of a University Pastor and the description of his/her essential functions and responsibilities is up to the Campus Ministry Council and the Nominating Committee (along with the Holy Spirit!). My role is simply to help facilitate the process.

    With regard to the requirement that the University Pastor be selected from the clergy roster of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the percentage of ELCA students (or faculty, administrators, and staff for that matter), is a relevant but not primary consideration in calling a University Pastor. At least two other important factors underlie this requirement:

    The University Pastor, in addition to serving the entire University community including students, faculty, staff, and administration, is also the Pastor of record for University Congregation, a congregation of the Southwestern Washington Synod of the ELCA. Under most circumstances, pastors of ELCA congregations are required to be on the roster of the ELCA, much as Catholic parishes require that their pastors be Catholic priests or synagogues require rabbis. In that sense, the PLU call is similar to the call of any congregation, Lutheran or otherwise.

    PLU is one of 26 colleges and universities affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. As such, it carries on the 500-year old tradition of Lutheran higher education. Consequently, a paramount function and responsibility of the University Pastor is to “support the educational mission of the university through [the] study of the scriptures, gracious leadership in worship and prayer, and leading university members to recognize and act on the Lutheran and religious foundations of ‘care for others, their communities, and the earth.’” (University Pastor Job Description) It makes sense for the person charged with this responsibility to be an ordained ELCA pastor.

    Eddie’s concluding paragraph is well-stated. “The university will be able to find a pastor who can both represent our Lutheran tradition and our diverse community. But the process will not be without its challenges.” Challenges notwithstanding, PLU has had a long succession of gifted University Pastors who have celebrated Lutheran identity while demonstrating a genuine spirit of hospitality to persons from diverse ecumenical and faith traditions. There is every reason to believe the next University Pastor will be every bit as committed to maintaining what former University Pastor Gordon Lathrop once called “a strong center and an open door.”

    John Rosenberg
    Interim University Pastor

    • February 29, 2016 at 3:14 pm

      Thanks for your response, Pastor John. The Campus Ministry Council has indeed played a role in this process, and we are looking forward to meeting the candidates they have selected. Hopefully, the candidate who is installed as the next University Pastor will reach out and form relationships with students from all backgrounds and help to revitalize faith life on campus.

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