EDDIE J MCCOVEN
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.