A huge part of the whole seminary experience is the anticipation of the first call. Simply put, a call is what our denomination refers to as the job or contract of a church worker or pastor. We use the term “call” both as a noun and as a verb. For example: My husband has a call to Faith Church in Smalltown, Iowa or The Australian church wants to call my husband to be a missions pastor.
What makes these first calls unique, is that at this point in history, our graduates and third year interns (vicars) have little say in where their calls will be. We fill out papers, list our preferences, attend multiple meetings and interviews, but in the end, the final decision is out of the seminarian’s hands. It’s the seminary, church call committees, denominational leaders, and God who get to make the “final call” on the call. And as you can imagine, it’s terrifying.
Two weeks ago, the seminary held it’s yearly “call services,” the afternoon service to announce third year internships (vicarages) and the evening service to announce the official “first calls” for graduates. Because this is my first year, I could calmly sit back and observe the nervous excitement during the weeks and days leading up to the services. It was like reality TV, crazy emotions running high.
Second and fourth year seminarians find it harder to focus on their studies. Campus is busier. People’s mannerisms are more excited and animated than usual. Everyone is talking about their possible placements. Many of our national church leaders have privately gathered to discuss the calls. Families are coming in for the big day. Babysitting and parking are hard to find. There are students and spouses with clean shaves and new hairstyles dressed in brand-new black suits and outfits. It’s like the combined moods associated with senioritis, cold feet, and Christmas pervading the entire campus.
There are two details, besides the aforementioned, that I think cause the anxiety level to rise: 1) except for in extreme circumstances, a graduating seminarian MUST take their first call, whether they like or not, and 2) the majority of seminarians and their families do not find out where they are called to until their names and placements are publicly read at the call service. Both seminarians and their wives are warned very seriously not to “react negatively” once their calls are announced. So no profane outbursts allowed.
My mom tells the story of when my dad sat through his call service. He was on one side of the church, dressed in clerics, waiting anxiously for his name to be called. My mother and all of our family was on the other side. My mother patiently sat, 7 ½ months pregnant, wondering where in the world we would end up. The first call was announced, “Seminarian Tom, the Philippines.” My grandfather gasped, leaned over terrified, and mouthed to my mother, “They can’t do that to Walt, can they?!” My mother quickly assured her father that they would not send us to the Philippines, and my dad was called to Troy, New Hampshire.
I realize that in just a few months, my family and I will become a new segment of this reality drama. I will no longer be allowed to be a comfortable viewer. I will be a part of the crazy. I will be answering questions like, “what do you see as your role in your husband’s ministry” and “what are your priorities in being placed” and “what kind of church are you interested in collaborating with.” I will be attending meetings entitled, “What to expect at your vicarage” and “What pastor’s wives need to know.” I am not looking forward to the anxiety, the meetings, the interviews, the moves, the out-of-my-control, and the general unknown. But I am praying that when it’s our turn to dress up and have all our family in town, that I have the strength to react positively, that I will be ready to move yet once more, and that I will be confident that the call is not from the seminary, or the district presidents, or the church, but that our call is from God. Even if we hear: “Seminarian Toby, the Philippines.”