Dear Disciple of Christ,
I really feel that my vicarage year was one of the most valuable of the eight years of preparation for ministry. In actuality, that third year of the four year preparation in seminary was not always required of future Lutheran pastors. As I remember, it was initially offered as an option for those pastors who might want that “hands on” experience before heading out on their own in ministry at a congregation. It was offered just after World War II. I remember hearing about atheists (those who believe there is no God), who met God in a foxhole. I expect a soldier’s awareness of his mortality comes to the front in various times during their service during wartimes. So as many newly “aware” disciples returned home from the war, they felt drawn into sharing the Word and their faith experiences with others (sound like an occupation you know – like being a pastor?!). So the vicarage program was developed and expanded.
What was experienced by the new pastors, and the congregations receiving them was so positive, that it soon became a required part of seminary training. Any pre-theological student seeking to become a pastor was required to “pass” a vicarage year. That meant that a supervising pastor had the authority and responsibility for approving (or “failing”) that student for pastoral service in the church. I’ve had ten vicars myself (to supervise) and I assume each supervisor took their responsibility as seriously as I did. As I’ve said to those who asked me about serving as a pastor, “If God is calling you to ministry, you dare not ignore it. If He is not, you really don’t want to be a pastor.” That is true for the blessing or challenge for both the pastor as well as the congregation. Pastoral service is a specific call to serve in the church and it needs to be specific to those called by God.
So you can imagine what was going on in the minds of the vicars returning to seminary for their fourth and final year. I can tell you honestly that the first two years of academic study could be somewhat theoretical. But after doing ministry “in the trenches” and having been asked real questions in real settings coming from real members, there was nothing theoretical about the last year of study. If any professor spouted “ivory tower wisdom,” things that only professors and doctors of the church could muse about, the fourth year students would bring things down to earth with something like, “Well, I need to know what that means to Mrs. Schmidt.”
And I value that perspective of the faith for myself and my service as a pastor to this day. Jesus’ preaching in parables was deep to be sure, but it needed to be reflected on deep in the heart of believers. The faith calls us into action, where the “rubber hits the road.” That may well be where the phrase we use at our church comes from (printed on the backs of some of our t-shirts); Ministry is faith in action. Faith must be active and alive to be faith. I know I’m a Lutheran but the book of James speaks to me also: Faith without works is dead. Paul agrees: (Galatians 5:6) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love. Faith is not simply a theory or concept or a memorized Bible verse but a connection of trust between us and God. And when that trust is experienced, when faith is alive, it moves us into action.
I had a little challenge with some people at a nursing home where I was doing a Bible study. There were a few (who had begun the study and invited pastors to lead) who were honestly focused on a simple study of the Word. I wouldn’t say anything against that approach to study of the Word, but it seemed to be lacking in the excitement that comes when the Word breathes on us and fills a disciple with excitement, and moves us into the world. Because that part was missing, I found myself increasingly uncomfortable. If we’re not going to apply the Word and let it give us direction, what are we studying it for? Is it just theoretical? Are we studying the Word to pass some entrance exam into heaven? I certainly don’t think so. Jesus expected the Word to be like a seed that, when planted in our hearts, brought life to us. But when I did make application of the Word at that Bible study, connecting the Word to faith active in life, there was dissatisfaction with a few in the group. They saw the discussion of applying the Word as mere “digressions.”
Those two particular participants would do their best to get me back into the words of the Bible while I wanted to put some “flesh” on that Word. When one of them began regularly tapping her Bible to indicate her desire that I stop the application and get back to simply reading the Bible, I had to “excuse myself” from that class. I provided a new study of the Word, one on another day of the week and others took over the other one. Again, I’m not saying that other way is bad or wrong or faulty. It is just not me. The Word comes alive for me when it moves me into action. It brings me great joy to see that Word alive in others.
So, I guess I’ve never fully left the seminary which included the continuing study of the Word to prepare me for my ministry, my service, my teaching of the Word and my proclamation in sermons. I have to admit, it is one of my greatest joys in ministry to this day to reflect on that Word and consider its application in life in me and in the church and in the world. I hope living out the faith is a joy for you as well.
Peace in His service,
Scripture Readings for Friday, November 11, 2022
Isaiah 12; Isaiah 59:1-15a; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-12