Photo: Emily Edwards

Business hats or prayer shawls

On a Sunday morning last June, shortly after graduating from seminary, Cassie McIntosh Overcash drove from Columbia to Charlotte to preach at a neutral site for the call committee from Grace, Thomasville. She shared, “I stopped for coffee and a chocolate pastry and ate the pastry hastily in my car. When I arrived at the church, I started to finish my coffee, but spilled it all over myself. I picked up the closest napkin to address the spill forgetting that I had wiped chocolate from the pastry on the napkin. My bright yellow skirt was now covered in different shades of brown, so I put on my alb before entering the church and kept it on long after worship had ended and all of the call committee folks had left. People kept asking, ‘Don’t you want to take off your robe?’ and I kept responding, ‘No, I’m cold.’ It was June in NC and I was not cold at all, just covered in chocolate.” Despite that incident, the day went well, the Holy Spirit moved, and the call process worked as Cassie was called as the pastor at Grace; she was ordained and installed on July 6, 2018.

At the same time that Cassie was in the call process, so were Pastor Chris Webb and Holy Trinity, Hickory. It’s been just over a year since Pastor Webb was called as pastor there and the congregation is in the call process again; this time for an associate pastor. Pastor Webb shared, “My call committee was great; they took the time to follow the process with no shortcuts. They participated in the training and really got to know one another so that they were better prepared when it came time to interview candidates. They laughed and had fun, were open and honest with one another, and valued the input and expectations that each person brought to the team. We’ve learned from that and are applying that to this call process as well.”

“Call Process” is the way that the ELCA’s 65 synodical bishops engage their congregations, rostered ministers, and candidates for rostered ministry in a time of thoughtful assessment and prayerful discernment about their work together in ministry and mission. Many consider the call process the most important activity in which a synod engages. The process includes four phases: pastoral transition/closure, selecting a pastor, extending the call, and welcoming and supporting a new pastor. In the NC Synod, we are fortunate to have Sandra Cline who serves on the bishop’s program staff as our Call Process Coordinator. Sandra shepherds congregations and rostered leaders through the call process.

Community in Christ, Cornelius, has recently called Pastors Lisa and Michael Beery as their next pastors. Susan Kullstam, a member of Community in Christ’s call committee, shared the following in a recent note to Bishop Tim Smith: “We are grateful for the support we have felt from the Synod throughout this process. Sandra has been amazingly accessible and has provided awesome advice and guidance. She answered every question I had and helped us navigate each step of the call process. She set us up for success–suggesting we speak with Bishop Larry in NW Minnesota, providing contacts of a current clergy couple in order to glean advice, and encouraging us along the way to seek any information we thought we needed. She was a cheerleader for our congregation. The Synod’s Call Committee training was invaluable.  We came away with a much better sense of what we needed and how to discern throughout this time. The committee felt well prepared to conduct conversations with our candidates. We were then confident to allow the Holy Spirit to do its work in, through and around us.”  Susan added, “Our interim pastor, Bishop Miller, was truly a shepherd who has guided this mourning flock into excitement and leadership; we are incredibly blessed and anxious for Pastors Michael and Lisa to join us at the end of June.”

Pastor McIntosh Overcash had similar thoughts about the process from the other side of the table, “Sandra was patient, knowledgeable, answered all my questions, and helped me through what can sometimes be long periods of waiting between interviews. The call committee was obviously well-trained and prepared for the process. They put together a detailed Ministry Site Profile, had excellent interview questions, and worked well together.” She also offers this advice for those in the call process, “Patience is key. Know that there will be periods of waiting as decisions made by committees often take longer; and reach out to the call process coordinator for information in those periods of waiting.”

Pastor Webb encourages congregations in the call process to “Slow down! Don’t be anxious about the task you are called to do; let the Holy Spirit do the work. Take off your business hat and put on your prayer shawl. We share a simple ritual of lighting a candle and inviting the Holy into the space and into the conversation.”