By Stacey Egger
Instead of gathering on their respective campuses for their customary Call Day services, students at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis (CSL), and Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne (CTSFW), received their first calls to pastoral and diaconal ministry and their assignments as vicars and deaconess interns during “virtual,” or online, services last week.
The two LCMS seminaries streamed their Call Day services on April 28 (CSL) and April 29 (CTSFW) due to COVID-19 restrictions, issuing a total of 188 calls and assignments as thousands of people watched from around the globe.
Virtual service, ‘flesh-and-blood’ calls
CSL’s April 28 service began with a virtual choir made up of recordings of members of the CSL community singing the hymn “Awake, My Heart, with Gladness” (LSB 467), and also featured several pre-recorded performances by Laudamus, CSL’s seminary choir.
“This might be a virtual Call Day service,” said the Rev. Dr. Dale A. Meyer, CSL president, in his sermon on Luke 24:14–35, the Road to Emmaus. “But the call that you are about to receive is not virtual. … You are being sent to flesh-and-blood people, with hurts and hopes, with joys and sorrows.”
“Diane and I are going to our own version of Emmaus,” said Meyer, who is set to retire this year after 15 years as CSL president. “But the Emmaus to which you are being sent, the Emmaus to which Diane and I will retire, that’s not the final home. Our final home is with Jesus in heaven.”
During the service, 48 vicars and one deaconess intern received their assignments. Additionally, 63 pastoral ministry candidates were announced: 52 Master of Divinity students, four Residential Alternate Route students, one Center for Hispanic Studies student, three Ethnic Immigrant Institute of Theology students, two Specific Pastoral Ministry students, and one Cross-Cultural Ministry Center student. Of these, five pastoral candidates, along with one deaconess student, have calls or placements pending.
“It was odd and disappointing not to see the students’ faces and greet them with the news of where they were going,” said the Rev. Dr. Glenn Nielsen, CSL’s director of placement and of vicarage and deaconess internships. “But many people at the seminary worked very, very diligently to make the service happen virtually. I am proud to be a part of that team.”
For a complete list of CSL calls and assignments, or to watch the service, visit csl.edu/callday.
‘We had hoped’
CTSFW livestreamed its Call Day Vespers on April 29. This service also featured a virtual choir, composed of fourth-year CTSFW students and a few additional members of the CTSFW Kantorei, singing the hymn “Lord Jesus Christ, with Us Abide” (LSB 585). The 40 pastoral candidates watched the service in a combined Zoom meeting, which was occasionally shown on the screen.
In his sermon, also on the Emmaus account from Luke, CTSFW President Rev. Dr. Lawrence R. Rast Jr. reflected on the words “we had hoped” from that account:
“‘We had hoped.’ We — students, families, congregations, staff, faculty — we are the disappointed disciples this evening. This sanctuary was supposed to be full; full of pastoral and deaconess candidates, vicars and interns, their family, friends, all expectantly waiting for news of pastoral calls, deaconess placements, vicarage assignments, deaconess internships. …
“Our feet drag as we plod through a quarter unlike any in the nearly 175-year history of this school. We trudged into this virtual call service that lacks the fulfillment only a gathered community can provide. Where previously there had been hopeful anticipation, now there is disappointment. …
“Still, tonight is no different than those other nights in this most important respect: for 174 years, Christ has called men to pastoral service in His name. He will do so again in mere moments. Christ has formed servants for service in His name and [for] diaconal positions. He continues to do so. Christ continues to form servants through vicarages and internships. This very night the work of Christ continues. He is faithful.”
During CTSFW’s Call Day service, 35 vicars and four deaconess interns received their assignments. In addition, 40 pastoral calls were issued, and two deaconess placements assigned.
“It was a difficult year for the placement process,” said the Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Pulse, CTSFW’s placement director. “Many questions and difficulties presented themselves. Can a congregational call meeting take place online? This is not covered in the constitution and bylaws of most congregations. Surprisingly, it is not in the Lutheran Confessions, either. … The Holy Spirit continues to guide us even in the most peculiar situations.”
For a complete list of CTSFW calls and assignments, or to watch the service, visit callday.ctsfw.edu.
Finishing the semester online
For students at both seminaries, this semester has been different from any other.
“This wasn’t the way that I imagined … my final year of seminary to be,” said Jeffrey Kazmierski, a fourth-year student at CTSFW who has just received his first call to St. Matthew Lutheran Church, Eau Claire, Wis. “However, we are so thankful that we were still able to resume classes in order to actually have a Call Day, that we are still going out into the Lord’s harvest to reap and to preach and to teach.”
“I’ve been very impressed with the seminary [community], the way [it has] been able to come together … [and] how fast the professors have been able to utilize online resources,” said Devin Burmeister, a fourth-year CSL student called to Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church, Lee’s Summit, Mo.
Both seminaries shifted to all-online classes amid COVID-19 stay-at-home orders in mid-March. While some students have remained in their dorms, many have left campus. Classes have continued online, but typical student interaction has been impossible due to social and geographical distance.
Yet students have cultivated community in other ways. The few students still living in the CSL dorms have continued holding daily “lobby devotions” and communicating with their remote classmates through Zoom calls.
Students at CTSFW, as well as an occasional professor, have taken their usual Friday night tradition of Gemutlichkeit (social) gatherings online, holding “virtual Gemutlichkeits” over Zoom.
And in their Call Day services, students found great fellowship, even as they watched remotely. The Word was preached, and the calls and assignments were received.
“God works through His Word,” said Kazmierski, as he recalled the hymn sung by the CTSFW virtual choir during the service: “Your Word alone our heart’s defense, the Church’s glorious confidence.”
Kazmierski continued, “That’s what we put our confidence in — in Christ and Him crucified. Not in being present at our call service, not in being at Gemutlichkeit with friends, but being in the Word that pierces the darkness, the loneliness, the craziness. Christ is with us when the Word is preached.”
Posted May 8, 2020