Editor’s Note: Jody Ellingson is the former call committee chair and transition team member of American Lutheran Church (LCMC), Long Prairie, Minnesota. She wrote this unsolicited recommendation about the ministry of Lutheran CORE’s Congregation in Transition (CIT) program.
It was bittersweet reading our pastor’s retirement announcement in the summer of 2019. Pastor Bill had been the pastor at American Lutheran Church for over ten years and was deeply loved by our congregation. We were certainly going to miss him! However, we were also happy for him as he transitioned to the next chapter in his life. In true Pastor Bill fashion, he set our church up for success as he prepared for his own departure. Not only did he give our congregation an entire year’s notice before his retirement, he also set us up with CIT.
When I was asked to join the Transition Team (and eventually the Call Committee), I was excited for the new opportunity, but naive about the process. Honestly, up until that point in my life, I had never even heard the terms “call process” or “call committee.” I grew up Catholic and Pastor Bill had been my only pastor since joining American Lutheran Church as an adult. “What do you mean we have to find our own pastor? Aren’t we just automatically sent a new one once Pastor Bill retires?” Nope! OK, so where do we even begin? Thankfully, we had our CiT coach, Pastor Don Brandt, to guide us through the process.
In the fall of 2019, Pastor Don made a trip to American Lutheran Church. He spent the weekend setting us up for a successful transition and call process. We held a meeting open to the congregation where he explained the current pastoral supply situation. We discussed the future of our congregation, including the potential challenges and opportunities facing us during our transition. Pastor Don then met with the Transition Team, where we dove deeper into the unique characteristics and needs of our congregation. Over the next several weeks, the Transition Team held multiple conference calls with Pastor Don. Together, we made a plan to keep all areas of our church ministry functioning during the transition between pastors. We discussed CiT’s “Wish List” congregational survey results, which indicated the hopes and concerns of our members moving forward. We also discussed the next steps to take in the call process. The Transition Team then compiled all the information we gathered into a detailed report for the Call Committee and Church Council. Pastor Don also provided specific step by step recommendations for the Call Committee to follow. With all the background work complete, once the Call Committee was formed, we were able to hit the ground running. We had already received materials from applicants by the time our Call Committee first met! Even though, at this point, our scheduled calls with Pastor Don were complete, he still maintained close communication with our Call Committee. He was available via email to answer any questions and to coach us through the call process.
We all remember March of 2020 and the difficulties the country faced as the pandemic brought our lives as we knew them to a halt. As we were in the interview phase of the call process, the shutdown created a whole unique set of circumstances that we had never before encountered. Words cannot express my gratitude for Pastor Don’s guidance and patience during this time. His responses and advice were nothing less than thoughtful, thorough, and timely. With CiT’s help we were able to overcome hurdles, forge ahead (although there were definitely delays) and find the pastor God already had in mind for our congregation.
Should your congregation face a time of transition and a search for a new pastor, I cannot recommend enough the Congregations in Transition ministry. What an amazing gift for taking an overwhelming transition process and breaking it down to specific, simplified steps. I am so thankful we had CiT to guide us through our transition process!
Note regarding CiT assistance during Covid: As the pandemic is still presenting unique challenges for all of us, the CiT process is now entirely “at a distance.” This involves Zoom meetings, conference phone calls and on-going email communications with “client” congregations. The good news is that because of this congregations do not have any coach traveling costs to cover. As a result, the only cost to your congregation is an initial $175 registration fee paid to Lutheran CORE.