Not Quite a Pastor
A number of conversations--both with interns finishing and beginning their experience--pushed me to write down some questions about how we negotiate the tensions around interns presiding at the sacraments. I am increasingly sure we’re unhelpfully confused on this issue, and I’d like to just try out my thinking for your deliberation and response.
First, two stories about how this came to the front burner for me. One intern, just getting started, wrote to me to say her synodical bishop will not let her preside at communion, even with her supervising pastor present. However, she is aware of colleagues in a variety of situations who are presiding.
Another intern, just returned, described her experience on internship with the phrase, “not quite a pastor.” She knows internship depends on her being a pastor, and she gives pastoral care examples. But then she notes “ways I don’t quite count as ‘pastor’: I don’t preside at communion.” She knew of other interns who did preside, from the rural intern at a detached site who does the full range of word and sacrament ministry week-in and week-out. She knew of others whose supervisors gave them permission to ‘cover’ for them while they were out of town, and didn’t really know if their synod bishop was aware. Still others had supervisors depart towards the end of the internship, and the interns took over for some weeks or months, with full permission of the bishop. (I have asked both of these students for permission to write about their comments here. They said emphatically, yes!)
Second, as I thought about our expectations at Luther for interns, I realize we expect interns to experience and live into the fullness of what being a pastor means. If it is true that ordained ministry is ministry of word and sacrament, a couple questions arise for me. Why do we encourage interns to preach, regularly and with feedback, so they can grow as preachers? Why do we not encourage interns to regularly preside at communion with feedback so they can grow as presiders?
Actually, I’ve had to be honest about the variety of experiences we now set up for what is on the surface the “same” internship experience. While some interns are in large parishes where they do have fewer opportunities to lead in the center of congregational life (preaching perhaps monthly, not doing funerals, let alone communion), other interns are functionally solo pastors of rural congregations and take on the entire range of pastoral work, checking in with a supervisor in another town (or in town).
So, colleagues, I’d like to put these questions before you. I firmly believe we ought to ask these questions, as they are core to the formation of public leaders for God’s church. I want to see the formation of our students done with the broadest and deepest experiences possible. I want you to know I am writing a letter to the ELCA bishops to raise these issues. I also am communicating with the other directors of contextual education at the eight ELCA seminaries. Together, we can start a conversation able to perhaps open up new vistas for practicing ministry-something supervisors and interns are both engaging week by week.
Please feel free to send me comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.