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"From the Pulpit" - March 12, 2023

"From the Pulpit" - Reflections on the Weekly Texts, from Pastor Greg at Living Lord Lutheran Church

John 4:5-42

Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. 7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” 27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to him. 31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” 39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and the LORD Jesus Christ. This text above is the gospel for Sunday - John's account of the woman at the well. It comes on the heels of last week's gospel, where Jesus meets Nicodemus, a temple leader, in the dead of night. Look at the contrasts between these two stories. Nicodemus, a prominent Jew; a male; one with authority and knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures; privilege and power; he's named in the text (not an insignificant thing), and more. For Sunday's lesson, the woman at the well is...a woman (no privilege or authority); she's a Samaritan (hated by the Jews, and vice versa); a five time divorcee (we don't know all the circumstances here, but she has a history); she's at the well at midday, the hottest time of day, which may indicate that she comes there when others may not be there. You get the point.

I'll say more about all of this on Sunday in my message, but again this week, I'm going to address a question which I've gotten recently, especially from some of our newer folks. And that is, "how do you get to become a pastor in the Lutheran church?" Well, here we go. It's a little involved, and if you want to know more, click on the link below that takes you to the ELCA's website on this topic. It's called "Candidacy".

I hate to use this analogy in light of the recent and horrific train derailments in OH and PA, but here goes. Think of two parallel "tracks" if you will, for ordination in the ELCA. One of those tracks is a seminary education. Theological training coming from one of the ELCA's 7-8ish seminaries around the US. I attend the Lutheran Seminary at Philadelphia in 2003-2005. I actually finished all of my requirements in 2 1/2 years, including a year of internship, instead of the usual 4 years. Not because I'm smart - I just worked hard and loaded up classes (much to the chagrin of some of my professors.) But I graduated with a 3.75 GPA (out of 4.)

Seminary education involves three years of academics, a service project (I chose to go to Bangalore, India for a week for mine...Whoa!) Freshman, middler, and senior as they are called. Greek, Hebrew, OT, NT, pastoral care, and a bunch of other stuff. I was able to do pretty well at my seminary training. I think because I was older and knew the ropes, and was focused on doing well. Those planning on going into ordained ministry come out with an MDiv degree - Master of Divinity. The seminaries offer other non-ordination track degrees, but if you are planning on becoming ordained in the church, one needs this MDiv degree. I believe there is a minimum grade GPA, but I'm not sure.

The second "track" if you will, is the church's (big church) track. On this track there are three (3) steps in the process. Entrance - where they interview you, do some background checks, psychological testing, credit checks, academic records, and such, to make sure that you're at least going to get started. I found this to be pretty intense because they ask you why you are pursuing ordained ministry; your gifts and talents, and so forth. Very nerve racking.

The 2nd step in the ELCA "track", once you've been approved for "Entrance" into this track, is "Approval". At this stage, you've participated in a nurturing process by your local synod, attended retreats and other required stuff, passed some more psychological exams by outside experts, and more. At this point, if you get through this step, unless you really really mess up, you're well on your way to the final of three steps on this track. Both your seminary professors and members of your synod Candidacy Committee interview you (usually in your 2nd year of seminary) to assess how you're doing academically and church wise, and "approve" you continuing on to the third and final stage of the candidacy process.

And that third phase is the "Endorsement" process. You've completed two years of seminary work spent a year on an internship at a congregation serving under the direction of an ordained ELCA pastor, doing pretty much everything a pastor does - preaching, leading worship, visitation, and total engagement in the life of your intern congregation. I served my internship at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Pearl River, NY, in Rockland County, and had an amazing intern supervisor. Not every one of my seminary classmates had a great year, unfortunately. Internship comes between your second year and your final (senior/fourth) year.

Once you get through the Endorsement process, and you wrap up your seminary training, you're ready to be "endorsed" by your synod Candidacy Committee and the seminary. In the early spring/late winter of one's senior year, endorsed candidates enter into a "draft" process, where all of the 65 synods of the ELCA meet to look at the pool of candidates coming out of the seminaries, and match up congregations in their synod looking for first call pastors (right out of seminary) and candidates looking for calls. Lots of considerations here - geography, family concerns about moving, and so forth. Candidates can specify where geographically they're willing and able to relocate to. I had no preference when I went through the process, and ended up in the Southeastern PA Synod (Philadelphia and surrounding area.)

And so the match game begins. Candidates are literally "matched" with congregations based on the criteria they establish for their congregation, and the qualifications and gifts the candidate brings to the setting, and the dance begins between the two. I can't remember exactly, but I believe when I graduated (spring 2005) there were about 600 plus congregations looking for a first call pastor, and about 350 graduates. I don't think things have gotten much better, although I'm not sure about that. Way different now, some 20 years after I graduated.

I had roughly 55 people graduate in my class (2005), and about 35 of us ended up getting calls to congregations. Others went on to some other work in or out of the church. Five years later, the number of people still in congregation settings from my class was down to under 20. Now, 20 years later, only a handful of us still are in congregational settings. Lots of reasons for this - no single reason. But this work can really chew you up and spit you out if you're not prepared for it. I know it may sound hard to believe, but I think these numbers are still pretty close today even.

You've just gotten a really really quick thumbnail view of the ELCA Candidacy process. While some things are hard and fast, each synod adds their own nuance to the process. Some synods are nurturing toward those going through the process; others view the process as more of a "weeding out" process. I was fortunate that I had a great candidacy process, and all who were involved were great to work with. It was a good experience.

Oh, one more thing. Each candidate must participate in both a "field ed" year - usually one's first and/or second year, before internship. This is a less intense process, and it's done while you're still in the classroom setting. And then the internship year, which I mentioned above.

Ordination in the ELCA is typically done in the congregation. I was ordained in my home congregation - St. Paul's Ardmore (PA). They supported me throughout the whole process, helped me out financially, prayed for me, and served as a good "anchor" for my journey. I will be forever grateful to this amazing congregation. I actually went back to preach a couple of times - invited by my former pastor and the one who followed him.

I know that's a lot, but some of you have been asking. It's Friday evening at about 6:10 pm and I'm headed for a glass of Cabernet and sitting out on my little deck outside my place in FP, getting ready for "Jazz Most Wanted Countdown" from WUCF in Orlando at 7:00 pm. Check it our on your smart speaker. Hope to see some of you Sunday. I'm honored to serve you as your shepherd. Hope you enjoyed this longer than usual post.

BTW, I'm anxious to hopefully bring a new perspective to this amazing story in John's gospel Sunday. My research this week was transformative for me. Never too old to learn and be moved by what you learn, right!?

In Christ,

Pastor Greg

The link for Candidacy information from the ELCA below:

Once there, click on the first image - the ELCA Candidacy manual. Pretty impressive, and you'll see how much more involved it is than I was able to describe here.

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