Starting Anew with a Seminary Graduate

by Roland Lovstad

Graduating seminarians anticipate seminary “Call Day” as a time to move from preparation to active ministry. At the same time, congregations like Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Hampton, Va., anticipate the day when their hopes will be met with a new pastor.

“Here we are going into 2008 after four years without a permanent pastor,” explains Trish Hamilton. “We decided to go at it a little differently. We decided we would call a young seminary graduate.”

Hamilton chairs the call committee at Emmanuel, one of 200-plus congregations anticipating the April 23–24 placement of candidates from LCMS seminaries in St. Louis and Fort Wayne.

“We just have a deep-seated faith that this is going to work,” says Hamilton. “We will just rally around him and, with this Ablaze! movement, hope we will be able to touch people in the neighborhood and in this town.”

The congregation had its eye on a specific candidate, a man who served his vicarage at a neighboring congregation. Working with Dr. Jon Diefenthaler, Southeastern District president, Emmanuel issued an exclusive call for that candidate, although the congregation is prepared to accept another seminarian.

Lay minister Ed Yarrington explained that some members met the preferred candidate when he led worship one Sunday more than a year ago. “The vicar came and did a superb job in the conduct of the service and delivered a fine Christ-filled sermon,” Yarrington remarks. “It didn’t take many of us long to think about starting anew with a new man out of the seminary.”

Emmanuel has endured its challenges. The congregation relocated to a growing residential area nine years ago and built a school as its first building. Not all its members followed the move, and membership dropped. Budget shortages closed the school. Then came the vacancy. The congregation extended one call, which was declined. In the meantime, retired pastors have filled the pulpit.

Hamilton and Yarrington believe the congregation has stabilized during the last two years. “All our committees are up and running and are doing what they are supposed to do,” Hamilton says. Early in the relocation, the Southeastern District designated Emmanuel a mission site. The school facility has been rented to the local public school. Emmanuel has developed a five-year mission plan (a priority is to call a pastor).

“We all agree that the area is very fast-growing so the potential for mission is great,” Yarrington comments. In March, Emmanuel began the outreach-focused “50 Days Ablaze!” sermon and Bible study series. Rev. Richard Hill, a retired pastor assisting during the vacancy, also taught a six-week Bible study on how to welcome and treat a pastor based on the obligations the calling church makes to the pastor in its call document.

As Call Day draws near, some Emmanuel members entertain the idea of attending the seminary graduation later this month to celebrate with their new pastor.

Editor’s note: On April 22, Jacob May, soon to graduate from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, received his placement to Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Hampton.

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