The Circuit Vicar

It is something every pastor in The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod experiences during their Seminary education: Vicarage.  A year spent observing and participating in the life of  a congregation under the supervision of a Pastor.

But while everyone experiences Vicarage, not everyone experiences the same Vicarage.
A Vicar assigned to a small, rural congregation is not going to have the same experiences as the Vicar assigned to the large suburban congregation and neither of them are going to experience the same things as the Vicar assigned to the inner city congregation.

Now tradition states that the Vicar is placed in a congregation under the supervision under the supervision of a Pastor; and this model has worked very well over the life of the LCMS.  But in a changing society, with faster travel and the need to train Vicars in a more uniform way, I would like to propose a new idea.

Instead of putting the Vicar in one congregation with one Pastor, I propose putting the Vicar in a circuit under the supervision of no more than three, but no less than two pastors.  In a circuit there is much more variety in terms of programs offered and cultural variety then there is in one congregation.  In the circuit I am in alone, there are 3 congregations in towns under 400; 4 congregations in towns under 1000; one congregation in a town over 15,000 and two congregations that are in the middle of fields; in a circuit that end to end is less than 100 miles.

How would this work practically?  The 2-3 Pastors who are supervising would necessarily
need to be able to work together in a sharing effort.  The Vicar could teach a confirmation class at each of the three congregations for one quarter each.  He could preach at each congregation once a month; and then rotate the fourth and fifth Sunday around so that he hears each of his supervising pastors preach as well, and observes them conduct the
Liturgy.

As for during the week, the Vicar could spend a day each week with each pastor, observing and discussing matters with him; care would need to be taken that the conversations did not involve playing one supervising pastor off of another.  At least once a month, the Vicar should meet together with all three of the supervising pastors together.  And at the
end of the Vicarage year, each of the three supervising Pastors would individually submit their own reports to the Seminary on the Vicar, thus giving both the Seminary and the Vicar a better idea of where the student stands.

Financially speaking, it would be easiest for one congregation to deal with all of the Vicar’s finances: paycheck, insurance, mileage, etc.  But, the other congregations in the arrangement would also pay in an equal share of the amount to the one congregation that actually does the paying.

Does this prevent the Vicar from forming those long lasting relationships within their Vicarage congregation that last for years?  Yes.  But this is not about making friends it is about forming Pastors for work in the church.  Would this system work when the Vicar has a family?  It would definitely be more complicated. A Vicar with a wife and no kids would have an easier time the a Vicar with a wife and kids.  And indeed perhaps when the Vicar has a wife and children, this would not be the setup for them as children need stability.

In fact, this setup would not work in many circuits as they are to spread out and finding Pastors to agree to share a Vicar might not be possible.  But I think this is an idea whose time has come, and whose merits are worth exploring.

About revschmidt

An LCMS Pastor in North-Central Kansas
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4 Responses to The Circuit Vicar

  1. Pr. Lovett says:

    Our circuit has been discussing this for a while now. We should move forward on it.

  2. Sounds like a nightmare, Mike. The purpose of Vicarage isn’t to experience different congregations, it’s to form a mindset to serve in the OHM. One Bishop is more than enough.
    What I learned (while serving 3 congregations in rural Wyoming) was how to look at ministry rather than how to “do” ministry. I am in Alaska now in a Church that you could put all 3 of my vicarage congregations in. They are nothing alike, except for that one factor that all God’s people share: “Sinners in need of the gifts given by God through His called and ordained servants”.
    Vicarage isn’t about “doing ministry” it is about “learning to become a minister”.

  3. revschmidt says:

    I disagree with your last line, I think in this plan the Vicar would actually do less as he would be watching more, and thus learning more. In to many congregations the Vicar is seen as a hire-ling who does ministry with training wheels on. This would break some of that thought process, as the Vicar would be more of a student teacher, who shows up every now and then and watches.

  4. L J McDermott says:

    Michael, I actually ike the idea and think it worth talking about. Not only do some congregations see the Vicar as hired labor but cheap labor at that, a general rural mindset toward the Office even without a Vicar. I would think the guiding principle for vicarage is learning, not filling in for the pastor as we see in some cases. I guess I’ll disagree with the thought that this system would be more of a hardship on a married with children Vicar. He may have to spend time on the road with many hours a day away from home and family, but this too is something he must learn to do. The stabilityof a family lving in provided housing would be no different if the vicar is on the road for the day or across town at the church and out and about doing whatever it is that Vacar’s do. For what it’s worth. Larry.

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