Great Stuff Found on the Web — Bad Vicarages

Found over on Pastor David Juhl’s blog,


Disclaimer: The following post casts no aspersions on particular people or places. The following post focuses on the reality of the situation that some vicar-designates now face.

I’ve seen Internet chatter about “bad vicarages.” This terms is highly subjective and deserves clarification.

A “bad vicarage” can be defined as a particular congregation where Lutheran doctrine and practice does not necessarily conform to what is considered the “norm” of sound doctrine and practice within my communion (The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod). For example, a gifted second year seminarist receives his vicarage assignment to a particular congregation in a particular district. The gifted student, who has excelled in class work and has shown patience in all he says and does, now faces twelve months of having his patience tested in the crucible of day-to-day, on-the-job training that a vicarage provides. When he receives his paperwork, he finds out the congregation to which he has been assigned practices open communion, occasionally utilizes the service book for Divine Service, and also hosts an “ecumenical” Thanksgiving service with the ELCA and United Methodist congregation in the community.

One can substitute “call” for “vicarage” and say just about the same things. However, the application of what to do is quite different.

Vicars are only there for a little while. He is a ship passing in the night, as it were. He observes. He carefully listens. He might ask a question of his supervisor (in private). He is not there to change the world, let alone the congregation.

He must suffer in silence. He may even have to bind his conscience.

Yes, there are horror stories “out there” like it. I’ve heard them. So what does that vicar do to make the best of his year?

In many cases, learning how not to do something is better than learning how to do something. After a few weeks of observation and listening, the vicar might begin to see why his supervisor does what he does. He files away in his memory bank how he might handle that situation. Perhaps this is the most important part of a “bad vicarage.” The vicar begins to process how he would handle the same situation when he (Deo volente) is put into that position in a year or two.

The vicar should begin to make contact with other vicars in order to keep comradeship alive while they are away. If the vicar is single, he might get lonely (been there, done that, true believers!) in a strange place far from home.

The vicar should take refuge in doing something away from his duties on his day off. On my vicarage, I was blessed to have a top-notch theological library about 45 minutes from where I served. The drive there and back again was a decompression in nature. Being around books and an academic environment helped keep me grounded in my task of learning while observing.

The vicar should make diligent use of talking to his pastor (or another trusted pastor). If need be, find a pastor in the area that offers Private Confession and Absolution. This may be difficult, even impossible, in some parts of the country. I would suggest NOT having the supervisor hear your confession.

The vicar should smile a lot and frequently nod his head. Being seen as friendly and outgoing doesn’t hurt a thing. I’m serious here.

Finally, the vicar should find some common ground with his supervisor outside of any area of disagreement. Maybe you like the same sports team? Maybe the two of you like a particular movie? Maybe your supervisor will introduce you to something you will grow to love. My supervisor introduced me to the movie “Tombstone.” For that alone, I am grateful. Then there was the time he called me on my vacation to poke fun at my University of Arkansas friend (my supervisor rooted for another Big 12 school). I am not saying my vicarage was “good” or “bad.” I am saying that my supervisor and I could have some fun outside of the task of ministry.

Then there are the obvious matters that need to be mentioned. Pray without ceasing. Read Scripture and the Confessions, even if your supervisor doesn’t read the latter. I read quite a bit of theological stuff on vicarage, and even an occasional fun read. Have fun with the situation and know that you aren’t there forever. Before you know it, you are leaving for seminary again. God willing, you have learned a lot on a “bad vicarage”, made some friendships along the way, and will remember as much good as possible from your time there.

Again, I am not speaking ill of any particular situation. I am offering advice on how to make something bad into something better. The Lord will take care of you. The Lord will take care of the sheep where you serve your vicarage, in spite of what sinful human beings (like a vicar or a pastor) try to do. The Church is His. He will bless her, with or without you.

Constructive comments and suggestions are always appreciated.

About Pastor David Juhl

The Reverend David Michael Juhl was born June 1, 1972 in Du Quoin, IL. He was born from above by water and the Holy Spirit on June 18, 1972 at Bethel Lutheran Church, Du Quoin, IL. He was confirmed on March 23, 1986 at Bethel congregation. He attended Du Quoin public schools, graduating from Du Quoin High School in 1990. He attended John A. Logan Junior College, Carterville, IL, and Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL, graduating with the Bachelor of Arts in Radio and Television in 1994. Before attending seminary, Pastor Juhl was a radio disc jockey, working for WDQN Radio in Du Quoin, IL and volunteering at WSIU/WUSI/WVSI Radio in Carbondale, IL while a student at SIU. Pastor Juhl is a 2002 graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN. He served his vicarage at Faith Lutheran Church, Tullahoma, TN. His first charge after graduation was Trinity Lutheran Church, Iuka, IL, where he was ordained and installed on July 7, 2002. He served Trinity until March 4, 2007, when he accepted the Divine Call to serve Our Savior Lutheran Church, Momence, IL. Pastor Juhl is married to the former Rebecca Warmuth since October 3, 2003. They have one daughter, Catherine, born September 3, 2004, and two sons, Matthew, born October 11, 2008, and Christopher, born August 12, 2010.


Great Stuff Found on the Web — Bad Vicarages — 11 Comments

  1. “When he receives his paperwork, he finds out the congregation to which he has been assigned practices open communion, occasionally utilizes the service book for Divine Service, and also hosts an “ecumenical” Thanksgiving service with the ELCA and United Methodist congregation in the community.”

    I didn’t realize they had that kind of detail in vicarage-assignment documents.

  2. Who selects/investigates/approves Missouri Synod churches as suitable locations for seminarians to be assigned for vicarage?

    Who checks with vicars during and after their vicarage to see if those Missouri Synod churches should continue to be used for vicarage assignments?

    Who are the synodical/seminary officials doing “due diligence” to make sure that a seminarian doesn’t end up in a vicarage tiger cage?

    Of course, vicarages can turn out to be wonderful experiences! It was during his vicarage that my dad met the young woman he later married, and they were married by my grandfather, who in his seminary days enjoyed the homemade cookies his roommate shared, especially after he met his roommate’s sister who baked them and became my grandmother.

  3. “In many cases, learning how not to do something is better than learning how to do something.”

    Are there instances when the above rule does not apply?

  4. In the l960’s and 1970’s a “Bad Vicarage” usually meant one
    of two things.

    1) The vicarage parish was looking for cheap help. They could
    not afford an assistant or associate pastor despite the size of
    their congregation. So they called a vicar who ended up preaching
    more than twice a month, who was expected to revive an inactive
    youth group, make hospital calls every other day, make evangelism
    calls every week, teach youth and adult confirmation classes,
    attend all meetings, visit shut-ins. Many parishes who had 1000
    members took advantage of vicars and had a job description geared
    for an assistant pastor.

    2) The vicarage parish failed to provided an adequate supervisor.
    Most vicars looked at their pastor as a mentor for their future
    parish ministry. But many supervising pastors did not want to be
    a teacher or did not have the ability. It is hard work to be a
    good vicarage supervisor and communicate the joys and challenges
    of the pastoral ministry.

  5. @Carl Vehse #3
    I am not sure who would be doing such. I know of one vicar who suffered through the ego of his supervisor who left no stone unturned to remind the vicar that he had a DMin. He was not a good supervisor in any shape or form. Three previous vicars had recommended to the seminary that they send no more vicars to him–he was that bad. However he received 5 more before the congregation became so small they could not longer afford even a vicar.

  6. Dave, this is all well said… Minus the love story Tombstone had potential to be a great movie. U. of Arkansas is not a Big 12 school, and has so little going for it, it’s hard to imagine him taking the time to disparage. Steve

  7. Interesting thread…my vicarage supervisors struggled, but I learned a ton from him. The lessons I learned were about humility, learning to do whatever needed to be done, and don’t always think you’re right. We had no money, a little yucky apartment, my wife commuted 30 miles one way to St Louis from Southern, IL but it was the best learning experience. I’m not sure a vicar knows whether or not his vicarage is good or bad until maybe 15 years in the ministry. Then it settles in. You understand how life and ministry work.

  8. I will say that I was blessed by my vicarage. I didn’t always see eye to eye with my supervisor, but he was patient and had experience I desperately needed. When I hear the stories of friends in the ministry and witness what is happening in a few places, I feel all the more blessed and at the same time disturbed. A friend of mine ended up in a congregation where a secretary could not keep confidences, nearly destroyed a congregation and he was caught in the middle. The pastor who was influential in my decision to go to the sem in the first place on arrival to his vicarage assignment was handed the keys by the pastor and told “good luck.”

  9. Without a doubt this exposure to the real world of parish ministry is invaluable to each and every M. Div. Candidate. I can tell you in my profession the real world was a real eye opener.

  10. The congregations who can afford it decide if they’re going to do it. That’s about all there is to it.

    A nearby large congregation called their current vicar as their new pastor during a pastoral vacancy. During the vacancy the vicar had been licensed to administer the Lord’s Supper by the District President even though there were around ten other LCMS congregations a few minutes away. Then they asked the seminary for another vicar, to be trained by the same guy who was their vicar only a few days before.

    No training and no oversight.

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