Found over on Pastor David Juhl’s blog, FatherDMJ.livejournal.com:
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.