Nothing to Give Except Jesus: A Vicarage Retrospective

VicarGreetings!  My name is Jacob Hercamp and I am a vicar finishing up my year of “servitude” in a congregation that I have come to love.  Allow me if you will to recount some of my lessons and experiences:

My vicarage placement service was not anything special, there was little pomp and circumstance.  I was not with my brothers at Fort Wayne; I was at Westfield House, England, newly engaged, and wondering where the good vicarage placement committee was going to send me and my soon to be wife.  When I heard the news of my placement at Zion I did not know what to say or to think.  It was another small town, similar to the area I grew up, where agriculture comprises most of the local economy.  I actually had trouble finding the town on a map since the town is so tiny. Over the course of our year here I come to admire the people of this safe, proud, and successful community; now I understand why young people return to raise their families here.

If you think that vicarages start slow with lots of training you would be wrong.  The Sunday after I was installed my supervisor left for a week leaving me responsible for everything; my first Sunday in the pulpit I was completely solo. It was baptism by fire, but my supervisor likes to test his vicars this way.  By the second month I was visiting a young woman dying from cancer who had been estranged from the church for quite some time. There is nothing in the classroom that can truly prepare you for that kind of a visit.  Those visits made me see the true and awesome power of the Word of God working through my feeble words.  To see her faith grow as she was dying was a joy!  She clung to Jesus, her redeemer and salvation, and she did not die in fear.

It’s amazing how much reflection a guy can have while on vicarage.  Suddenly after every conversation, bible study, sermon, or teaching lesson I was wondering how I could have handled the situation better or differently.  Perhaps I could have listened more and talked less.  Maybe I lost control of the classroom or my emotions.  Maybe my sermon was written well but preached poorly.  Reflection is useful for learning but humbling to the flesh.  Thankfully my supervisor was there to help me to understand and process my thoughts or feelings.  At first I did not take kindly to his criticisms; no one likes being told that their work is sloppy or that their personality hinders their conversations and future relationships with people.  Thanks be to God these are the things that my supervisor kindly and compassionately said to me, even when saying them brought conviction upon himself.  He loved me enough to help to me succeed, and for all his guidance I will be forever thankful.  Now I understand by experience and example what is meant by the phrase, “dying to oneself, and living for Christ.”

Zion Imperial NE

Zion, Imperial NE

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7) My jar is nothing to look at.  It is broken; I am a sinner who needs Jesus just like every person in the world. Vicarage has taught me that I have nothing of myself to give to my future congregation. I must only give Jesus. He is the one who saves us from sins, not some vicar or pastor, but Jesus. I needed my vicarage, and I thank God for the grace that He has shown to me as He continues to mold me into a future servant for His Church.


Nothing to Give Except Jesus: A Vicarage Retrospective — 77 Comments

  1. Hi, guys. I see a few interesting comments have sprung up over night. I’ve not much time this morning, but maybe a couple of points. You know a deacon is a true deacon if, first, he is a man (there is no such thing a female deacon, making it never ever okay for a woman to don an alb, wear a stole over her shoulder, and presume to assist in any way in the liturgical celebration -the deaconess is a different thing, and she would never do such things). The true deacon is also one whom a pastor has actually made a deacon by rite. It takes more than a congregation with a pastoral vacancy to make a man a deacon. For the diaconate by its very nature has a special relationship with the bishop. Let us also be clear that anyone claiming to be a deacon who is acting as a de facto pastor, and thus performing duties only a pastor or presbyter ought to perform, like running a congregation or other ministry, and celebrating the holy eucharist, has lost any respect the church may have ever given him. By the very nature of what he is doing he is a scandal, and therefore should not be rewarded by being granted presbyteral ordination-which is exactly what would happen under the new proposal.

    Before we get bogged down in a sticky conversation about the diaconate, as fun as that may be, which I’d be willing to do in another discussion, let me remind us that one need not wait for the new heaven and new earth to figure out whether one’s vicar has the authority and call to preach publicly. He does not. And the solution is to stop asking him to do it. Just stop. As Jim Belushi (always good to quote an Albanian at least once a week) says in the movie, The Principal, “No more.” To say that it’s that simple may sound glib, but it is not the same as saying that it is easy. I know it won’t be easy. It requires a renewed commitment to our Confession, and to the integrity of our church’s proclamation of the Gospel. I accept that some among us do not have a “high” view of the pastoral office. But surely we all as Lutherans have a high (near sacramental) view of preaching. Then let us remember that in our choice of who gets to fill that important aspect of the Holy Mass on Sunday morning (or any other day). The pulpit is not the place for training.

  2. As I understand this (and possibly I don’t):

    The word “deacon” does not have the meaning it had 500 years ago in another place.
    (In fact, Missouri doesn’t have any deacons, or has one?)

    The word “vicar” does not have the meaning among Lutherans that it currently does in RC or Anglican circles. To the extent that it can be interpreted “in place of” or “deputy” our usage would seem to fit what we expect of the men so labeled.

    The Confessions may not have a paragraph on “vicar” with his duties, but the Confessions are not (quite) Scripture. Scripture describes appointing men to “serve” and yet we find those men (Stephen and Phillip, at least) preaching and teaching. (But there is no record of them celebrating the Sacrament.)

  3. The Missouri Synod doesn’t have deacons, as a synod. But she does have deacons within her. That is, they exist, but have no synodical recognition as such. Deacons do not make the list of rostered forms of churchly “ministry” in the LCMS. The Synod would much rather use the words “call” & “ministry” where they do not really fit, like teachers, DCEs, & deaconesses, along with allowing “lay deacons” to play pastor.

    Insofar as “vicar” has the meaning of one who is “in the place of” someone else, that is precisely what we should not be expecting our seminarians to do. For they have no call to preach in the place of a pastor. And the pastor has no authority to give his pulpit over to a layman, such as a seminarian. The burden is on those pastors to prove that they have such authority.

  4. Dear BJS,

    My thoughts:

    01) We do have vicars, men in training that should be under the supervision and tutelage of pastors. I do believe it OK to preach, but the words they use, the sermon written has been reviewed by the called pastor of the flock. Also, they do so when he is present. I do not think it would be correct for him to go somewhere and preach without being in the earshot of the pastor. Because we can if needed say “excuse me” if the vicar goofs up. We are the shepherd of the flock, and all goof ups are really ours (God will discuss with us later).

    Yes, I think consecration of the Eucharist? NO. Wait till ordained. Practice on your own or listen to pastor.

    02) As for deacons, we do have them…I have one (no Elders). In fact, he simply is my right arm and does the work I cannot do. No official office in Synod (do not believe). He for all intents and purposes a “slave of mine”, as I a “slave of Christ”. We do the bidding of the Master. Really do not know any other analogy.

  5. I appreciate your perspective on the matter, Pastor Prentice.
    With both filial respect and fraternal love I continue to disagree with you on whether it is okay for a vicar to preach. And as I mentioned in an earlier comment, the burden is on those who would defend the practice to show how it is somehow an exception to the clear confession of Augsburg Confession, Article XIV.

    The public preaching of men not in the preaching office is completely unnecessary, and should be discontinued wherever it is happening. Nor is there a need to wait for everyone to agree to end the practice together. Be like Nike, and Just do it.

    To be sure, it is not merely with vicars and field ed. where this happens, by the way. It also happens in our LCMS university chapels, such as Mequon, where lay faculty preach. It happens in many high school chapels as well. It happens in many ways. Why? because the door was opened a long time ago, and now we have simply found more and more reasons where we think it is either needful, or okay, or a good idea. Some even think it is part of their rightful so-called ministry as teachers. We have gone a long way down the road away from AC XIV being a true and honest confession among us. But we need not despair. We must once again learn to pray the Confessions, meditate upon them, rediscover the genius of the catholic confession of our evangelical faith, repent where needed, and realize that our Lutheran Confession is a joyful witness to the world.

  6. @Latif Haki Gaba #55

    I have no theological training, but I think you are in a small minority with respect to your interpretation of AC XIV as it pertains to vicars.     At our church the vicars were scrupulously supervised – especially wrt preaching.   Their public preaching was completely necessary IMO to prepare them for their first assignment. It seems to be the most important part of their vicar training.  Anyhow,  I appreciate your arguments.

  7. @Latif Haki Gaba #55
    Dear Latif,
    Closing thought on this one for me, “I do feel for the way you lean.” If I was in charge, only ordained men would preach and do the acts of the pastoral office. We can also discuss the call as it pertains either to ordination or installation at the assigned congregation.
    I preach because I am ordained and called to the congregation I serve. My emeritus pastor is assistant with a public call. I have had other ordained men preach, not called at the moment, but ordained and still in good standing.
    I would like to do more study on this, for later.
    All I can say, the Church I serve does all above board and to good Biblical and Confessional order.
    Yes, abuses do abound, sad.

  8. If I was in charge, only ordained men would preach and do the acts of the pastoral office

    Help me out here.  Of all the thousands of LCMS pastors, I’m guessing essentially every one of them publicly preached before ordination during seminary/vicarage training.

    On some of these threads I feel I’ve dropped into a parallel universe. (just kidding)

  9. @John Rixe #56

    Good morning, Mr. Rixe.
    To what degree I am in the minority is quite immaterial to the question of which interpretation is correct. Now as I have stated here before, one thing I have on my side is the clear reading of AC XIV. That puts the burden on those who would defend the current practice, to explain and defend their interpretation of AC XIV. Another thing on my side, by the way, is history. For what we see in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is that the Lutheran Confessions were viewed by the Lutherans as not merely containing doctrine, but indeed also describing how their doctrine is lived, AC XXIV -on the Mass (with its confession of weekly eucharist)- being another example.

    By the way, the minority position might not be quite as small a minority as it appears. I know of at least several Confessional Lutheran pastors who have the same view I do. They are perhaps not quite as loud about it as I am. And many others will come around, after they have had the opportunity to rethink the matter.

    Also, after some consideration, I would alter my rhetoric on this in one sense. Namely, it is quite possibly the case that if a vicarage pastor were to make the decision today to stop having his vicar preach, we might find out that the seminary in fact requires this preaching, and would retaliate by failing the student on his vicarage, and the congregation might face the long-term consequences like being dropped from the vicarage program. So we do need to convince the seminaries. But we need to be men, and make a beginning. As noted already, the problem precedes vicarage. For Field Ed. congregations also have their seminarians preach. Besides all this, there is the pulpit supply; ie., congregations within driving distance of a seminary will put out the word on campus that they would like someone to fill in next Sunday. Often, there is zero review of that sermon, zero supervision. Often the very reason for the opportunity is that the pastor is on vacation, or at a conference, etc.

    We need pastors to take a stand against this. And we need congregations to study the Confessions again.

  10. @Latif Haki Gaba #59

    Good morning and blessings of the Lord’s Day to you.  Countless seminary professors and educated pastors feel that a clear reading of AC XIV permits supervised public preaching by vicars.  (I’m repeating myself).  Of course you are correct in saying that majority opinion doesn’t necessarily establish truth.  You should continue to vigorously promote your ideas.

    Is there anything in the Bible on this?

  11. @John Rixe #60

    Is there anything in the Bible on this? Stephen? Philip? 🙂

    If this (presently hypothetical) deacon is [called?] by a congregation, I take it he would be “permanent” (at least as a pastor is “permanent”,) ’nuff said, 🙁 and paid? If the congregations who can afford/have need for a vicar all had a deacon, would we just skip the year of ‘on the job training’ for future pastors?

    I do agree that lay persons (under various titles and no pastoral supervision) should not be preaching; they might (in necessity) read a postil or homily from Concordia Pulpit Helps and identify it as such, to avoid plagiarism. But I still consider that a separate subject from the vicarage.

    Why aren’t CRM called to these “unsupervised vicarage” situations? Permanence not wanted? ( ? )

  12. @helen #61


    There is actually a variety of ways we could go. One would be for the vicarage program not to go away entirely, but to be converted into a true ordained diaconate. This would mean that the seminarian, perhaps at the start of his third year, or perhaps fourth, becomes a deacon, and would serve as such in the same churches that now have “vicars.” Such a scenario would be a transitional diaconate, for the most part. However, if during that period it is determined that God is not leading a man into pastoral ministry, but rather to permanent diaconal ministry, he could remain serving the Church in that way.

    Another way would be for seminary to just go down to three years on campus, and then presbyteral ordination, after which a man’s first assignment would be to be an assistant pastor for maybe two years, or whatever. In other words, a situation where he is able to perform all functions of the Office in good conscience, having the Call of the Church, but in a context where he can learn much on the job before being given charge over a parish.

  13. @John Rixe #60

    The countless pastors who feel that AC XIV allows for lay preaching cannot possibly think that it is found in the “clear reading” of the text. I’d like to hear just one of them defend that position. What they have is a certain logic on their side, a certain rationale. It does not square with our Confession, however.

    Let me here add to the whole discussion the fact that the Augsburg Confession is in no sense a legalism. Rather, it is a rich and joyful confession of a true (the only true) evangelical church. There was a time where Lutheran priests would learn the AC by heart. We need at least to renew our commitment to studying it and living it. And when we do, as I stated earlier, it will be a wonderful witness to the world, and to the international Lutheran community.

  14. “There was a time where Lutheran priests would learn the AC by heart. We need at least to renew our commitment to studying it and living it.”

    Let’s not forget the other Lutheran Symbols, which are just as much a part of the Lutheran Confessions. Even today, there are Lufauxran church bodies, whose quia confession excludes some of the Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as a true and unadulterated statement and exposition of the Word of God. Yet despite such a Lufauxran (less than Lutheran) confession, the Missouri Synod has declared them to be in Altar and Pulpit Fellowship.

    Perhaps if the Missouri Synod aligns its vicar program with the Lutheran Confessions rather than simply proclaiming the vicar program to be “synodically approved,” then the Synod will take a more confessionally Lutheran approach toward Altar and Pulpit Fellowship.

  15. @John Rixe #58
    Dear John,
    Yes, many, many have preached on vicarage; let us not count preaching outside of this though. I did too preach as a vicar.
    I see Latif as seeing a very narrow reading of the Confessions on the Office of pastor and what it means to have a call. Yes, a vicar does not have a call.
    My statements were as if we can “be in that perfect place”, only ordained men preach.
    I do track with Latif, I do not agree with the Diaconete as he says, Deacons cannot preach (or Elders, any Lay man)…let Deacons be helpers of various nature, not preachers though.

  16. @Carl Vehse #64

    Perhaps if the Missouri Synod aligns its vicar program with the Lutheran Confessions rather than simply proclaiming the vicar program to be “synodically approved,” then the Synod will take a more confessionally Lutheran approach toward Altar and Pulpit Fellowship

    Is there anything else in the Lutheran Confessions beside AC XIV that pertains to the Mo. Synod vicar program?  The 23 (English) words of AC XIV are not that transparent regarding LCMS vicars to this untutored cowboy.

    (The Apology XIV condemns catholic bishops murdering Lutheran pastors. I agree on that one.)

  17. @John Rixe #66

    “The Apology XIV condemns catholic bishops murdering Lutheran pastors. I agree on that one.”

    John-You and I have reached profound agreement.

  18. @John Rixe #66

    You write, “The 23 (English) words of AC XIV are not that transparent regarding LCMS vicars to this untutored cowboy.”

    Article XIV may not mention a lot of details (for every century, and every new generation, has the potential for inventing new ways of violating AC XIV, preaching vicars being just one of the more modern forms, and Melanchthon couldn’t have been expected to know them all by name), nevertheless this article is fairly straight forward. It places the burden on the one who is preaching to show that he has a call to do so, not on me for questioning that call. This call, by the way, is not some internal word from God. It is God actually ordering a man into the preaching office by means of churchly rite. It is not a mere bureaucratic decision of a curriculum committee, nor a congregation’s wish, nor a supervising pastor’s personal decision, nor a district’s official sanction. None of these constitute a call. If the preacher is unable to show you his papers, documenting his call, then the problem is not that I have a narrowed view of our Confession, but rather the church has lost sight of the importance of living what we ostensibly confess.

  19. This call, by the way, is not some internal word from God. It is God actually ordering a man into the preaching office by means of churchly rite.

    I’m not arguing here – just trying to understand.   Is there something in the Bible about God’s call via this churchly rite?  Thanks.

  20. One quick question. When Jesus sends the disciples out two by two, aren’t they preaching and teaching before they have been ritely called? They are to heal the sick and so on, but by doing this they must teach and preach, correct?

  21. @A guy #70

    The Divine Call is for the local congregation (administration of the sacraments, Office of the Keys). Missionaries do not need one to teach and preach to non-believers.

  22. @helen #73

    Helen, I never said that missionaries were not trained and sent. I said that they did not have the Divine Call from God issued through local congregations to a pastor, which is the office of teaching the Word and administering the Sacraments.

  23. @Tim Schenks #75

    I understood you, Tim. And I know you didn’t.
    I’m just not sure when the idea of a “Divine call by the congregation” superseded appointment by apostles, and then bishops.

    [I have a suspicion that it got especially important in Missouri, in the early to mid 1800’s, when the “bishop” (not regularly appointed either) had been given the boot.]
    But I’m open to learning. 🙂

    I have now read AC XIV. I still think the participation of “the whole church” is a little fuzzy in Paul’s instructions to “appoint” bishops/overseers/elders in various congregations. But that is the Lutheran interpretation in AC IV, and as opposed to the various kinds of “licensed laymen” that the districts indulge in, I am certainly in agreement with the more restricted view. Now, convince the congregations to refuse the “ersatz” and demand the ordained!

  24. That’s AC XIV. I can’t persuade “Edit” to let me correct it the second time.

    However, I might include vicars among the “sent” (because they are sent), also because they do not, or should not, celebrate the Sacrament, but teach and preach, yes.

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