by the Rev. Javen Swanson
Proclaim member and pastor,
Gloria-Dei Lutheran, St. Paul, Minnesota
It was August 2011 and I had just been approved for call. Because my husband Oby was then serving as pastor of a United Church of Christ congregation in the Twin Cities suburbs, I requested a restriction to the St. Paul Area Synod. My request was denied. I quickly learned that there are more candidates (both ordained and first-call) seeking calls in the Twin Cities than there are calls to be received.
Meeting with the synod staff to discuss my next steps, I was told that the fact that my request for restriction wasn’t accepted did not mean I couldn’t be considered for a call in the synod. They said the synod staff regularly reviews the names of candidates who are awaiting call and restricted to the Twin Cities. Perhaps a call would become available sometime in the future that could be a good fit.
But, they told me, I would also need to be my own advocate: keep an eye on the synod website for open calls; call the synod office monthly to discuss any new possibilities with the assistant to the bishop; get involved in the synod and network with other pastors in the area. I came away from that conversation with a clear sense that I would need to fend for myself.
Two and a half years later, I was feeling hopeless and all alone. When a call finally did come in the summer of 2014, it came not because the synod had passed my name onto a congregation, but because a fellow Proclaim member advocated for me and put my name in front of a call committee.
Seeking a first call can be a nerve-racking process for any newly-approved candidate, but it is often an especially difficult process for LGBTQIA+ candidates who, almost 10 years after the 2009 vote, still encounter roadblocks getting interviews and finding a call.
Two years ago, ELM’s Accompaniment Program launched a First Call Coaching Team. Twice a year, as recently-graduated Proclaim seminarians complete the approval process and receive their synod assignments, we offer to match them with a coach whose task is to walk with them through the process of seeking a first call. The coaches are all Proclaim members, most of whom have learned from their own challenging experiences how best to navigate the process and negotiate the obstacles LGBTQIA+ candidates encounter along the way.
The First Call Coaching Team has collected some of the best practices for LGBTQIA+ candidates awaiting first call, and coaches connect monthly with first-call candidates to offer support. Perhaps most importantly, coaches provide a listening ear, sharing in both the frustrations of awaiting first call and the joys of a successful call process.
If you ask me, synods should offer coaches to every candidate awaiting first call. Until then, ELM’s first call coaches will do the work of walking with LGBTQIA+ candidates as they seek a first call and supporting them through all the ups and downs of that journey.
Javen Swanson is Associate Pastor at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Minnesota (one of TWO Proclaim pastors on the pastoral staff!) where he has served since 2014. He makes a home with several Old Testament characters: his husband Obadiah, dog Ruthie, and cats Amos and Hosea.