Every other month we get an update on what’s been happening at our Immanuel Lutheran High School, College and Seminary in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
It is the second week in August. A young man in his early twenties is packing his suitcase with enough necessities to last for six weeks. He is a bit nervous about what he will be doing. At the same time, he is eager at the prospect of putting his learning into practice.
So it is that a young seminary student enters into a congregation, which has been selected by agreement between the dean of the seminary and the congregation. Suddenly, this young man is walking at the side of the pastor, observing him as he interacts with his congregation. Families see him when the pastor makes home visits. Nursing home residents see him sitting beside the pastor during devotions. The sick and injured see the vicar coming with the pastor to their bedside in the hospital. The church council sees him in their meetings. Children see him in Sunday school, confirmation class, and Christian day school. The ladies of the congregation see him at their meetings. The pastor’s children see him in their father’s office, discussing the text for next Sunday’s sermon, the subject matter for Bible class, and more mundane matters, such as recordkeeping and bulletin preparation. They may even see their father listening as the young man gives advice on the use of electronic media.
Who is he anyway? He is a vicar, which is a title meaning “substitute.” In a sense, he has come to the congregation to be a substitute for the pastor. However, the purpose is not to give the pastor a break.
For six weeks, pastor and vicar form a team as they meet the needs of the congregation. Within a short amount of time, the vicar is no longer observing the pastor. Rather, the pastor is observing him. He helps this seminary student prepare sermon texts or Bible class topics. Following the vicar’s presentation, the pastor discusses it and makes suggestions on how to improve. The pastor observes the vicar as he counsels members, comforts the suffering, admonishes the erring, and instructs the young. These efforts, also, are discussed and advice is given.
Most of all, the vicar learns by studying God’s Word and proclaiming it to real people with real needs in their real lives. This kind of learning cannot be duplicated in the classroom. Here is the excitement. Ever since he first desired the pastoral ministry, this vicar has been studying and preparing himself. After years of study, he gets to experience what he has desired. It is hard for some, after completing their internships, to go back to the classroom. Such is their excitement and their desire to serve the Lord. But, go back they must.
At the end of the six weeks, the vicar returns to the seminary. Shortly thereafter he meets with the dean. The dean opens the report of the supervising pastor evaluating the vicar’s work: preaching, teaching, counseling, comforting, admonishing, studying, and other aspects of the ministry. He reports on the vicar’s interaction with children, youth, adults, and the elderly. The dean and the vicar then discuss the report, as well as the vicar’s personal observations about the ministry.
Now, the vicar returns to the classroom with a new perspective on the relationship between his studies and the ministry. Likewise, the dean of students has a new perspective of the student, which will help the dean as he continues giving instruction and advice.
Study and experience prepare this seminary student to assume the blessed call of the Lord to be a shepherd to His flock.
John Pfeiffer is a retired professor and past president of Immanuel Lutheran College. His home is in Fall Creek, Wisconsin.