For those of you who are not familiar with the story of Vision and Expectations, it is a document that every candidate for ministry was required to read and attest that s/he had read it and would comply with it. Three times during the candidacy process we were required to ask each candidate if s/he had read it, and would comply with it. Unless they said “yes,” they were not permitted to continue in candidacy. We lost an excellent candidate from the Montana Synod, because he was not able to say yes truthfully.
Three times during candidacy we ask if the candidate has read and will live in accordance with Vision and Expectations. But when we get to ordination, there is no mention of it. The ordination rite speaks of the Holy Scriptures, the Creeds, the Confessions, but no mention of Vision and Expectations. The installation rite asks the person being installed to promise to do everything in accordance with the constitutions of the church, but no mention of Vision and Expectations.
So, what is the content of Vision and Expectations that made it so important that it be raised up three times during the course of a future pastor’s preparation ( and then never mentioned again)? Was it like Jesus’ three-fold question to Peter after the Resurrection: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Was it affirming the three parts of the Apostles and Nicene Creeds? Was it knowing the names of the tree creeds we say we teach and affirm? Was it being able to say yes to the scriptures, creeds and confessions?
No. Vision and Expectations put into writing what were, at the time, some of the do’s and don’ts of conduct becoming a minister. Although the document listed both do’s and don’ts, most of the objections to the document arose from the don’ts, and those in particular in the area of human sexuality. Written in 1990, Vision and Expectations originally took a very clear stance on sexual behavior for its clergy. Outside of marriage, it was unacceptable. At that time, same-sex relationships were not recognized in most states, and not in the church officially.
In the years since 2009, when the church agreed to disagree on publicly accountable lifelong monogamous same-sex relationships, and the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal in every state, Vision and Expectations has been revised to reflect current reality.
I used to ask first-call pastors at our first call theological education retreat if they were familiar with Vision and Expectations, to tease them. They would roll their eyes and groan. And then I would go on to remind them that it wasn’t all about sex. It was about leading lives of prayer and service, about caring for God’s people and for the earth. It was about leading lives that were exemplary, supporting the congregation and the Synod and the ELCA, being fiscally responsible. So much more than sex. And then they would perk up, and look interested.
But, in the end, it was sex that was the downfall of Vision and Expectations. For too many people, that’s what it was about. So now, we are, in the ELCA, on the verge of replacing Vision and Expectations with a new document (as yet unnamed) that tries to do several things:
+put into one place the constitutional and disciplinary requirements for pastors and deacons, to let candidates know succinctly what the established rules are, and how to find them; and
+carefully focus on the aspirational expectations, the “thou shalts,” after having established (above) the “thou shalt nots.” The aspirations focus on such things as: evangelism, compassion, confession, hospitality, peacemaking, justice, stewardship of the earth and more.
And if you are wondering why I am so interested in this in the last 7 months of my last term, I’ll tell you: I am on the committee tasked with coming up with something better. And we hope to have something by the February 28 Conference of Bishops.
I am committed to supporting pastors and deacons as they do the very challenging and very rewarding tasks of ministry day in and day out. And I am committed to supporting congregations as they work with their pastors and deacons and LPAs to provide ministry in their community. It is my hope that this new document will be a helpful tool throughout the candidacy process, and in the life of the church.
Jessica Crist, Bishop