Today was Call Day at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, the pastor-training college for the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Call Day is when the Seminary graduates receive their assignments into the public ministry, the first places where they will actually serve as pastors. It’s a very exciting day for the graduates and their families. Thanks to the magic of the internet, JJ and I watched the service streaming live this morning (in our pajamas – life in CA is good. :)) We knew a few of the graduates, and we knew a few places in our district that were looking for graduates. It was interesting to see who went where.
As it does every year, it brought back a lot of memories of JJ’s Call Day, back in May of 2001… In the months leading up to Call Day, many of the Seniors – and their wives – had watched the call reports closely, scoping out what churches were in need of a pastor and might choose to have a graduate. JJ and I had our own personal ideas of what we were hoping for: JJ hoped for a musical congregation that was near a large metropolitan area (one that wasn’t “in the sticks”), and I hoped for a small congregation that was in an area with a lovely scenic view.
When Call Day actually arrived, I don’t think either of us slept well the night before, especially not my husband. Thankfully, the Call Service was in the morning, so we didn’t have long to wait. The candidates sit with their families; they don’t have to sit in a separate place. I remember trying to listen to the sermon, but having a very difficult time paying attention. I kept wondering, “Where are we going to go? Where will we be?” Finally, the sermon ended, and the president of the Synod started reading the calls. I remember that JJ and I were holding hands, and as his name got closer and closer, his hands were visibly shaking. Our last name is near the end of the alphabet, so we heard a number of other churches get crossed off of our mental list as men were assigned to those places.
Finally, they got to my husband’s name. As the president started to read off the name of the congregation to which my husband had been assigned, my husband told me afterward that he had a moment of panic, thinking the president was beginning to read the name of a (similarly-named) congregation he knew of that was not his ideal place to be serving. But, the president read the name of a different church, named the city in which that church was located, and then said the state name: “California.” Wow! We were going back to California!!! JJ was delighted; he had served as a vicar (student pastor) at a church in the L.A. area, and he had hoped to be able to return to CA.
Interestingly, I knew a little about the congregation already. I had a high school friend who was a member there, so I knew that the church was located near San Francisco. And, because I knew my friend’s family was musical, I knew it was a musical congregation. JJ was even more excited to hear that piece of news.
The church was musical, and it was near a big city — JJ got both of his wishes. Plus he got California! The church was also small (about 130 members) and was located high on a hill with beautiful views of San Francisco Bay and was close to the Pacific Ocean as well — I got both of my wishes, too. We were even more delighted to be able to talk to the former pastor’s son, who happened to be attending the Call Day service, and he told us more details about the congregation, the area, and the parsonage. Amazingly, we both got exactly what we’d been hoping for! We were so thankful and happy at how God had worked everything out for us.
My mother was excited for us, but she did shed tears over the fact that were were going to be going 2000 miles away to California. But, before my mother was married, she had been a WELS school teacher, and she had taught for three years in Garden Grove, CA (near L.A.) So, she had experienced the fun of living in California herself, and she was happy for us, even while she was sad that we would be leaving to go so far away.
I don’t know if I would be brave enough now to pack up everything and move 2000 miles away to an unknown place. But, nine years ago, we didn’t have a choice. When JJ began his pastoral studies, he knew it would culminate in him getting a pastoral assignment to an unknown place somewhere in the United States. This was what JJ had signed on for, and by marrying him, I had implicitly signed on for it, too. So, being young and in love and ready for adventure, the next month we packed up our stuff, the moving van loaded it up for us, and we drove our trusty and compact 1996 Saturn across the western half of the U.S. to begin a brand-new life 2000 miles from home.
Almost nine years later, we’re still living in California – what an adventure it has been!