But what will this Call Day show us about the clerical labor market in the Missouri Synod? I've been following the issues about the lack of placements for a few years and these are my educated guesses of what is to come.
1. The trend of falling demand for full-time pastoral work will continue. There will not be enough full-time, 1 Cor. 9:14 calls to give one to each graduate seeking such a call. This trend began, at the very latest, with the class of 2004. Expect an announcement from one or both seminaries that several candidates are awaiting calls. Further, several of the calls that will be handed out in May will not be full-pay pastoral calls. It may be difficult to assess just how many of the calls will fall into this latter category since the seminaries are not required to make such details public knowledge (although especially St. Louis has taken some pains in actually announcing which calls are intentionally "worker-priest" situations at the Call Day service). However, I expect the total number of graduates not receiving a full-time call (that is, those receiving no call at all and those receiving a "worker-priest" call) to be in the 5%-10% range. For the purposes of this calculation, we leave aside those going on to graduate work, even though some of them surely would seek calls if they thought they could get them.
2. We will not see a repeat of last year where a vastly disproportional majority of the unplaced men were from CTS. I know some will disagree with me, but I do not believe that the COP as a whole "has it in" for Ft. Wayne. The testimony of more than two or three witnesses that certain District Presidents simply will not take CTS graduates is too overwhelming to be doubted, but I do not believe that this represents a majority of the Council. While we may well suspect that such biases among some members of the COP contributed to last year's imbalance, another factor that must be reckoned with is the traditionally high (and equally disproportional) number of students from CSL who take assistant/associate positions. As I narrated in a previous post, the greatest loss in demand for pastoral work is in small, semi-rural Midwestern parishes: this is going to hit CTS harder than CSL based on the historical trend of CTS placements to sole pastor positions in just these sorts of parishes.
However, last year was a frankly embarrassing breakdown in one of the material principles of the Missouri Synod: Synodical bonhomie. Look for the COP to bend over backwards to make sure that the number of unplaced graduates from each institution is in proportion to the size of their graduating classes. And yes, the district elections of 2009 and the Synodical elections of 2010 will only help this situation.
3. The big question: will all the men who don't receive calls in the first week of May receive them before the start of the next academic year? Or before next Call Day? Or ever? In one sense, probably - in a more significant sense: no. Yes, fields of service will probably be found for them in one way or another - some part-time, some full-time, some worker-priest.
However, it is an open secret that there is a large number of men on Candidate Status (once called "CRM") who are ready, willing, and able to serve but for whom no call can be found. Exactly what this number is can be difficult to determine; the best information that I can get seems to indicate that the total number of men on "candidate status" and "non-candidate status" is somewhere around 250. What proportion of those men are ready, willing, and able and what proportion are on "non-candidate status"? It seems that such numbers are not publicly available - but if we suppose that each district contains three men of the "candidate status," ready, willing, and able sort, we are already running over 100. At any rate, there is no doubt that it is greater than nil. Thus, any way you slice it, we have persistent clerical unemployment and underemployment in the LCMS - either because we have a shortage of congregations willing to issue I Cor 9:14 calls or because we have a glut of clergy: you can choose your own characterization.
I know that these issues are being debated in the highest offices of the Synod and I pray that God would grant our Synodical officials wisdom in addressing them. But this is all the more reason why these issues should also be discussed at the circuit, parish, and free conference level. Our Synodical polity, to say nothing of Christian charity, demands considered thought from all corners, for we currently have both a great number of sheep without undershepherds (permanently non-calling congregations, congregations served by "lay ministers," etc.) and a great number of undershepherds without flocks. It is a complicated problem - I have put forward my ideas in these pages before: if you have good ideas, you should discuss them here, in your Winkels, at your General Pastors' Conferences, with your DP, etc. This problem affects the whole Synod, and the whole Synod should be dedicated to correcting it.