From Student to Leader

Date posted: Friday 06 March 2020

2020 First Call Theological Education Retreat

The ELCA requires all rostered ministers to participate in First Call Theological Education (FCTE) during their first three years of public ministry. It is designed to assist with the transition from student to leader. Each synod can structure their program as they choose. In the Saint Paul Area Synod, our FCTE program is focused on three things:

  1. development of practical skills
  2. investment in a learning community
  3. engagement with the life of the synod


Over three years, newly ordained pastors and deacons—with the support of their congregations and the synod office—commit to these three focus areas. We also gather annually on retreat for a time of renewal, worship, fellowship and learning.

The 2020 FCTE retreat was recently held at Assisi Heights Spirituality Center in Rochester. The “mother house” of a Franciscan community, this facility is operated by the nuns of Assisi as a retreat center, welcoming guests to enjoy the beautiful grounds, contemplative spaces, hearty food, and a quiet calm that blankets the building. We also got to say hello to the staff of the Southeastern Minnesota Synod, who rent office space in this lovely building.


The bishop and several members of the synod staff led the cohort in sessions on spiritual practices that give us life, everything you wanted to know (and more) about the governance and structure of the ELCA and synod, and on the overarching theme of “prophetic voice.” Too often, this term is flattened into “speaking truth to power.”


Through conversation, text studies and preaching, Bishop Patricia Lull, Anna Marsh, the Rev. Justin Grimm and FCTE mentors invited participants to think about the role of a prophet as one more focused on the reconciliation of God with God’s people, and all of the nuanced work and conversation that requires. Together we reflected on how “prophetic voice” can be a meaningful category for leaders in an election year. The prophets were public leaders in their time, and we see them reflecting on questions like:

  • How can I speak to that? I don’t know enough/I’m not ready!
  • I have to talk to them too? No please, anyone but them.
  • How do I really and truly engage my audience’s imagination around these crucial issues?
  • What will saying this cost me in the court of opinion of my peers?
  • How many times do I have to say this?!
  • How are the things my community has endured together still shaping them today? How are they shaping the way my community perceives others?
  • What will happen to me if I touch those raw nerves?
  • What do you say when everything is on the line?
  • What do you say when something real has been lost?


All of this was grounded in worship throughout the retreat, which was led beautifully by the Rev. Elizabeth and Paul Damico-Carper. Perhaps because the retreat was snowed out in 2019, it was all that much sweeter when we were able to gather this year! We are already looking forward to next year…


- Anna Marsh

Executive Assistant, Saint Paul Area Synod


Learn more about about the synod's continuing education for leaders.