What is a Vicar?

For the last two years of my life I have been called “Vicar” — No I did not change my name, but I have been put in a position in ministry where I had a title. The church where I am currently serving has had a “Vicar” the last three years.  Not in the capacity of internship but as a senior seminarian that works with the youth of the church. Most people do not have any idea what this means, in fact there were a number of people (youth and adults) who thought it was my first name!  So here are some reflections as to what the title Vicar means in the past and today.

The word vicar comes from the Latin “vicarious” meaning substitute, or one who has authority to act in the place of another.

The Church of England used the term for a clergy-person who serves a parish as its minister. A vicar in the Roman Catholic faith refers to a bishop who is sent to a diocese without a bishop.

In the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America),  the church in which I serve a “vicar” normally refers to a seminarian who has completed the first two years of academics, clinical pastoral education and a year of field education, who is assigned to a congregation as an intern for one year. This typically involves the student working with a senior pastor and a committee of the church to support the development of the seminarian.

Typically at the end of the year of vicarage, the candidate returns to seminary and completes a final year of studies. After being issued a call or assignment, the candidate is ordained as a pastor in the ministry of Word and Sacrament.

Now I am not an intern but the pastor of the church I am working at wanted me to have a title.  I guess Vicar is the most appropriate title for that.  However, I think there needs to be education on what Vicar means and why we use that title.

I am getting use to having a title before my name.  Soon enough I will be “Pastor” – I have not thought about that much until recently and I think that is a very cool thing.  I will see what the culture of the church is before I decide if my first or last name will follow Pastor.  I am sure that everyone will have their own comfort level and I am open to that. I think that what is comfortable for someone I will be okay with that.  As long as they don’t call me late for dinner!  (sorry I could not resist)

For those who are seminarians or pastors or even those in other professions – what is the “proper” way that one should be addressed in the work place? What is the most professional way we should be called, or does it really matter?

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2 thoughts on “What is a Vicar?

  1. I had never heard of “vicar” until my daughter was called that. She found that people did think it was her name because mail would come address to Vicar ___ (her first name), most likely because they didn’t know that woman can be pastors.

    In our area, seminarians in a congregation are called Intern Pastors, which gets confused with Interim Pastors, so there always needs to be clarification.

    Do you know if “vicar” is an official ELCA term or just a regional term?

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