Ethical Practices

Normative Ethical Practices for Rostered Leaders of the USS:

(Adopted by the Upper Susquehanna Synod Assembly in 1996)

The Oath of Ordination requires a pastor to “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior by a holy life and conversation that in all our words and deeds we may seek (God’s) glory and the increase of (His) kingdom” The church requires of the pastors it has ordained integrity, compassion, belief in the dignity and worth of human beings through Christ’s death and resurrection, a commitment to Christian service, and a dedication to the truth as known in Jesus Christ Therefore, this document embodies certain common standards of ethical behavior in the conduct of ordained pastors of the Upper Susquehanna Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and provides the basis for helping them make judgments about their actions before and after they occur. Ethical behavior in a given situation must satisfy more than the personal judgment of the ordained pastor; therefore, the pastor is expected to be guided by all the principles in this document that have a bearing upon any situation in which ethical judgment is to be exercised. The course of action chosen is expected to be consistent with the spirit as well as the letter of this document, and any exceptions should be for sound pastoral reasons.

As an ordained pastor:

I.  My primary obligation is to the Gospel, in the context to and in which I am called;

II.  I recognize there are times when I must give precedence to my pastoral responsibilities over my personal life;

III.  I hold myself responsible for my efforts towards the quality, effectiveness, and extent of my ministry;

IV.  I respect and support the position and call of my colleagues. I will express my concerns regarding their views or actions to them personally, and in serious cases, through established processes (Matthew 18: I 5- 17; The Upper Susquehanna Synod Constitution, Chapter 17 “Adjudication”; and the ELCA Constitution, Chapter 20, “Consultation, Discipline, Appeals, and Adjudication”);

V.  I accept the responsibility to stand against false teachings, false practices, and unethical and immoral behaviors by individuals or organizations engaged in or claiming to engage in the public exercise of Christian ministry;

VI.  I distinguish clearly and openly between my statements and actions as an individual and as a representative of the church;

VII. I accept the following standards of behavior in my ministry:


1.  It is expected that one of the persons exercising parental responsibility for a child to be baptized will be an active member of the Lutheran Church, and the sacrament will be administered in the congregation where that person holds membership. either full or associate.

2. The presiding minister will be the called or interim pastor 01 the congregation where the Baptism is being celebrated Any other presider will have the prior approval of that congregation’s pastor or the Bishop of the Upper Susquehanna Synod if the pastorate is vacant.

3. A presiding minister at the Baptism of a child whose parents belong to another congregation will have the approval of the home pastor and will send the necessary data For proper recording in the home congregation’s Parish Register.

4. Baptismal instruction will precede every Baptism and will include the meaning 01 Baptism and the responsibilities for the Christian growth of the baptized, The presiding minister will be responsible for this instruction.

5. All sponsors will be baptized persons.

6. Baptism will be celebrated in the presence of the worshiping congregation; private Baptisms will be in emergency situations only.


1. Whenever Communion is to be celebrated, the whole congregation will be invited to participate, e,g, at weddings, funerals, etc.

2. The presiding minister at Communion will be the called or interim pastor of the congregation Any other presider will have the prior approval of the congregation’s pastor or the Bishop of the Upper Susquehanna Synod if the pastorate is vacant

3. Communion will also be administered to those incapable of attending the congregation’s worship; it is the responsibility of church members to advise the pastor when home Communion is desired.

4. The host congregation will inform the home congregation when visitors commune, provided such information is made available.

5. In order to celebrate Communion outside the congregation, permission from the Bishop of the Upper Susquehanna Synod will be required. ELCA Guidelines (1989) define such situations as those “in established centers of the church, e,g., seminaries, colleges, retreat centers, charitable institutions, and administrative centers.” although ‘in institutions not formally associated with the church, e.g,., hospitals, retirement homes, colleges/universities, military bases, where there is a called pastor or chaplain, authorization for the celebration of Holy Communion rests with the pastor in consultation with the calling-sending agency/board of the church”


1. It is expected that either the bride or the groom will be a full or associate member of the congregation where the wedding is being celebrated and the presiding minister will be the called or interim pastor of that congregation Any other presider or participating clergy will have prior approval of the congregation’s pastor or the Bishop of the Upper Susquehanna Synod if the pastorate is vacant.

2. Pre-marital instruction will precede every wedding and will be the responsibility of the presiding minister. It will include an interpretation of the Christian understanding of marriage and instruction regarding the ELCA’s statement on marriage.

3. The presiding minister will conform to the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania concerning the solemnizing of a marriage (copies are available from the office of the Upper Susquehanna Synod).


1. The funeral or memorial service for an active member is most appropriately held in the church in which that person was a full or associate member, and the presiding minister will be the called or interim pastor of that congregation. Any other presider or participating clergy will have the prior approval of the congregation’s pastor or the Bishop of the Upper Susquehanna Synod if the pastorate is vacant.

2. Funeral services for members of another congregation shall not be conducted without prior approval of the called or interim pastor of that congregation. Information concerning the death shall be sent to that congregation for proper recording in the Parish Register

3. A distinction of both content and form shall mark the funeral services for non-church members without affecting pastoral care and concern for the bereaved (see The Manual on the Liturgy).

4. Pastors should provide educational opportunities for dealing with death and grief.

5. With the assistance of the pastor, members should be encouraged to prepare their own funeral service in accordance with the practice of the church.


1. A pastoral visit is any visit that an ordained pastor makes on the basis of his/her office.

2. Any pastoral visit made to a member of another congregation shall be at the request or with the consent of that member’s pastor.


1. The pastoral care/counseling ministry of the pastor will normally be to the members of his/her congregation.

2. The pastor will not advertise as a counselor unless accredited by a certifying body in that field and with the approval of his/her congregation’s council.

3. Information which is shared with a pastor as part of pastoral care/counseling is considered private and shall remain confidential, insofar as confidentiality is in accordance with Pennsylvania law regarding privileged information (Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, Title 42, Chapter 59):

a. Absolute privileged information is that which is shared in an appropriate confessional setting between priest and penitent; disclosure cannot be forced under any circumstance

b. Privileged information is that shared with the pastor in his/ her official capacity but outside the confessional setting, e g., a counseling session. Disclosure is allowed with the written consent of the parties involved or with a court order.

c. Confidential information includes all other pastoral conversations, and disclosure is required upon request by law enforcement and judicial agencies.

d. Information concerning child abuse committed on church property or within a church-sponsored program, e.g., scouts and clubs, even though not on church property, is required to be reported to the appropriate agency.

e. Pastors may seek advice from their congregation’s legal counselor the legal counsel of the Upper Susquehanna Synod (any fee is the responsibility of the congregation).


The pastor will participate in continuing education in order to increase and strengthen his/her pastoral skills


1. Pastors sharing a congregation member through associate membership will also share with each other information concerning pastoral acts.

2. Associate membership status as described in the Model Constitution for Congregations is understood to mean persons holding membership some distance from the congregation to which they are applying for associate membership. Associate membership is not to be used as a way to avoid dealing with conflict with their home congregation or pastor.


1. A pastor who retires or accepts a call to a non-congregation ministry will normally transfer membership from the congregations he!she formerly served.

2. It is expected that a pastor will not return to a former congregation to conduct pastoral acts. e.g .. Baptisms. weddings. funerals.

3. The congregation’s called or interim pastor, or the Bishop of the Upper Susquehanna Synod if the pastorate is vacant, may invite a former pastor to participate.


1. The Sacraments, marriages, funerals, pastoral visitations, and pastoral care/counseling are normal responsibilities of pastoral ministry to members of the congregation, who shall not be charged a fee for these services. Any fee charged to nonmembers is at the discretion of the pastor and the congregation’s council.

2. An honorarium is not a fee but a gift, and its acceptance and use is at the discretion of the pastor.

Each pastor of the Upper Susquehanna Synod shall share these guidelines with his/ her congregation so that members and councils may be aware of these ethical standards and thus be able to encourage and support their pastor’s in fulfilling these responsibilities.