Monday, June 30, 2014

The (Clergy-Search) Dating Game

In case I haven't made this clear, I did actually graduate!  That particular part of the fool's errand that gives this blog its name is done.
Of course, that means that the challenging part -- the "becoming a Presbyterian pastor" part -- is where I am now.  And that means it's time for me to play The Presbyterian Dating Game.
Different denominations have different means of pastors being placed in churches.  On one end of the spectrum is the free-for-all involved in Baptist and other such denominations.  On the other, the strict placement practice of United Methodists, in which not only are you placed by a bishop, but you are subject to being re-placed four or five years later.
As is typical in just about everything polity-wise, the Presbyterian Church (USA) sits somewhere in the middle, with a system that leaves the choice up to church and potential pastor while centralizing the contact process in Presbyterian offices in Louisville (henceforth called the Mothership).  Without betraying confidence or otherwise giving away state secrets, here's a little of what it's like to be caught up in this process.
Once one has been certified by one's presbytery as ready for examination for a call, the potential pastor is called upon to summarize his/her life in a few pages via the Personal Information Form (PIF).  The PIF is, without too much exaggeration, your life essence, your core, your Patronus, your very being itself all digested and wrestled into electronic written form.  Beyond the practical details of your life history and education and experience the PIF also captures your response to a set of narrative questions that are intended to say something about you as a potential minister (or experienced minister if you're that).  It also includes references, like a more traditional resum√©, and your contact information of course.  Completing this PIF becomes the Holy Grail of your existence once you're certified, even to the point of becoming a bigger deal than graduation (I got this wrong, therefore I'm a little behind many of my classmates who are already toddling off to their first calls).
Of course the seminary has an office to help with this kind of thing, but ultimately you've got to get it done and filled out on a PC(USA) website so it can be approved by your presbytery's appropriate committee, after which it is posted on the denomination's Christian Leadership Connection list of pastors and others seeking new calls.  Hundreds upon hundreds of PIFs are lodged there.
At the same time, the CLC is also gathering MIFs, or Ministry Information Forms, from churches seeking new pastors or associate pastors or whatever may be the case.  (In case you didn't guess it from the PC(USA) abbreviation, we Presbyterians love love love us some acronyms.)  Once your PIF is posted, it's time to start looking for matches, with the CLC functioning somewhat like the dating site eHarmony.  Your seminary's vocational office can help you out by finding those churches that match your criteria (i.e. are willing to take on someone with no pastoral experience or seeking a first call, in my case) and, possibly, going ahead and referring your PIF to the churches that match.  You can also refer yourself via good ol' email, though it doesn't hurt to have your seminary vouching for you, so to speak.
Then, you wait.  This is the part at which I am not good.
If things go well, churches start to contact you via the chair of their Pastor Nominating Committee (or PNC).  Often the first contact might simply be a query as to whether you're still interested in that church, or it might be a request to see a video of you preaching a sermon, particularly if you're seeking a solo or head pastor role.
I assume all the seminaries have some means of helping you get such a video done; Union does, and so I was off to preach a sermon to a video camera.  Such is the essence of strangeness.  In this case the video is hosted by UPSem's media services, so the PNC can simply go online and watch the sermon to see if you're a total incompetent or not.  If after this the church decides you're still a person of interest, the next step might be to set up an interview with you and the committee via Skype or old-fashioned conference call.  This is as far as I've gotten; I've now completed such interviews with two churches, the second just earlier this evening.
There is one other potential step, if you choose.  This year PC(USA) offered a face-to-face interview opportunity running concurrently with its General Assembly a couple of weeks ago in Detroit, on the premise that elders or nominating committee members or presbytery executives were likely to be on the premises and could sneak out of meetings on occasion to interview either newbies like me or, in some cases, currently employed pastors who were seeking new calls.  It is the latter that causes the face-to-face interview room to be placed in the most remote part of the meeting facility, I assume (seriously, the interview room was practically in Canada).

See? There's Windsor, Ontario, seen from just outside the interview room!

If the CLC website is eHarmony, this face-to-face is a speed-dating event.  I barely got into the interview room before I had two different potential interview groups coming after me.  The whole week wasn't quite that hectic, but I did stay busy, which I take as a good thing (one of the two interviews I've done resulted directly from this face-to-face program, so I am required to go on the record saying it's worth doing).  Still, it was odd being right there as all the difficult and controversial overtures before the GA were being discussed and debated and knowing less than the average person sitting at home following on Twitter.
Anyway, that's as much as I can say because that's as far as I've gone.  There may be more churches yet to contact me for sermons or interviews, or something more might happen with one of the interview churches, or the whole business could suddenly freeze up and leave me stranded.  I have some self-referrals I need to do, and I need to go back to the CLC to see if there are any new churches that match up with me.
And that, in a really long and winding nutshell, is my life.

No comments:

Post a Comment