As a recent seminary graduate and presumptive (presumptious?) candidate for ministry in my denomination, I have been walking through the process of "conversation" with a potential calling church. While I have enjoyed the process thus far, the congregation is going to vote in a few weeks and then the discernment ball will be in my court, so to speak. And I'm wondering how y'all do discernment at this level. In denominations without bishops making these matches for you, what does it really mean to feel "called by God" to a particular ministry location?
This leads into a second question, although this may be more appropriate a few months from now, and that is: any advice for a young minister starting off in her first call, her first congregation? What should I avoid doing? What absolutely needs doing? How do I care for myself during this time? etc. etc. etc.
Here are the tips from our matriarchs:
Do a gut check.
Some questions to ask yourself about how you feel: Does it scare you to consider accepting this call? (Not necessarily a bad thing to be scared.) Does it feel right? Can you imagine yourself serving this community? (Jan)
Listen to your heart and intuition; pay attention to what they are saying to you. Pray, and invite others to join in praying for you. (RevHoney)
I think about it like intuition. Does this feel right. Could I love these people, get excited about living in this community, are my particular gifts and skills well suited for this setting, will they love me, can I shine. (Ann's personal matriarch network)
Spell out expectations from both sides.
Check on salary, housing, pension, car allowance or mileage, vacation, days off, education leave, etc. Be sure you are being paid fairly as compared with others in your range of experience and responsibility. Be clear about days off per week (most jobs have 2 days) and take them from the beginning. Do not be shy about stating your needs. A good letter of agreement about what they will do and what you will do is invaluable, as the church will take every moment you allow it to do so; so your ability to make it a long-term commitment will be how you establish the relationship and keep to it. (Ann)
Start well by setting a Sabbath day for yourself and honoring it. At a minimum, take one day/ week and two days in a row once each month. (RevHoney)
The best advice I received was to tell the interviewing committee and anyone else that will listen that, as a person with friends and family out of town, you will be 1) leaving town on your day off to visit them and 2) having them stay in your home. And they will include relatives and friends, married and single people, old and young, men and women. This comes in handy when people wonder what's going on in the new pastor's house. And it reminds them that you have a life apart from them. Depending on the context of your ministry, this might be something they don't realize. (Jan)
Personalize your experiences with congregation members.
Visit personally as many parishioners as possible just to chat. Keep a card file on each family unit - as soon as you finish a visit make notes on the card and each time you have new info. You think you will remember, but info overload occurs within weeks of arrival. (Ann)
I always think that it is important early on to schedule home visits wtih parishioners. It's a way to get to know people outside of a conflict situation and have a good leg up on establishing relationships equally across the boards - not just with those who are seeking you out! (Ann's personal matriarch network)
Learn about your community as well as the congregation.
As you are getting to know your congregation, get to know community leaders too. Make an appointment with the principal of the school closest to yours, to a local government person, long time local business owners, etc. Ask them what people in the community say about the congregation, and what the community’s greatest strengths and growing edges are from their unique perspective. (RevHoney)
Find a spiritual director. And use him/her! (RevHoney)
Once you agree find a good small group of peers in your area (they don' t have to be clergy - other professions are good too, just not church members) and some strong cyberbuddies to discuss issues. (Ann)
Here are a few other Ask the Matriarch columns on navigating new calls that may help you out:
What to watch for, and what to watch out for:
It's Interview Season
Who's Interviewing Whom?
A First Call (also one of our first AtM columns!)
What experiences from new calls can you other experienced revgals share for our newest about-to-be-clergy? Please share them in the comments!