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Thursday, March 04, 2010

Ask the Matriarch - Get a Call Edition

As our nation continues to experience double-digit unemployment, those who seek work are discovering that they need to be intentional about building relationships and developing contacts in the hopes that those efforts will result in a job.

How does this intentional, assertive behavior translate into the context of the church, where the means by which persons are called into ministry differ from one denomination to another? And how does one participate in the process with intentionality and faith when the systems that have historically worked to guide people into calls have themselves changed or even disappeared?

This is the position in which today's inquirer finds herself:

I am in the search and call process for the first time, and in fact need a call so that I can be ordained. I've done all the other steps...

Unfortunately in my denomination and region and I suspect we're not alone, the placement process has really broken down as regional staff people have been let go, and alternative volunteer and quasi-volunteer arrangements are being tried out. So, while I'm trying to keep my name in front of the person who is sending profiles out to churches, it's clear that I don't have an advocate speaking on my behalf.

My question is how assertive, aggressive, self-advocating can I be in this situation? In former days in the denomination it would have been a no-no to contact churches directly or any way except through the regional minister. Because I am not yet ordained, I don't want to shoot myself in the denominational foot. What can I do besides call the placement coordinator every six weeks? I've thought of sending my profile to people who know me and asking them to pass it on to churches that might be searching when they are in regional meetings.

Any ideas? In any other career job search you would not rely on calling one recruiter every six weeks.


Jennifer, who blogs at responds:

Sounds like you’re working hard to be sensitive to the practices within your denomination. I wonder if you’ve asked those you know within your denomination, perhaps even the placement coordinator, what would be acceptable as you seek your first call. I think it’s appropriate to let others know that you’re searching and they’ll be able to tell you what feels right in your denomination’s scaled back climate. Others speaking on your behalf seems always to be acceptable, too.

And from Earthchick, who blogs at :

Wow, you are in a really tough spot! I am sorry that the placement process has broken down to such a degree, and that your search is suffering because of it.

In my denomination, it did used to be somewhat frowned-upon to directly contact the congregation or submit our materials on our own. That seems to have changed somewhat, though perhaps not in your denomination. I think it depends some on how the church is getting the word out about the position. If it is generally advertised, and if the advertising includes information about submitting materials, I think it should be okay to directly send your information. For instance, most of the congregations who advertise in Christian Century seem generally open to hearing directly from applicants.

Regardless, it can't hurt to have your friends, colleagues, and mentors also advocating for you. Make sure they all have copies of your profile, your resume, and any other materials that might be helpful. Let them know exactly what kinds of positions you are open to. If you hear of a church with an opening, ask one of your contacts to submit your name.

Keep contacting the placement coordinator as well, and maybe more than every six weeks.

Best wishes in your search!

I know we all wish our sister well in her search, but perhaps you have more to offer her - from your own experience or that of others you know. Please add your comments to those of our matriarchs by using the Post a Comment function at the close of this post.

May you live in God's amazing grace today+
rev honey


  1. The call process... as well as the "dos" and "don'ts" vary WIDELY (very, very widely) by denomination... as in, there are things that are "standard practice" in one, that will get you called on the carpet by the bishop in another... it would be helpful to know the affiliation of the person with the question. Can our moderator help??? :-)


  2. and I'd supplement Sarah's comment by pointing out that processes vary widely from one jurisdiction to another within a single denomination...some bishops are very proactive gig-finders, others belong to the "lotsa luck" school... But it is, I think good advice to apply for everything that is in any way advertised and interview even for things that you may not really feel called's all good practice, and the more people who know you are available, in general, the faster the gig will appear.

  3. Anonymous,
    The candidate who posed our question chose not to indicate her affiliation.

  4. I'm afraid it's really hard to answer this non-denominationally except to say these two things:
    1) Try to establish a friendly relationship with whoever does placement; and
    2) Be sure you know the difference between putting yourself out there and violating the norms for your denomination.
    In the UCC, sending your material directly to a church is a big no-no. It suggests you have some nefarious reason for going around the process. In our Conference, churches sign a covenant saying they will not look at candidates outside the process at all, if they want to use the system. It reassures the churches that the candidates have standing and have passed background checks. Further, in our denomination those Over-the-Transom applications often come from people who understand our local polity and have some notion of taking the church out of the UCC.
    I'm interested to hear how this may be different in other denominations.

  5. i'm ordained... on leave from call... looking for a call. paperwork has been in for 14 months. 1 interview. i can see what's open in my requested area. initially... i tried to stay in touch with our leadership... looking for interviews... and alternatives... like interim ministry... stated supply. pretty much didn't get anywhere.

    now... if a congregation appears to be a possible match... i start talking to my clergy friends... to find out all i can. if it sounds interesting... i then try to figure out if i have ANY connection to the congregation... so that i can let them know that i'm looking for a call.

    are we supposed to do that? nope. is the official process working? nope. do i need a call? yep. will i advocate for myself in any way that i can? yep. will it work? only God knows.

    right now... female and call... are sorta like oil and water... at least in this area... but not just in my denomination. the other thing at play here... congregations want cheap help... that isn't going to ask them to change/do anything.

    prayers for you in your call process... may you begin to interview... and find a good match very soon!

  6. a friend of mine looking for her first call wrote a letter and sent to every single contact she knew in a congregation, asking them to think of congregations that were looking for pastors in the area, and to put in a friendly word for her with their call committees. It's definitely a no-no to send your info direction to a congregation in my denomination, but I think what this woman did was assertive and actually helpful.

    I know that you can keep track of openings and actually call the office of the synod and request that they offer your name to the congregation, at least in some synods.

    It's really tricky out there.

  7. In the Episcopal Church it really varies by diocese. In some dioceses, including the one I am in now, the deployment officer receives and then passes on all application material. In others, materials are directly to the search committee in the parish where one applying. Jobs posted on the national website and on diocesan websites will specify where to send things.

  8. in the PCUSA we have the matching system (but it only matches certain criteria)...but the vast majority of stuff a search committee receives is self-referral. and some churches even contact pastors they're interested in and ASK them to send their PIF. Most matches come through searching available positions, then sending PIF/cover letter to that church's committee. It's also possible, of course, to talk with Executive Presbyters in Presbyteries you want to live in--they often know the stories of churches looking for pastors and can be an amazing resource helping match potential candidates with search committees.

  9. Love your description of bishops who belong to the 'lotsa luck' school, Crimson Rambler - but I bet if you get to be a Bishop you learn to call it 'divine providence'!

    Can't offer much advice as things are very different in the UK - but I will pray for wisdom and discernment and 'lotsa luck'!

  10. I feel our seeker's pain. I'm also in a "no call zone."

    As my mentor noted, it's going to be a great way to learn to pray in faith.

  11. I was in a similar situation 18 months ago. My learning for the questioner is this: the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Do more than call your placement coordinator. Set up an appointment to discuss your situation and possible placements. Don't complain, don't whine, and be always positive. Ask questions like, "How can I help you? What else can I do to make my placement easier?" If it is appropriate, set up an appointment with your bishop/presbyter/appointed supervisor for a time of prayer and discernment--and ask for their support in your time of waiting. Bring a completed copy of all your paperwork.

    Do not shoot yourself in the denominational foot... but it is appropriate for all your friends and colleagues to know that you are open to call and what your gifts are. It may be appropriate for an individual (not you) or a congregation to suggest a particular placement to the placement coordinator. Blessings! Waiting for first call is without a doubt a time of waiting and learning to trust in God alone.

  12. Don't have any new or original advice except to 2nd what Songbird said (as I am also UCC and we have had 2 churches be drawn out of the UCC by pastors they called outside of the process, and 3rd that almost went that way), and also that mamaS has some FABULOUS suggestions that I also think are to be recommended.

    Best of luck to you, and just remember that God is still in the process, even when it is a dragging one! You may look back in a few years and think, I'm so GLAD I didn't jump at an earlier opportunity, because the perfect church for me was only opening up after I'd been out there for some can only hope!


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