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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - It's Graduation and Time for Interviews Edition

This week's post is quite timely...our love and prayers go out to all our sisters who find themselves in a similar place this Spring...

I am graduating from Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg. I am getting ready to start call process conversations in the next few weeks. I have enjoyed the words of wisdom, humor and support from RevGals and wonder what would be the wisdom from the road others might share with me?

Sharon, who blogs at Tidings of Comfort and Joy, offers the following Top Ten List...

Ah, the call process. What fun! Here's my top 10 list:
1. Enjoy! You will love this, especially if you thrive being the center of attention during a friendly grilling. (I loved it!)
2. Be impeccable about being your authentic self. God's best church-pastor matches are honest matches.
3. Be clear about what you require and what's fair, salary and otherwise. Consult denominational guidelines if available, and ask one or two colleagues serving in your denomination.
4. Get the important things in writing. Your covenant or contract should specify vacation time, conferences, salary, to whom you are accountable, etc.
5. What's important to you is, by definition, important. My adult children are scattered. So, my covenant substitutes grandmother leave for maternity leave. That's an extra week of vacation at the birth of each grandchild.
6. Don't count on well-intentioned, heart-felt promises that the church will raise (or add) anything "later when we can afford it" or "later when you've been here awhile." Proceed as if that day will never come.
7. If the committee communicates high expectations for your ministry with them, that's a good sign IF they also can easily identify by name those in the congregation for whom those things are also important enough that they are eager to work with you in that ministry.
8. If they use the words "save" or "savior" -- as in "We are looking for a savior for our Christian Ed program" -- kindly let them know that the job of Savior has already been filled and it's not you. (True story !)
9. Pay attention to your gut. If something seems off, say it out loud. If you get a creepy feeling walking into the sanctuary, don't blow that off. If the committee makes a joke about something, pay special attention. If the committee takes you to dinner and you see them pooling their individual money to pay the bill, instead of there being money for the committee to spend on their business, ask about that. (Again, true stories!)
10. And ... ENJOY! You are fulfilling God's dream for you and for your very fortunate congregation-to-be.

And from Muthah+, who blogs at Stone of Witness...
Congratulations on your graduation! And welcome to the world of the gainfully unemployed! As a Luth-Episck, I do understand the vagaries of the call process in our denominations.

First of all I would like to appeal to you to look at synods beyond your own locale if you can. There are many places in the ELCA that need you. But PA should have many congregations that can't be covered by traditional one congregation/one pastor types of configurations. And if you can wrap your head around that kind of ministry, go for it. It teaches you lots in a short amount of time. But perhaps your own bishop has something in mind for you. I know of a little congregation in Upstate NY....

Secondly, in the calling process, do your homework. When you get an inquiry from a congregation, have some questions in the back of your mind. If you know clergy in the synod, call them and find out what the synod is like, how the bishop relates to the clergy and info about the congregation. Be prepared to earn little. This is not a business that is going to help you pay off your loans easily. You will need to know what kind of mentoring there will be for new clergy in your synod, because no matter how good your seminary was, it did not prepare you to walk into a congregation. The learning curve is huge and you need to be prepared for it.

Thirdly: Love your people. They will hurt you all the time. Be prepared for it and love 'em anyway. Don't try to lead from the front. Lead them from the middle or push from behind. And keep humor as your your best prod.

Fourth: Never fib to your congregation! It is so easy to try to cover yourself when you have made a mistake. Don't do it. Let your integrity speak. Admit your mistakes and move on. If you are bewildered, admit it. The ministry is a shared work and collaborative leadership works much better than other forms if you can get your folks to do it. Don't let them get away with being passive. The Christian life is something we all have to do.

Fifth: Relax and have fun. Christ has come so that we might have life abundantly--the joy of pastoring is immense. Blessings on your willingness to open yourself to the life as a pastor. May your career be as joy-filled as mine has been and even better!

What can you add to these two thoughtful lists? Share your "wisdom from the road" with the "Post a Comment" function of this post.

We have just one question in the queue, so now is a great time to send in your questions. Send them to us at

May you live in God's amazing grace+


  1. I just want to back up the comments about honesty and being yourself. This is essential, also try to be aware whether the committee are being authentic, if you sense they are hiding something then they probably are.

    Do as much research as you can before hand, and know the type of questions you want to ask them, what is important to you, what do your family need etc.

    Pray for yourself, and for them, be blessed, God is in this!

  2. Another ditto for the advice about authenticity! It's very important.

    And additional advice, learned from experience: Ask for copies of both the congregation's budget, and their budget versus actual giving and spending. If they're honest and accurate in their book-keeping, it will give you a pretty accurate picture of the congregation's finances.

  3. If it's possible, visit on any given Sunday WITHOUT identifying yourself. If you don't want to actually go in the service, do some kind of surveillance -- are there 40 cars in the parking lot or 4? Sometimes the bishop/superintendent won't tell you the truth about the health of a congregation. And when you visit as a candidate, it seems like they have called every one in the county to come visit "just for this Sunday." (True story - happened to a friend of mine!)

    if possible, as to tour the parsonage. If a promised "fix up" is coming, wonder at why the present occupant had to live with the disrepairs. Ask about expectations for the "pastor's spouse." (My husband is great at making coffee... but I would not expect him to run coffee hour every week.)

    Rejoice that you are one step closer to the work God called you to!!!! Praying it goes well for you.

  4. These are great suggestions, not just for those seeking a first call but ANY call! Thanks, everyone.

  5. I would like to add a caution to one thing that Mutha+ said, "Be prepared to earn little." While it is absolutely true that we will not become rich as pastors/priests (and that's not why we entered ministry) we should also expect to be compensated fairly for our work. Unfortunately it is still true that women are more likely than men to end up at smaller congregations, and expected to work for a pittance, and vestries/governing boards sometimes (still) make assumptions about paying women less. Both dioceses I've worked in have very explicit compensation guidelines, and if your judicatory has such guidelines, you should make sure that your letter of agreement meets them--have someone check it for you if you're not sure.

    Good luck and blessings on your discernment for your first call!

  6. In the United Methodist system, we are sent, not called. That meant I didn't have a lot of choice about my first appointment after seminary in 1987. One of the committee members said in their very first meeting with me, "We don't think it will work to have a woman pastor here, but we're willing to try." Within a month, I had people saying, "I didn't think having a woman would work, but I'm glad you're here."

    A lot has changed in nearly a quarter of a century, but don't let any early negative feedback deter you (or dishearten you). There will be difficulties, but think of yourself as being in the right place at the right time.

  7. 3 things: first, besides all the budget info, really check out the reality of expenses in a new place- gas prices, fuel oil prices, taxes in a new state, etc- all matter a lot when looking at a call (even if there are synod minimums, etc)
    second: be yourself, and don't fib- I had the blessing of making a fairly big paux pas/slip up in my candidating worship service- we talked and laughed about it at the lunch afterwrads- and they called me anyway, in part, I think, becasue I answered honsetly "nope. Just plain forgot it- but that would explain why the organist was so confused....!"
    third- love your people- can't say that enough

  8. Try to figure out, by observing and by asking if the opportunity arises, how they solve problems. Is there sufficient faith and trust that when something goes wrong, panic isn't the only possible response? Are they able to say, "Well, that didn't work; let's brainstorm what might," or do they fall upon one another (and you!) biting and clawing?

    Aside from helping you avoid throwing yourself to the wolves, knowing that also gives you an idea of how much room there is for the Holy Spirit to move in that congregation.

    I want to echo what others have said: Your ministry will be more effective if everyone believes that you deserve fair compensation and treatment, and enjoy! You'll be in my prayers.

  9. To echo others:

    Be yourself - absolutely. And trust your gut.

    Think of some questions to ask them in advance, because otherwise, when they ask if you have any questions, it's hard to think of any. (For me.)

    Know the salary guidelines for that synod and trust that you are worth being paid fairly. No, none of us go into this for the money. But accepting undue financial stress will not help in your first call. Be honest about what you need.

    Do some homework on the congregation (use the ELCA website) and see if there are any red flags. Ask about them. See what they say. My first call had recently experienced a traumatic pastor leaving (under sexual misconduct) and the graphs showed a big dip in attendance that year. When I asked about the dip, they told me the story. As long as they were willing to tell the truth, I was okay with that.

    Keep a good sense of humor. People will sometimes ask bizarre, inappropriate, or completely out-of-left-field questions. Don't let them get you down. Sometimes it's best to just laugh them off.

    Peace to you.

  10. I am with Sally at backing up lots of what has been said, going with gut, look for the authenticity.
    When something seems off, then ask questions, call the references on their list and listen to what they say.
    And, do not go with a call because you think you may not get another one. Having been in a miserable situation, it is worth the time and with wait, to find a church that deserves you, as well as the other way around. You have gifts to offer and you need a church that will recognize them

  11. Thanks everyone! I really appreciate all that you have shared- blessings to each of you in your ministries!


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