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Losing my Religion in Search

I’m in search. It’s not easy to be taken seriously when one is sixty-seven years old and after a serious illness. Retirement isn’t in question because I entered TEC so late that if I threw in my Canterbury Cap now I’d receive just over $600.00 a month from the pension fund. At any rate I don’t want to retire. I’m a priest, not a business executive. Orders are indelible and so I am vocationally committed to ministry of some sort or another until they shoot me. I feel better than I have in years and retain the energy, enthusiasm and commitment to carry on. If people can be senators and representatives or even cabinet ministers and presidents in their seventies why is our church still practicing ageism?

Pat and I have loved it here. Of course we always knew that the time would come when the “interim” job was done and the parish would go into search. I get much too attached to be a good interim and anyway don’t have the financial resources to sustain an itinerant ministry.

What threatens to make me lose my religion or at least my cool is the search process. It is an enigma wrapped in very bad manners. I cannot for the life of me understand why regulations are not mutually adopted which institute basic efficiencies and require normal civilities. In an age of email it seems that parishes in search are still in the quill pen age but without the good manners which then accompanied conversation.

My name is now before a number of places. In only one of those has my application been received by a prompt email reply and acknowledgment and a promise to keep me informed about the process. For the rest, “I shot an arrow in the air. It came to ground I know not where.”

We are told there is a clergy shortage, but one wouldn’t believe it. One is sometimes required to respond with CDO forms which deployment officers may easily access and supply to search committees. One always must send a resume which replicates the information on a CDO profile which is up to date. Sometimes one is asked to answer generic questions, often of the most banal quality and for which there seem to be no right answers or even a suitable prize. No wonder some vestries still wnt to treat their priest as the hired help.

All the above may be taken in one’s stride if search committees acknowledged the receipt of applications, outlined their process and gave a time line. This almost never happens. One is left wondering and can’t even inform anxious spouses or children of progress or even, sometimes, whether one is being considered at all.

A Christian organization is surely committed to Christian behavior? Perhaps deployment officers need to be trained in compassionate civility and then offer a similar training to search committees. Modern methods of communication make it possible for a search process to be one of mutual discernment rather than that of priestly passive supplication and leisurely paced evaluation.

As in other areas of church life, national and diocesan regulations and programs have overcome basic canonical rules -the vestry elects, period – and created often dysfunctional systems which like the laws of the Medes and Persians will not perish whether they work or not or portray compassionate openness and care. It is time for reform.

3 Responses

  1. How would you reform the system? I’m in search too and the process is indeed terrible.

    RFSJ

  2. Dear Father Tony: Bravo These words should be required reading foor all vestries and all those Diocesan functionaries who, by whatever title, are responsible for recruiting clergy. I am now fully retired but spent some years as an “interim” priest in parishes in need of a Rector. Since prior to retirement, I spent a number of yeaars in academia and out of parish work my exposure to paarishes in need of clergy as an “interim” was a real eye opener! Ouch! Thanks for your post. Bob Hayden+

  3. Right on, Fr. Tony!

    I spent ten years as a diocesan-appointed parish organizational consultant. During that time I did probably six vacancy consultations. And I began the process by establishing a broad time line and a check list concerning “applications”
    1. Receive inquiry
    2. Send info packet immediately (including broad process intended and anticipated time-line and all material required as well as e-mail or telephone contact person, inviting contact if there are any questions)
    3. Respond immediately to any questions from candidates.
    4. Respond immediately to all received correspondence (if nothing more than note it was received)
    5. Inform short-listed candidates and rejects ASAP
    6. Inform short-listed candidates of visits, invitations, etc. and time-line.
    7. Inform final selection (and rejects) immediately.

    I also note than in not even one parish did a search committee show any interest in the spiritual life, practice, or commitment of the candidates until I suggested it.

    The system simply stinks, and at my age, I remember well the previous non-system, and I can see no evidence that this prolonged, complicated, and competitive process has worked any better.

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