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Discern what search committees are looking for and respond to their questions

Some search committees ask for responses to questionnaires with an initial application.  Other committees review initial applications and nominations and send information about their parishes, including a profile, to potential candidates, and ask those candidates to send information about their ministries, including responses to a questionnaire, back to the committee.  After further screening, the search committee may also ask for a phone interview.

Clergy should begin this step of the process by discerning whether the vacancy represents a positive and fulfilling step on their vocational journey. Gather as much information as possible about the parish from their profile, website (including newsletters often posted online), and a Google search of the parish and its community. You may contact people who know the parish, including their interim, but do not contact members of the parish, as they may be involved in the search process.

When this information has been assembled, distill it down to capture the essence of the parish and its dreams. You can cut and paste key phrases from the parish profile and other sources into a separate document and then organize them around recurring themes.   I recommend reviewing a parish profile at least three times.

On the first pass, look for requisite skills and experiences.  What are the parishes needs? What skills are they seeking to respond to those needs?

On the second pass, look for the parish’s stated values and for their purpose or mission statements.   What are the important qualities that define their community?  How are these qualities expressed in their liturgical and program life?  How clearly do they state their mission?  Do they know why God has brought them together as a community?   Do they have a common hope for their future?

On the third pass, look at the pictures and ask two questions.  Do the pictures reinforce the written message in the profile?  Can I see myself in those pictures?

When you have distilled the essence of the parish, take time to reflect and to pray as to whether you feel called to serve with this specific parish. Is your purpose similar to their purpose? Do you share common values? Are they looking for the skills you enjoy using?  Can you imagine being successful and fulfilled there?

Having researched the parish and discerned an interest in a call, you are ready to respond to the questionnaire. While questionnaires ask all sorts of questions of potential candidates, there are two key questions all search committees are trying to answer:

  1. Can a candidate’s skills and experiences help us address the issues our congregation is facing during this time of transition? Can their skills build on our strengths?
  2. Would we feel comfortable with this candidate as a companion on our spiritual journey?  Do we share values and purpose?  Is there a good match of temperament and outlook?

Search committees ask leading questions—questions they have already answered in their profile and other written material. To answer these questions, begin with your distillation of the parish’s essence. Does that distillation indicate the kind of answer the parish is seeking for a particular question? If the question is open-ended (e.g., “What is your favorite hymn and why?”), can you answer it in a way that highlights where you share some of the core values of the parish? For each essential skill or value, try to use anecdotes about your past accomplishments to illustrate points you are making in response to questions. You are trying to communicate both a sense of who you are and what you can do.

Search committees often request additional information, including sermons, copies of newsletters and bulletins, and references. Search committees may also conduct a Google search on your name. Clergy should maintain an electronic portfolio of information about themselves, including digital recordings of sermons and digital copies of newsletters and bulletins. You may want to Google yourself and create a document with links to press coverage of your ministry.

The request for references requires clergy to begin communicating with their parish and diocesan leadership about their participation in a search process. Bishops, transition ministry officers, and wardens should be aware that you are a candidate at this point, as they may be contacted whether or not they are on your reference list.  Search committees should contact candidates before checking references, but occasionally they do not.  Contact your references before submitting their names to a search committee.  You should provide your references with links to the parish profile so they can get a sense of what information a search committee may be seeking about you.

The care and feeding of references and the question of whom to tell when that you are in a search will be addressed in more detail in a subsequent posting.

Parish search committees usually use a phone interview as part of the process of winnowing the candidate pool down to a reasonable number for face-to-face interviews. Preparation for a phone interview is similar to preparation for the written questionnaire. Have ready access to all the written materials that you have gathered or prepared to date. Find a comfortably place without distractions to engage in the interview.  Be prepared to open the phone conversation with a prayer that sets a positive tone for the conversation.

Skype and Facetime programs now enable face to face like interviews over the internet and are gaining popularity as a substitute for the phone interview.  I have yet to experience a Skype interview and welcome comments from readers who have.

NEXT POST – Engaging in face-to-face interviews