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A previous Discernment Doctor blog stimulated a discussion over on the ECF Vital Practices Facebook page regarding poor communication from search committees, specifically those that do not notify uncalled candidates in a timely fashion.  There, I asked the question, “How should we respond to such behavior?”  Let’s ponder that question in a little more detail here.

I have been treated well by the vast majority of search committees with whom I have interacted over the course of my career, but, like most clergy, I have occasionally been hurt by search committee behavior.  My favorite personal horror story is when a search committee member followed my then girl friend into a restaurant restroom to ask her about our marriage plans.  That same search committee never informed me that they called another priest.  Of course, I was not wise enough then to withdraw my name immediately after that dinner.

What can we do in the face of this kind of behavior?  Isn’t it hard for individual clergy to act as whistleblowers when they are in the midst of a search?  How can we be quick witted and courageous enough to tell a committee they are behaving inappropriately when we are trying to convince the same committee that we should be called to serve their parish?  Who wants to complain to a diocesan transition minister who might in the future be reviewing an application from us for another position in that diocese?

Couldn’t we build a simple feedback mechanism into the search process that could encourage good practices of care for candidates?   I asked that question to Cynthia Hubbard, Transition Ministry Officer for the Diocese of Massachusetts.  We have decided to build a simple feedback system here in Massachusetts.  Our idea is to write a one page document outlining the etiquette of caring for clergy in a search process, a simple list of dos and don’ts.  The list would be given to all search committees, and through them, to all applicants for open positions.  After a search is completed, the TMO will send the finalists a brief questionnaire.  One question will ask whether the search process followed the etiquette for caring of clergy guidelines.  Other questions may be framed in an “appreciative inquiry” fashion, like “What worked best for you in this search process?”  The idea is to identify best practices as well as guard against bad practices.  The results would be fed back to search committees and search consultants.

Our question for you, dear readers, is “What issues would you like to see addressed in a document outlining the etiquette of caring for clergy in a search?”  In what ways have past search treated you well that should be replicated? (Sending chocolates to candidates is my favorite search committee practice.)  What practices should search committees avoid? (Poor communication and inappropriate questions have already been mentioned.)

I’ll post a draft etiquette document, based on your comments and comments from colleagues in my dioceses sometime in January.  Until then, have a Merry Christmas.

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