In mid December I asked the question “What issues would you like to see addressed in a document outlining the etiquette of caring for clergy in a search?” Since then I have received a few private e-mails, one comment on this blog, and led a discussion at a clergy deanery lunch.
Here are some of the areas of concern and possible solutions that have emerged.
- Communication – One of the most frequent complaints about the search process relates to poor communication between search committees and candidates. To address this concern:
- Search committees should maintain public timeline of the search process, and immediately communicate with candidates when dates not met.
- Once a call has been issued and accepted, search committees should communicate by phone and in writing to all other final candidates. The period between issuing a call and negotiating a letter of agreement can be painful for other final candidates. A search committee may not want to inform them that a call has been issued, in case that call is rejected. But how long can the “runners up” be held in limbo while the letter of agreement is negotiated? On clergy suggested that search committees announce that their decision date is actually two weeks after the call is issued, to give time to negotiate before informing other candidates.
- Keep the interim clergy informed about the status of the search. A search committee member should on a scheduled basis, brief the interim about the status of the search process.
- Reveal the pertinent details of the position early in the search and focus on those details throughout the discernment process.
- Profiles are often fairly vague when describing the job expectations for candidates. Written profiles and the TMO portfolio include a section on skills and experience needed. Profiles often include an aspirational section with a title like “Our next rector”. Rarely do profiles include a job description. The aspirational sections imply far more work than one person can accomplish. A job description could help search committees be clearer about role expectations. i.e. what specifically is expected of the rector and what is expected of lay leadership. Fresh Start has a useful session on Role Clarity in Time of Transition.
- Once a job description or aspirational section is published, questions asked by search committees of candidates should test for skills in the areas deemed important in the job description. Questions about skills or issues not raised in the profile can be confusing to candidates.
- Be specific about the compensation package, including salary, type of housing, and benefit level.
- Treatment of interims – Interim clergy should be regularly informed about the search committee timeline, particularly as a search committee is getting close to issuing a call. Interims need adequate time to plan for their next position. They also may start fielding inquiries from semi final or final candidates.
- Following secular employment regulations – Courts have consistently ruled that churches are for the most part exempt from secular employment regulations when hiring clergy. However, what is legal for search committees is not necessarily in accordance with our Christian values. Search committees should follow secular norms in areas like discrimination, unless they can theologically and morally justify deviating from those norms.
- Appropriate questions – Search committee questions, whether written or in person, should focus on a candidates skills and experience, values, and theology. Questions should not transgress personal boundaries. For example, do not ask a single person about their marital plans. Do not ask a married person’s spouse about how they will participate in the congregation. In general, search committees should put themselves in a candidate’s shoes when forming questions. What questions would you find inappropriate or uncomfortable if you were in a job interview?
- Care of clergy and their current congregations
- Non interference around Xmas and Easter – Search committees should not set application deadlines or conduct interviews either in person or on the phone or Skype ten days before and one week after Christmas or Holy Week/Easter. Clergy need to tend to their flocks and their flocks deserve their full attention.
- Reasonable demands on time – Search committees should limit the amount of time demanded of applicants at each stage of a search process. Questionnaires should be limited in length, i.e. don’t ask for a term paper, a few pages of answers is enough. Clergy should be given adequate time to respond to requests for information. When interviewing clergy in their home parish or at the searching parish provide adequate time for rest and reflection.
- Respect confidentiality – Always keep application materials and names private. Do not contact unauthorized references without permission from the candidate. When visiting a home parish, respect the clergy candidate’s guidelines for discretion.
These are a few of the etiquette issues you have raised to date. Would you add any more? Do you have other suggestions as to how to address these issues?