Getting to Know You at the Search and Call Fair
Once again, the United Church of Christ’s conferences sent members of their staffs to General Synod to meet and greet ministers seeking the call of God. The people on both sides of the table strain to see the future: Will I minister next in the Southwest Conference or in Maine? Will I lead a small church or a large one? Is there a congregation out there who will appreciate my gifts and skills?
For Keith Clark, a member of the Southern California Nevada Conference staff, the fair offers an opportunity to get to know people who are looking for their next ministry, “to get a sense of who might be good for an opening that comes up.” Conferences put their best foot forward as well, said the Rev. P. Jerry Bennett of the Illinois South Conference. “We’re trying to put our best face out there, and tell potential candidates what we care about.”
As for me, I circulated through the room, working as a reporter and also as a potential candidate, thinking about my truest face. We all hope and trust that pastoral searches in the United Church of Christ pair a church with the leadership to help it thrive. We all know that sometimes this hope is not realized.
So at each table, I worked to wear the face I’d wear as a pastor in this person’s conference, rather than some mask I might think looks more “impressive.” A call to a church that matches the mask, not me, gives no benefit to the congregation, to myself, or to God.
For others, the Search and Call Fair provided a new way to experience the breadth of the church. “As a newly ordained UCC minister,” said the Rev. MaryAnn Purtill, “it’s a great opportunity to meet the wider UCC church, and get a sense of what the UCC encompasses.”
Many of the conference staff, and the candidates, face a sobering reality. More and more churches employ part-time, not full-time, pastors, according to the Rev. Michael Denton, Pacific Northwest Conference Minister. Finding pastors with the resources to accept a part-time salary, or the ability to work a second career, provides an increasing challenge.
In the end, all those in the room pray for God’s guidance and inspiration, to help them turn those initial feeler introductions into deeper conversations. Perhaps one of the people with whom I shook hands today will lead me to the next church I serve. Perhaps it will look just like the one I described to them.
But perhaps it won’t. God has a curious sense of humor, and as the Rev. Molly Phinney Baskette observed in her sermon Friday night, the Holy Spirit doesn’t give us what we want. The Holy Spirit gives us what we need.
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