December 5, 2011
The Five Steps in the Discernment Process, Part 8: Responding to a Call or Lack Thereof
Responding to a call or lack thereof
No matter how closely you have followed the advice on this blog, the reality is only one final candidate will receive a call from the vestry and search committee. Most will receive what feels like a rejection. The candidate receiving the call should be ready to accept the call, pending resolution of any compensation issues. Rejecting a call at this late date can be devastating to search committees and is frowned upon by bishops and transition ministry officers. Occasionally, candidates may be weighing a second possible call at the same time. While you can ask a search committee for a bit of time to weigh another call, it is unfair to ask them to wait too long.
The successful candidate and vestry must negotiate a letter of agreement to conclude the calling process. Most dioceses have standardized letters of agreement and annually revised compensation guidelines that can be obtained from their website or transition ministry office. Use these in your final negotiations. A call is not complete until the letter of agreement has been signed by the vestry, candidate, and bishop. If the call is to another diocese, the candidate must undergo a background check. The successful candidate can notify their wardens and current bishop before the background check has been completed and the letter of agreement signed, but a broad announcement should wait until all the necessary paperwork has been completed.
The remaining candidates will not receive a call. These final candidates are often notified of this decision by telephone. These conversations should be respectful, but short. The search committee is not responsible for telling a candidate why they were not called, nor is it capable of giving pastoral care to a candidate who feels rejected.
There are plenty of horror stories about candidates discovering that they have not been called from a source other than the vestry or search committee. My sense is that the frequency of these events is decreasing. When these events happen, clergy should report them in as dispassionate a way as possible to the appropriate transition ministry officer or bishop. The timing of issuing a call, completing the paperwork, informing the called candidate’s current and future parishes, while responding to other finalists is tricky.
Candidates for a call often spend six to eight months between getting their foot in the door and not being called after the final interview. You have every right to feel rejected and depressed. You have invested a good bit of work and emotional capital—your own, your family’s, and your current congregation’s emotional capital—in a search process that didn’t work out as hoped. You need to time grieve your lost hope and reweave some of the connections that may have been strained during the search. Assuming you are still looking for another call, you will need to reflect on the process you have completed. What did you discern during this search process that may help you find and be called by a position that is a better fit as you continue your vocational journey?
Most clergy need to participate in several searches before receiving a call to a new ministry. It takes time to find the right fit—often one to two years. Your vocational journey will have its peaks and valleys. When you are in transition from one call to another, you may often feel like you are in a valley, subject to the judgment of search committees and deployment officers, competing with fellow clergy for access to that particularly green pasture over the next hill. You are not alone. Everyone you encounter is on a vocational journey, too.
Here ends the “Five Steps in the Discernment Process Series”. Clearly much more can be said about steps along the way. I’ll occasional post such advice. In the meantime, I have a request to talk about working with transition ministry officers.