mt7r6CAA pastoral search is an exercise in mutual vulnerability as pastor-to-be and her potential new congregation get to know one another. How much will each reveal to the other about the difficult things as they discern God’s call?

Dear Matriarchs:
I am in the search process (PCUSA), and anticipating interviews. I know that search committees are not supposed to ask if you are married or about your family, but they do. I know that the interview process is a time of “dating” so to speak, and because of some recent changes and anticipated events, I am trying to decide when and/or if I need to share this info with a committee.

1) I’m recently separated, moving toward divorce. What/Do they need to know?

2) I have a son with ADHD and behavior issues. I am currently seeking placement in a residential setting, but have no idea if/when that will happen. What, if anything, do I need to share with the search committee?

3) I have chronic depression which is, right now, well managed. It may not always be. Do I share this?

I am assuming that these conversations would only happen with a committee that I am in very serious conversation with. But still, how and what to tell are not clear to me.

Please help!
PCUSA Pastor

Don’t we all have things that we wonder about revealing to a search committee? Our Matriarchs offer their wisdom about how to handle these.

Heidi Rodrick-Schnaath
Dear PCUSA Pastor-

As a member of the ELCA, I realize there are some system differences, but here goes. 

I would tell them about your marriage. I would also try to start the new call saying that my marriage has ended and that this person while still a part of my life, will not be a part of the congregation’s life. Start the new job as a single person even if the divorce is not final.

I would not tell them many details about your son until you get to the second interview. You might even talk to the chair of the committee privately to come up with a good strategy.

If your depression is under control then I would keep it to myself. No need for discussion.

All of these things are personal and should not impact whether you are called. But all of these things will have an effect on your ministry in one way or another. Changes and challenges in our daily lives help to shape who we are as pastors.

You don’t have to give them all the details for them to understand the circumstances. Keep it simple, but don’t create a situation in which your call committee is surprised six months down the road. And finally, these folks want to love and support you as their new pastor. Sharing even minimal details can help them to do that.

Best wishes on the journey!
Heidi Rodrick-Schnaath

Kathryn Zucker Johnston
I think Heidi is spot on. I’d make clear in all manners of speaking with the committee that you are entering this Call as a single person. Pronouns help here “I will be…” “Is there a manse for me to live in?” No explanation needed.

Unless care of your son means that you need upfront concessions (can’t be at committee meetings on Monday nights for instance), I don’t think the committee needs to know until maybe deep into the conversations. I’m sure your care and love for him is part of who you are, and as those things come through it will enable the committees to see a better and more full picture of who you are. I’d let that relationship with its challenges and joys come out organically in conversations.

And I agree 100% – if your depression is under control then it’s in remission and there is no need for discussion.

Good luck!
Kathryn J.

Julia Seymour
I agree with what others have said so far. My emphasis for you would be to really take care of yourself. Your life river is about to encounter several sets of rapids in a row or possibly in tandem. The only way to stay afloat through to the other side is to take care of the boat (you). I’m glad your depression is well-managed now. Make sure you’ve got a plan for med management if you have to move or find a new doc. Be honest with your close friends about struggles and triumphs. Be assertive in your prayer life, shaking God’s lapels and articulating your needs. In the best of times, a new call or a change in relationship or changes with your child would be stressors. It’s one thing to Dory your way through it: “Just keep swimming”, but it’s another thing to say “I’m going to keep swimming, but I want to come through this with my soul intact and my hope still aflame.” My prayers are with you during this time.

Thank you, dear Matriarchs, for helping us to wisely care for the tender places of our lives even as we seek to be open and authentic in the search process.

And now to all you readers: Did this remind you of search committees in your past? How did you decide what was important to reveal? Let us know in the comments below.

Are you dealing with a tricky decision in your own ministry? Send your questions to AsktheMatriarch (at) gmail (dot) com and let us help you with some ideas.


Rev. Sharon M. Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor living in Austin, TX. She is a contributor to the RevGals book There’s a Woman in the Pulpit and blogs erratically at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.


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2 thoughts on “Ask the Matriarch:What to tell (and not tell) the Search Committee

  1. I’m in a fairly new call and even though I did share some recent medical issues that might lead to more appointments with the call committee, I’ve been caught off guard by a number of other things related to establishing care in a new setting. I am in the midst of seeing several specialists just to continue some prescriptions I’ve had for several years. On average I have about 4 appointments per week which means I am not always available when people look for me and I’d rather not make all of my medical appointments public.
    Bottom line? Be prepared when you begin a new call for some of the hoops you may need to jump through in order to establish medical care in a new setting.

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  2. I’m in agreement, and especially thankful for Julia’s words: “Be assertive in your prayer life, shaking God’s lapels and articulating your needs.” Good advice for always! Thankful for all of you and your willingness to share your wisdom.

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