Today’s riddle: What’s exciting, nerve-wracking, fraught with possibilities, and all about the questions? If you guessed “the pastoral search and call process,” you must be a pastor who has been through it.

Are there subjects &/or questions that are off limits in those interviews? Read on:

Dear Matriarchs,

I am a finalist for a church call. I have not yet mentioned my children or my status as a single parent. (I’ve been at the single parenting thing for over a decade so I’ve got it down). I would prefer not to have my family situation be a piece of my job application and yet the well-meaning interview committee may feel blindsided if I hold out on this information for too much longer. What to do?

Sincerely,
Pastor K

Our matriarchs hear your dilemma, Pastor K, and the offer some good approaches for you to consider:

Mary Austin
Dear Pastor K: I believe that you want to convey to the church that your family is a source of joy to you, and that will enhance your ministry with them. You might say something like: “I haven’t had a chance to share one of the big joys in my life with you. I have three kids, ages X, X and X. I’ve been a single parent for a long time, and so we have the rhythms of church life worked out. What we do is…” You probably also want to convey what to expect from your kids. Are they shy and won’t be seen much? Love church, and will want to sit with a friendly person?

One of the big gifts I once received from a senior colleague was a letter to the congregation on how to welcome me, and he included the instruction not to talk to my husband or kid about church business. If you take this call, perhaps someone can say that on your behalf to the church. Blessings as you discern! Let us know how things work out.

Tracy Spencer-Brown
Dear Pastor K, If the committee does not ask, then don’t feel obligated to share. Having said that, I believe that once you have decided to accept a call, it helps to share some information about your family and to set some boundaries. Setting boundaries helps you, your family, and the congregation, and sharing part of your life with them is a generous gift that helps them get to know you.

Heidi Rodrick-Schnaath
Dear Pastor K, 
I am feeling very matriarchal as I write this. In other words, old. Thirty years ago it would never have occurred to me that my spouse wouldn’t be a member of my congregation. Now I know younger pastors whose spouses not only aren’t members, they aren’t Christians. And that’s okay with the congregation.

Twenty years ago I had to explain to a committee that not only was I not covered under my husband’s insurance, they needed to cover my child as well. Also, the proposed two weeks of maternity leave needed to be rethought before I would even consider being their pastor. 

All of which is to say, times have changed. More and more pastors are creating boundaries that make it clear that their family is not a part of the package. On the other hand, this new congregation wants to love you. Being a pastor isn’t the same as being a doctor or a merchant. Their clients aren’t looking to love them. 

Knowing that and also knowing that you will be asked to care for members at the most intimate of times, it is important to have a relationship built on trust. They need to trust that you know how to take care of your family, thank you very much! If they can’t do that, it probably isn’t the place for you. You need to trust that while they may want to poke about in your business a bit, for the most part it comes from a desire to know you better. 

Finally, I will end this ramble by saying that in working with the ELCA’s Candidacy process for many years, call committees don’t like surprises. So be yourself, your whole self. Be honest about your hopes and expectations. I pray that when you do, they will embrace you and your family with joy and thanksgiving.

Wow! Thank you, matriarchs, for your wisdom and ideas for this pastor.

How about you, dear readers? Have you navigated some tricky interview questions? How have you built trust while setting boundaries in the search and call process? Let us know in the comments below.

If you are facing a tricky situation, our matriarchs can stand with you, offering you some support and ideas. Send your scenario to askthematriarch (at) gmail (dot) com


Rev. Sharon M. Temple is a mostly-retired 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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One thought on “Ask the Matriarch: What to Tell the Search Committee — and How

  1. I’m PC(USA). Second career. In my first career, it was the law that a prospective employer couldn’t ask you about your marital status or children or plans to have children. When I came into ministry, it was a surprise to me to learn that these things are a big deal for search committees. Maybe they aren’t allowed to ask the questions, but they want to know, for all sorts of reasons. I agree with the comment that search committees don’t like surprises. Like saying after you accept the job, “Oh, by the way…” So I suggest being upfront with them. You need to know how they feel about your family situation before you enter a relationship with them. Kind of like when you are starting to date someone. The church relationship is not like a secular employment relationship.

    Liked by 1 person

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