This has become my standard answer when people ask me how the Presbyterian call system works. For most folks who are single or have been single in the last decade or so, the comparison always gets a laugh. For those who have been married since before the wonders and horrors of Match.com and OKCupid existed, it can cause a bit of confusion, so I explain, “There’s a website, and pastors put up their profiles, and churches put up their profiles, and then the system matches them up.”
That’s the simple version, of course. In reality, as a single pastor who recently went through this process to find my second call, I found that the similarities were so strong that I couldn’t do both at once. As I told a friend, “I have a limited amount of energy for self-promotion.”
It’s not just the basic structure of the thing. I discovered many more similarities:
–Spelling counts. Call me shallow or judgmental, but whether it’s a guy who says “U seem prety cool” or a church committee who can’t spell my name, I mentally subtract a lot of points for inattention to detail.
-First conversations are awkward. There’s just no getting around it. Whether it’s a phone or skype interview with a committee or a first date at a coffee shop, it’s just going to be awkward. There will be sweaty palms and nervousness and wondering whether what you just said sounded completely idiotic. Just accept the awkward.
–The waiting. Oh, the waiting. Sitting by the phone and refreshing your e-mail every 30 seconds will not make either a second date or a second interview appear, unfortunately.
-Don’t jump the gun. I talked to a few committees whose very first question in the first phone interview was “Why are you the right pastor for our church?” I generally said something like, “I’m not sure that I am. Why don’t you tell me a little bit more about the ministry your church is doing?” I don’t think any of those churches called me back, and truthfully I was okay with that. To me, this is like asking on a first date, “Why should I want to marry you?” It’s our first conversation! In our ecclesiology, the relationship between a church and a pastor should be one of mutuality, of working together in the body of Christ. That means we both need to get to know one another, to see if God is calling us to do ministry together.
-A sense of humor is vital. Amidst the awkwardness and nervousness on both sides, whether it’s a date or an interview or a candidating weekend, laughter is always a good sign in my book. When I did accept a call to a new church, it was partly because I honestly just had a ton of fun with them when I came to visit.
-Pastors are people, too. Among single clergy, deciding whether or not to name our profession on a dating profile can be a fraught question. Many people have trouble seeing a pastor as a regular human who has a life outside of the church. In the dating world, most of us single clergy have heard, “I’m sorry, I just can’t date a pastor. It’s too weird.” Search committees also sometimes forget that pastors are people, that a call to a new church can mean uprooting a life and starting over from scratch. I knew my new call would be a good fit when they not only asked me about my life, but made sure that on my tour of the town they pointed out things they knew would matter to me as a person. When the committee members say, “Here’s a great vet for your dog,” or “Let me take you to the park with the running trail because I know you like to run,” it shows that they are looking for a person, not a set of impressive credentials.
-When you know, you know. When I found the right church, it just clicked. I’ve heard that something similar happens when you find the right person. Whether in dating or in searching for a new call, the process is different for everyone. For some it takes a long time, and the waiting can be incredibly frustrating. In the meantime, find some trusted friends who can help share the journey with all its many ups and downs.
Perhaps now that I’ve settled into my new call, it’s time to give online dating another try. Then again, maybe not. The break from the “U R hott” messages has been pretty nice.