Dec 062011
 

I just realised that I’d updated Facebook, but not blogged about the latest developments in my search for a charge. Since my last post on the subject there have been some positive and negative developments. Well, not negative, I suppose, just not positive.

The interview that I had, I thought went well, but, as is my custom, I probably over-analysed the event. I could have been better in some areas, but overall I was happy with how it went. I felt I represented myself fully and honestly and that, as far as I’m concerned, is the crux of the matter. I don’t want to be accepted for a charge and I’m not what they expect. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m passionate about something I’m not, or have skills that I don’t. By the same token, I don’t want to miss anything that might be of use in a committee’s deliberations of whether I’m the right person or not. There were one or two answers that I could have dealt with more ‘slickly’, but they caught me slightly by surprise (and they probably shouldn’t have).

I also fired a number of questions at the committee and suspect I poked a few ‘sensitive’ areas judging by the reactions. When I asked that ‘catch-all’ awkward question, “What question are you hoping I don’t ask?” there was a muttered, “You’ve already asked them.” That said, the answers (or lack off) weren’t a problem, but simply highlighted areas where work would be needed.

The upshot though was that they did eventually get back to me with a ‘thanks, but no thanks’.

Which left me with one remaining ‘live’ application. That committee got back in touch to arrange to hear me take a service and that was duly arranged (and has now taken place). In fact, it was the day after the above-noted interview, so it was a fairly intense weekend. The visiting group stayed for a chat and although it wasn’t an official interview, these things are never really as ‘informal’ as they might be. But it was a good opportunity to sound each other out and form some tentative first impressions. On my side, I noted some potential ‘issues’, but nothing off-putting. I’ve also been able to have a chat with another minister in the area and that resulted in some good food for thought and some encouraging prospects.

I guess I didn’t make too bad an impression either as I have now been invited for an interview, which, as the post title suggests, is one step beyond where I have been getting to in previous applications. My interview experience with the other committee should now stand me in good stead, which is why I don’t view that experience as a negative one. Mind you, it’s unlikely they’ll ask the same questions, but the bulk of them should come up in some form or another. So, watch this space for an update in due course.

Realising that this is the last of my live applications, I have also decided that there is no harm in doing a bit of contingency planning either. If the interview goes well, and I progress with that charge, then I can always withdraw any other applications. But the thought of waiting to get the outcome before starting from scratch again would, I think, be foolish. That said, at this point of the year now, very little is likely to happen with new applications until into January. Hopefully by that time, I should have a clearer indication of how things are going. Anyway, one other application has been sent off and I’ll likely follow up with one or two more in the near future.

Oh, yes, and I’ve also signed on the ‘buroo‘. It’s unlikely that I’ll get any benefit money as I have gaps in my NI contributions from being a student, but we’ll see. First time I’ve ever signed on, but I’ve certainly carried my tax burden in years past, so I don’t exactly feel like a sponger.

Nov 022011
 

Not long after I posted about being back to square one I did actually kick off a couple of new enquiries. I was also fortunate enough to be able to arrange to visit them at fairly short notice. I did hum and haw a bit over which to apply to, but the upshot of those deliberations was to apply formally to both. Better, I thought, to have the headache of deciding on one, than extending the whole process unnecessarily (and potentially missing out on whichever I put into second place).

If it did come down to a choice I have a gut reaction for one over the other, but that’s not based on any sort of informed decision, merely a ‘feeling’ (it’s that discernment thing again). In many regards either ‘would do’. But expressing it in those terms gives a very negative-sounding spin. I mean it in the sense that either would offer a very fulfilling ministry with plenty of scope all the things I’m interested in as well as scope to grow the congregation’s gifts and community involvement. Although in that last regard, maybe that’s where one has a potential edge over the other.

Whatever, the story so far (and hence the post title) is that I have been offered an interview for one of them and the other meets this week to consider their response to my application. In the second case it’s my understanding that, as yet, I’m the only applicant. They are, however, relatively ‘new’ in their vacancy and so they may not feel that they need to grab the first ‘live one’ that comes along. We’ll see how that pans out though.

As for the interview for the first one, I really need to come up with a list of questions for them as well as preparing for what they may well ask me. So it’ll be a case of going back through the Parish Profile and unpicking some of the items in that, as well as looking for what they’re not saying. I also want to sound out their reaction to what I see as my own particular areas of interest. And, of course there’s also the killer question, “What question do you not want me to ask?” (Although I have my own spin on that one.) So, what are the ‘big questions’ worth asking?

 

Oct 182011
 

Having had a knock-back from my first (and only – so a 100% record so far) proper application, I am now kicking off a number of new enquiry/application processes. Obviously I’m a bit down at not progressing in an application for a place I was really keen on, but, as my supervisor said, now I know how it feels to really want somewhere. The side-effect of that ‘wanting’ has been to sideline another enquiry I had on the go. I’m unlikely to push that one too hard now as I now realise that it doesn’t quite hit the mark for me. It’s a good charge, and it ticked many boxes for me, but I don’t really want to settle for somewhere that seems to be, at the moment, in an ‘it would do’ category – at least not until I’ve explored some alternatives.

So, in one respect, it is back to square one. I have no other ‘live’ enquiries on the go. But it’s also not square one because of what I have learnt of the process so far and of my reactions to it. My previous reflections on discernment still stand, with only a little modification. I think I need to be a little more proactive in extricating information about a vacancy rather than ‘just’ listening. But that’s probably because I now know more of the sort of questions to ask and more of the direction I’d like things to go.

So although it may seem like square one, the move to ‘square two’ should be easier this time around.

Ho! Hum! Back to scouring parish profiles for the clues to the right questions to ask.

Sep 262011
 

Today I had another cross-country jaunt to check out another possible vacant charge. My primary purpose was to ‘compare and contrast’ with the one that it currently bubbling away as a distinct possibility. I had various reasons for not being too interested, but its ‘c&c’ role made it a potentially useful visit.

Aaaargghhh!!!

Now it’s top of my list!

And it still has some of the issues that put me off it in the first place.

And one of the main reasons why I was being advised against it (sort of) is the very reason I like it.

All this ‘discernment’ stuff is really doing my head in. Just when I think I’ve got somewhere more or less sussed, along comes something to muddy the waters. (s’pose that’s why it’s called discernment.)

Actually, it’s not really a muddy-ing of the waters, to be fair. Either of the two places currently attracting me would be good charges. Both are quite different from each other and both have, I’d say, quite different challenges. The issue is less about how unclear a call is, but rather making a decision between two clear, to me, calls.

Mind you, I’m somewhat jumping the gun. As far as I know, one of the charges only has me interested. The other appears to be fairly popular. A little bit of me is saying, “Well, you’ll not get it anyway. There are loads more ministers out there who are better than you. You don’t deserve such a great place.”

It’s hard to ignore those thoughts and turn the focus on the apparent ‘certainty’ of one of them. But that doesn’t feel right either. But I don’t want to get my hopes up on what might only be an outside possibility. And I feel a bit guilty about appearing so keen for the first one and now I’m looking elsewhere.

And all that makes me feel confused. Probably not the best state of mind to be making decisions and a definite sign of needing more time in contemplation and prayer.

In the meantime, two applications will be getting put out and I had better stop looking for the moment until some of the confusion clears.

Sep 192011
 

Since my last musings about identifying a possible charge, I’ve had a chance to have a wee tour around a few places. Not so much to meet the people, but more to get a sense of the geography and ‘place’. That said, I did have an opportunity to meet up with some folks on one of the visits.

It’s been a useful exercise. I guess I had a slightly idealistic image in my head about what certain types of places might be like. I was pretty certain I didn’t fancy a city centre-style charge, or even a large town. This is still the case (I think), just don’t ask me to justify it too much. It’s more a gut-reaction than a well-reasoned position. So I had moved in the opposite direction towards more rural charges, but knowing that ‘real’ rural wasn’t quite my thing either. Whatever, I decided to have a look around a few places which more or less ticked the right boxes.

As it transpired, semi-rural doesn’t really appeal all that much either. Without a doubt there are many attractions. Beautiful locations, often with a large manse with plenty of space. The church buildings also tend to be very nice and often occupy a central position in a community. I’m just not sure I’d be up for the relative ‘isolation’. And perhaps I’m just too lazy to enjoy the thought of all that mileage for visiting or funerals or hospital visits. Maybe it was a slightly rose-tinted picture I had in my head, but I still needed to see the actual ‘reality’ of a place to get a sense of whether I could settle there.

One of the places I considered was more along the lines of what I had in mind. Definitely more urban but still relatively compact and well-defined as a community. So that one is still bubbling around the list. Its big ‘plus’ was the light it shed on yet another visit. One that I had glanced at in passing previously but hadn’t seriously considered. Can’t remember why now, but it was simply noted and then passed over. Then its profile arrived through the post (unsolicited) and that prompted another look. This time the visit involved actually meeting people and an opportunity to view church and manse.

It wasn’t what I’d had in mind, yet it ticked so many of my notional boxes. There would have to be some manse work negotiated, I suspect, but there were no obvious big red warning lights. Not a ‘spark’ but a definitely discernible flicker. And a sense of ‘yeah, that would work’ – not in a ‘can’t think of anything better’ way, but in a genuine ‘I could see myself here’ way. Of course, there’s still the ‘other side’ to take in to consideration – will I be the sort of person they want?

The strategy now is to find somewhere similar and do a ‘compare and contrast’ exercise. And I suppose that’s where this initial foray into serious charge-hunting has been beneficial. It has helped clarify the sort of place I’d be happy in. And so that helps narrow down the short list potentials for a start. It also helps focus the mind on what to look for when turning a more critical eye on a place.

So, the search continues (that sounds familiar – maybe an Apprentice-style competition between congregations might help) but with growing illumination along the way.

Sep 072011
 

As of the 1st of September I have been allowed to begin applying to vacant charges. Of course I had being doing some preparatory work and had a not so short list of likely places. I confess it was a somewhat arbitrary collection, based primarily on my ability to access their parish profile from a website. As it transpired there were not too many gaps based on my other arbitrary selection criteria, including geographic location.

One thing I have become very aware of over the last few months is a growing understanding of what my ministry ‘style’ is and what my priorities would be. Interestingly, this also means that I now realise I have expectations of a congregation, rather than simply looking to meet (or otherwise) their expectations. That has helped further refine the vacancies I have added to my working list.

That list though is still too long and I have been working on getting it down to a more manageable three or four. That hasn’t been easy, especially as skeletons begin to emerge when you do a bit of digging. One potential vacancy I mentioned met with extreme reactions from two people, quite independently of each other. I guess that’s a pretty blatant ‘stay away’ warning. As other factors have emerged (information gathered through interim moderators or knowledgeable others) that short list has changed, although one has stayed live from the beginning and another, introduced a little later, has also survived the refining process.

What has been conspicuous by its absence though has been that sense of, “Oh yes, that’s the one.” Consistent advice from others has been ‘you’ll just know’, and I’d agree with that based on past experience. I didn’t really expect that feeling simply through looking at parish profiles, to be fair, but I had expected some sort of ‘spark’ that might give me a clue.

However, as I reflected on how I was feeling about that, it became clear that any of my short list would actually be quite fine. I’m quite sure I would settle in well and be able to have a fruitful and engaging ministry in any of them. So there was actually no need for the ‘spark’, at least at this stage. I am sure that it will come though, when I meet a nominating committee, or sound out a place, or whenever. But, for the moment, it’s enough to know that there are places where I believe that it would ‘work’ for me (and not just me – there’s family to consider).

But I’ll still be watching out for the ‘spark’.