Sensing the spark (or not)

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’.

9 responses to “Sensing the spark (or not)”

  1. You’ve probably already got this in hand, but one recently ordained candidate said to make sure to read the property reports before accepting a call.  Otherwise, the buildings may take up a very big part of your time.
    Oh, and come to Fife.  We’ve got nice cakes!

  2. I wonder if the spark will come when you meet the people and see the place John?  It’s always hard to get a sense of a place from a document.  You wouldn’t say you knew Paris if all you had done was read the Lonely Planet Guide.  I think it’s probably the same with parishes.  And don’t be scared to say no.

  3. Stewart, you’re right, of course and I’m sure that it’ll be when I see a place and meet the people that I’ll get a much better sense of ‘rightness’ (or otherwise). Saying no is going to be the difficult part (if it comes to it), but I’m sure others will keep me on a tighter rein in that regard.

    Spot, good advice. I’ve heard too many horror stories with buildings not to have it taken into consideration. Fife doesn’t feature, I’m afraid, for all sorts of reasons. And anyway, the cake is a lie (geek reference).

  4. This decision, as you’ve said, has to take your family into account. So, if possible, could they do recces of the shortlisted churches? If they aren’t known as a potential applicant’s family, they could really see how the welcome is etc prior to you committing yourself any further. That would also involve them in the decision too. You may have this in hand, or it may not be an option, of course.
    Stewart does have a great point about the parish profiles. Having read some from churches I know of they don’t necessarily project what the church is really like. Some seem to be looking through rose-coloured spectacles and others aren’t selling themselves well. Actually seeing the churches (or asking someone to do so for you) may sort this out to an extent.

  5. Mrs. G,

    Any potential vacancy candidate is perfectly entitled to pitch up on a Sunday and see for their self how the place is – it is an act of public worship after all. Things like the welcome, or the content of worship are, for me, not critical factors. A welcome is something that can be worked on and worship is at the ‘mercy’ of a locum or pulpit supply. Family are indeed part of the decision, but there are also factors involving wider family which a recce doesn’t address. Probationers are encouraged to meet informally with an interim moderator and with representatives from the congregation prior to making an official application. These things are never done solely on the basis of the profile and an interview. Oh, and the ‘jungle drums’ are very useful – there’s a remarkable amount of gossip that floats around those in the know. It’s not too difficult to tap into, generally.

  6. Hi John
    Not really what I was getting at, but never mind. There’s much which can be worked on and all you note seem to fall into that category, but there’s the welcome at the door and the feeling of being a caring family of gathered Christians.
    The visiting incognito. I know of a few candidates/ministers looking for a move who have adopted this strategy. Yes, it is an act of public worship and anyone can turn up. It’s always interesting to see how people react when you’re just a visitor as opposed to a potential applicant.
    The jungle drums can be a double-edged sword IMHO, both for the candidate and a vacant congregation, though. Gossip. In the Kirk. I refuse to believe that 😉

  7. When ‘the spark’ comes it will be clear. You’ve already identified all the ways in which you can gather information about a vacancy. Presbytery Clerks can sometimes offer advice about charges too, sometimes giving more ‘honest’ appraisals of situations like tenure and any issues that congregations have had in their past. I would also take into serious consideration the funeral workload. Congregations are supposed to give you the total number of funerals in the parish for the last three years or so, not just the funerals of members which might still be the case with some congregations who ‘mask’ their details. 

  8. Fun times! Stewart is right – visit the places on your list. I had a wee spreadsheet on which I listed all the things that were important to me, I got the family to do the same. My parish didnt score highly beofre I visted. But just a couple of visits of an afternoon – a wee wander round, a nosey at the Manse (which incidently was a complete wreck when I first saw it) and I knew this was where I wanted to be. On paper it wasnt (and def not for the family) but the visits followed by going along one Sunday morning and some helpful discussions with the IM and the ‘spark’ came. I will never forget the feeling when phoned by the IM after my formal interview to tell me they wanted me as sole nominee – spark? I was burning! lol

    Take your time – dont dismiss anything lightly – if I had I wouldn’t be in the wonderful place I am now.

    (Funny story – after worship when I visited my sister and I were encourgaed by a member to join the choir!)

  9. I can say one thing for sure – I’ll never be asked to join the choir.

    Had a ‘grand day out’ on Monday and visited a number of places. No ‘spark’ but it was a very useful trip; even just seeing the locations was worthwhile. Off to visit somewhere else this afternoon. This one might be a more likely candidate, so we’ll see what happens.

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