Traveling To A Candidating Weekend

Congratulations for getting an invitation from the Search Committee to meet with them and talk about the possibility of ministry with their congregation!

If they are picking you up from the airport, your first impression begins the moment you get off the plane. Make sure your luggage is as clean and presentable as you are. Filthy duffel bags, ratty taped together suitcases (if you’re that poverty stricken, borrow one from someone), Hello Kitty rolling bags — all will be duly noted, if not consciously. Do you travel like a professional adult or do you travel like a kid coming home from college?

I bought a set of light blue Nine West luggage over 20 years ago at TJ Maxx or Marshalls and those bags have been all over the continents of North America and Europe with me. They have gone on tourist jaunts and consulting gigs, conferences and interviews. I was very poor when I bought them so they seemed ike a big expense even at something like $89 on sale, but they have been sponged off with warm soapy water and cleaned with Mr. Clean Magic Erasers dozens of times and never needed repairing. Find a set that works for you and you won’t regret it. I have found that I had no use for a fancy, heavy garment bag and prefer to transport vestments in a fairly simple, lightweight one. I refuse to hand it over to anyone for hanging (and it NEVER gets checked) unless I see exactly how and where it’s being positioned. I’m nice about it, of course, but a friendly and firm, “Those are religious vestments and I won’t have time to steam them out before the wedding, do you mind putting them with the other business suits?” has always been effective. Do not consent to have your vestments squished in an overhead compartment. Stand still and take up space and be exceedingly patient and polite, and don’t be an entitled heel and try to have this conversation in the chaos of boarding. Get to the gate early enough to talk to a gate agent about the special accomomdation for your vestments.

If, like me, you don’t feel at your best after hurtling through the sky at 30,000 miles in a crammed and germy environment, tell the Search Committee you’ll taking a Lyft to the hotel. It sets a good boundary and gives you some time to transition from frantic traveler to calm, collected candidate. No one should have to set foot on terra firma only to endure an awkward hour in another tiny, enclosed space with someone who is similarly awkward and trying to concentrate both on driving and on sizing up the candidate. The Search Commmittee should have set aside adequate funds for your transportation. If they insist on fetching you themselves, don’t fight it – just red flag it.

Also: don’t overpack. It makes an equally bad impression for you to arrive with an opera diva’s collection of luggage (will you be bringing your valet wtih you, too? A sherpa?) as it does for you to show up with a gym bag slung over your shoulder with your weekend’s attire in it.

You do not have to wear a completely new outfit every day.

If something comes up on the agenda about which you were not informed and therefore could not possibly have prepared, simply say something like, “I’m looking forward to visiting the working farm — do you think I’ll be able to keep up in these shoes?” Let the Search Committee problem solve. If they shrug off your tactful expression of concern, red flag that. Ostensibly, the Committee wants to show you at your best; you are, after all, their candidate. Partner with them in working out snags that may arise, eg, “Oh my gosh, I seem to have gotten cow manure all over my shoes/back of my coat — is there somewhere I can go to take care of this? I don’t know if I’ll be able to get these adequately cleaned up at the hotel.” Do not assume you have to handle snafus all by yourself. Ministry is not a solo form of work and these may become your people — let them support you early on in doing your very best. If they do not know how to do that or seem to be unwilling, say it with me:

A few more tips:

Stay hydrated. Talking is dehydrating!

Acknowledge your limitations. If you feel ready to hit the brick wall of exhaustion, let folks know. They may be feeling the same way. Neither lay nor ordained leaders can do good work when overscheduled and wiped out.

Thank them! Search Committee members have dedicated their entire lives, just about, to poring over ministerial records and making important decisions for their church for up to a year before they have even met you. Never lose sight of their service to the congregation and their sacrifices. They could be doing way more fun things with their weekend than shuttling around a member of the clergy and listening to us talk about our skills, visions, experience and ability. These people are freaking HEROES. Don’t fawn, but remember to be genuinely appreciative. They aint’ getting paid. You, eventually, may be.

Listen deeply and don’t engage in fantasizing. Listen to what the committee really says about their church, not what you wish they were saying about their church.

Ask questions about the actual job. It’s very easy on these outings for everyone to focus on the future, so don’t forget to ask about the present. Do your forensic work, and if you don’t know how to do that (what Unitarian Universalist minister Peter Raible called “How To Case a Church”), ask your mentors to help you do so. They will examine the congregational record and the church’s public records (usually available on websites) to help you compile a list of important questions to which the Search Committee may or may not know the answers, such as “How happy is the staff? Are there fiefdoms or real collaboration? What is the history of clergy compensation at this congregation? Can you give me the last five years statistics on worship attendance? Who manages professional expense reimbursements for the minister? Can you tell me how long the past four or five board presidents have been members of the congregation before they became president? Has there been any disciplinary action taken against any member of the staff in the past 5-10 years that you know of? Who would know this? If I asked you to put together an approximate weekly schedule of how your minister spends her time, what would that look like? Do you see that ratio changing drastically with the new minister? Do you have any idea who your last minister’s closest relationships among the community leadership might have been (this is a really fun question and very revealing!)? Have there been any big unpleasant surprises about the building or grounds that you all had to deal with in the past five years?
Do your neighbors on the street love you, or how’s that relationship?

Remember that you are not just looking for a job.
You are looking for a really good fit with a religious community that will invite you to use your God-given gifts in partnership with theirs for the good of the Church and all whose souls God shall inclyne to join with you.

Good luck! Break a leg!

Ordinations And Installations

‘Tis a shame that there is no comprehensive, current, authoritative resource for the planning of ordination and installation services in the Free Church, which leaves each minister and their congregation flailing a bit in the planning of the liturgy.

These services are extremely important in marking the moment at the culmination of ministerial formation or search and call process by which a layperson becomes a minister, and a minister becomes the settled minister of a congregation. It is a fairly simple matter to call upon one’s colleagues to find out “what they did” and to pass down the theological and ecclesiastical import of each element of the liturgy: eg, the Act of Installation, the Charge to the Minister, the Right Hand of Fellowship.

I know that the Unitarian Universalist Association Department of Ministry has a file with orders of service from these ceremonies, and I assume that this may also be true of other denominational headquarters.

Given that such resources for planning of ordinations and installations exist, I would like to say a word about what these services are not.

To use totally old-fashioned language, an ordination is the ceremony by which a member of the laity is set apart by a congregation and anointed an ambassador of Christ to do the work of God in the world of men. The service should therefore center not on the ordinand but on the vocation of ministry itself, on the work and mission of the Church in the world, and on the authority of the congregation to discern which from among them should be set apart to serve and lead them.

An ordination is not a graduation.

PeaceBang has squirmed through many lengthy testimonials at ordinations as to the hard work and commitment of the new minister given by spouses and family members.
This is inappropriate, as family and partners have no role in an ordination service except for silent and symbolic one: perhaps lighting a candle or taking part in the laying on of hands after the clergy mentors have been first called forth. The ordination ceremony is between an ordinand and the Church. Family tributes should be saved for receptions, if at all.

Ordinations and Installations are not comedy roasts.

Ordinations and installations are not time for cute palling around, jokey commentary about the minister that demonstrates what a hail-fellow-well-met the guy is. This silly nonsense should be saved for dinner and drinks among the clergy friends and other intimates: its inclusion in the religious ceremony is puerile and excluding of the most important participants in the occasion — the lay members of the gathered church. Clergy comportment at ordinations and installations should be formal even when it is warm and affectionate. It is only natural for friends to be happy and excited when one of their own dear colleagues is settled in a congregation or is endowed with the title “reverend” on a great day of ordination. That said, it is thoroughly obnoxious that the congregation should be made to chortle indulgently at shoulder pounding “atta girl” moments between participants in the service. In a world where so little is sacred any more, it is the clergy’s responsibility to assure that these rites of passage reflect their historical and ecclesial importance.

Ordinations and Installations are not an Olympic sport:

Participants in these services are not in a competition to see who is closest to the ordinand or installee, to see who can share the most entertaining anecdote or who can most flagrantly violate the time limit set by the person who planned the liturgy. There is one preacher, who alone should give the sermon. The other participants should be very clear about the theological and liturgical function of their piece of the service in advance, and prepare accordingly. Let not the Introduction to the Offering become a Charge to the Congregation and let not the Laying On Of Hands become a Sermon, and let not the Invocation become a Prayers of the People or a poetry slam. Let not the Postlude be a recital. It is the liturgist’s responsibility to review every part of the service with each participant well enough in advance to assure their understanding of their role, and it is each participant’s responsibility to show up on time, sober, prepared, and respectful of their time limitation.

Ordinations and Installations should never focus entirely on the special vocation, hard work, commitment, religiousness and sacrifice of the clergy without including equal appreciation for the vocation and commitment of the laity.

PeaceBang has attended more than one ordination where she felt like apologizing to the lay people at the reception for the ridiculous carrying on about the special status of the clergy. While the new minister stands smiling in their new robe and stole greeting well-wishers and getting fussed over, notice the elder ladies quietly bustling around putting out the egg salad sandwiches and serving the punch. They’re every bit as holy and have likely made many sacrifices for the church. Lest we forget. Clergy participants, it’s not induction into the Society of Martyrs. Cool it on the overwrought, self-serving statements. There are other demanding professions, most of which come with no accompanying privilege. Let’s get over ourselves.

Ordinations and Installations are not eternal punishment for the faithful:

There is no reason whatsoever on God’s green earth that these services should last over 75 minutes. See to it that they do not unless you worship in a tradition where services regularly flow well over an hour.

For all:

Shine your shoes.
Get to the venue early enough to take your time robing. Brush your hair, for heaven’s sake.
Straighten each other’s stoles.
Make sure that you have your necessary papers or electronic devices onto which you have already downloaded any documents you need. Do not rely on there being wi-fi!
No saracastic asides: they’re jejeune and distracting.
If you’re using a microphone, do a mic check and still be sure to project and enunciate.
Put a check or money in the pocket of your robe for the Offering.
Get rid of your gum.
Don’t you dare look at your phone during the service.
If you’re on the chancel, keep your feet on the ground. No crossed legs. It’s sloppy and disrespectful.
Remember to your reading glasses if you need them for the Processional and Recessional hymn.
No wearing reading glasses on the top of your head. They are not a headband.

White After Labor Day: On Fashion Rules And Breaking Them

One of PeaceBang’s pet peeves is meeting clergy who pshaw and poo-poo fashion rules, as though fashion is a shallow subject which they, in their mighty spiritualness, dwell far above and need not consider.

Me to them:
Fashion is as ancient an art form as is liturgy.
Don’t dismiss and denigrate what you don’t know.
Fashion is about aesthetics. It conveys crucial information about status and identity in a society. It is a central form of non-verbal communication in our shared environment, cross-culturally and globally.
A certain degree of fashion literacy is essential for those in public life and leadership.

“People should be able to wear what they want and be comfortable” is a meaningless statement of hyper-individualism. Leaders who manage to do well with that attitude are almost always conventionally attractive, slim and probably white. Draw in a deep breath and smell the privilege!

Fashion rules are sometimes arbitrary and contrived by Fashion People setting trends (“If you’re not wearing PUCE, you’re NOT DRESSED!” “Tulle pants are IT this season!”) but most of the time they reflect political realities (eg war, trade routes, huge cultural events) that start with the people or one influential person (say, tying a rag around a part of their body to absorb sweat or to dab a quill pen on while writing), become popularized and are then interpreted artistically by designers who send them out in beautified form as fashion. We recommend you to see site for info on the latest fashion trends.

No one knows who started the White After Labor Day “rule,” exactly, but it probably has its origins with retailers who wanted to pull in new inventory for the autumn and sell more clothes. Making the color white a “summer” color was a brilliant marketing ploy that also makes sense: white reflects, rather than absorbs, light. It keeps the body cooler under the hot sun. When the days get cooler, it’s nice to be able to clean and store all those summer whites (especially for servants whose job it was to keep all those whites bleached and pristine for the privileged classes).

It was steamy as Hell yesterday so I decided to wear white for its psychological association with coolness, post-Labor Day be damned. I paired it with a very autumnal hued skirt (burgundy) and a floral patterned shirt. The shoes are all-season. Click photos to enlarge.


“Why yes, I’m wearing white after Labor Day!”


Fluevog heel detail:

If you’re going to break the rules, just make sure to think it through: why is the rule part of our culture? Why are you breaking it? Will you still be appropriately and respectfully dressed? Is there anyone with whom you seek to connect who might be distracted, put-off or offended by your choice? Do you care if they are? Can you afford to not care, if you don’t? Is your position in the organization or group so secure and respected that you can afford to not care about overturning cultural norms or traditions? Answer that last question carefully. Leaders with an “I don’t care what you unenlightened people think” attitude about clothing usually don’t care about other things that matter a lot to other people. They won’t last long in leadership if they actually ever attain any beyond their title.

Clergy In The Headlines

Study these images (If you click them, they get bigger).
These are our colleagues out on the front lines, witnessing for justice. RIGHT ON, clergy!
Who do you want to follow? This is an urgent question right now.

Who looks like they have integrity, authority, a compelling presence that you, if you were undecided about whose voice to heed, might lend your ear and your trust? I feel stirrings of pride in almost all of these images but I’m a minister! It’s easy for me to cheer for the team. What I find challenging is to regard these images as the average, skeptical American might. What do these people look like to them?

clergy bad




heather-heyer-memorial-service 2

Clergy leaders who were not arrested continue a protest against the Republican health care bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on July 13, 2017.  RNS photo by Madeiline Buckley
Clergy leaders who were not arrested continue a protest against the Republican health care bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on July 13, 2017. RNS photo by Madeiline Buckley

Who isn’t thinking through their attire and their public image? I see a few bloopers.
I also find that, in general, there are too many colors and patterns for my eye to follow, and I think to the average viewer that might look a little cray-cray. I’m not sure, though. Do you think most people seeing these images know what a stole even is? I find that I respond well to a simple suit and collar, or to a white or black robe or outfit under a stole.

Who is assuming a clergy privilege that no longer exists in America, and presuming that they can get away with dressing like a slob and still be taken seriously?
You see it, right? Not good. Really insulting.

Remember that these images are seen by millions more people than will ever hear even one of our well-crafted sermons or even a sentence. Our face, our bearing, our sign, our body language, our gestures in photos or short videos are the only means of communication we have to reach this divided nation. We must be savvy about how we use them.

Blessings on all those who show up.

Pussy Hats And Clericals

It’s decision time, pigeons, and this furious pussycat needs your input.

I have a pussy hat, courtesy of my Music Director who knitted it and gave it right to me as soon as she saw my eyes light up with glee at the sight of it. She said she made it with the intention of giving it away, so that was that. Yay!!


I will march on Saturday in Boston with other furious women and our allies — disgusted by Trump/Pence and their casual misogyny and vile, medieval obsession with controlling our bodies. May obstruction foil their every hateful effort. So may it be, God help us.

I will be wearing clericals because I want to identify as a religious leader.
I don’t think PeaceBang would approve at all of my wearing the pussy hat with the clericals, but I am undecided.

I understand that the hat lacks gravitas. It is not at all appropriate for a liturgical setting, obvs.

And yet, my experience as a woman is not separate from my experience as a minister. In fact, the most serious and enraging violation of my body (after a lifetime of manageable violations: having to fight horny guys off on dates, being catcalled on the street, having a breast grabbed in a crowd, being stalked while touring Amsterdam on my own, being expected to sleep with the hotel manager in Brussels who let himself into my room with his key and thought that was romantic or sexy rather than terrifying, being called a pig and worse by guys who just moments previously were trying to flirt with me, being referred to as a bitch more times than I would bother to try to count, being harassed by a deranged cyber stalker who can’t stop obsessing about my making a joke about sodomy on a blog over a decade ago [who also comments constantly on my body], being told that I’m too stridently feminist for requesting that the church furnish a FAX machine for my home office [there was no church office!], being asked at a candidating weekend if I’m pregnant because I declined a glass of wine, being messaged by a male youth in my denomination asking if I got laid that weekend…. SHALL I GO ON?) was committed by a wolf in sheep’s clothing who groomed me for assault precisely by manipulating my pastoral empathy.

I march as a woman and for women and as a woman in ministry. If women have decided to fly a middle finger to Trump and his congressional cronies by means of a cute pointy-eared pink hat, I want to be visually counted among them. You may grab us but you can’t touch us.

But do I wear the clericals AND the hat?
What do you think? What are you doing? And what signs are you carrying?

Under consideration:
For God’s sake, RESPECT WOMEN.

For Christ’s sake, TRY RESPECTING WOMEN.