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:
RED FLAG.

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.
NO GYM SOCKS WITH FORMAL SHOES.
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.

Toning It Down For CPE

Happy Indigenous Peoples Day, mah friends.* I got this interesting letter the other day. Let’s take a look and have a talk.

Message:

Hi Peacebang,
I am currently getting ready for my first CPE [Clinical Pastoral Education] interview. I am trying to decide what to wear and what pieces to add to my wardrobe down the road when I get closer to actually doing CPE.
I loooove a suit and I have a fair collection of professional appropriate clothes. Except: they are a bit on the loud and bright side. I love bold patterns and super saturated bright colors and jewel tones.
I’m in the south applying for CPE in the south. I’m southern enough to know that my professional wardrobe is too eye catching for CPE generally and it is for sure too eye catching for CPE here.

I’m pretty sure that CPE is not the place for my bright red blazer or my blue monochrome suit outfit. Or my white blazer with black faux leather collar. Or my hounds-tooth blazer. Or ….many things.
I can do a few all black outfits but every time I put one of my SUPER COLOR shells underneath my black jackets I think I look like I’m headed to a political convention.
Do you have any suggestions for toning down a pop-y wardrobe without resorting to all the earth tones I hate? (they look fine on other people and forests)
Thank you for your awesome ministry!
May your day be bright and your sleep deep,

Dear Thoughtful Chaplain-To-Be,

Preparing to do CPE is a great time to consider your developing clergy image. You’re asking all the right questions: how well does my personal preference in attire work in my ministry context?
You have wisely assessed your geographical context (the South) and your professional context (chaplaincy work) and considered the typical choices for that context (earth tones) and are putting it all together, showing a willingness to edit and adapt your own style to suit your ministry. Brava! That non-defensive wisdom will serve you well in your work, so you’re already ahead of the game!

So, I’m thinking about what you said and about what you’ll be doing.
My first thought is that much of CPE happens as we minister to those in beds and wheelchairs and it’s considerate not to want to strain their eyes. On the other hand, maybe a dose of hot pink is just what the doctor ordered!

Busy patterns are not restful to the eye, I agree. Houndstooth is a classic neutral pattern but I’d save it for days you’re not visiting patients. Bright red is a wonderful power color but very hard on the eyes in close proximity, so yes, retire that blazer for patient days.

“Shall we pray?”
“Can I keep my eyes closed? I’m already getting eye strain.”

Screen Shot 2017-10-18 at 12.37.23 PM

“Hello, I’m the Chaplain, can I visit with you for a moment?”
“Sure, but can you take off that blinding tie though?”
Screen Shot 2017-10-18 at 12.37.45 PM
The houndstooth pattern of his jacket is nice and small but the lines in the tie are eye-straining.

“Hi, how are you this morning?”
“I’m doing well, chaplain. I like your jacket. Very fashionable but it’s making me squint.”
Screen Shot 2017-10-18 at 12.37.58 PM

“Good morning, it’s so good to see you again. Are you up for a short visit?”
“I’d like that very much.”
Screen Shot 2017-10-18 at 12.38.30 PM
Save the houndstooth pattern for the lower half of your bod.

You mentioned black as the kind of default option for toning down your cherished eye-poppin’ looks. But how about eggplant purple? How about navy? How about charcoal grey? Those can be non-blah-earth-tones that could be paired with brighter tops. They’re rich and restful enough on the eye and won’t upstage your face and eyes, which will be the focus of most interactions.

* I wrote this weeks ago!
I learned this year that it’s not Indigenous People’s Day but Indigenous Peoples Day — no apostrophe needed because the day honors the entire diversity of indigenous peoples.

Ministerial Formation In The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Internship Politics

Please reinforce your spirits with prayer before reading this Dark Night of The Seminarian Soul that came to PeaceBang some months ago:

SAVE ME! YOGA PANTS! IN CHURCH! ON THE CHANCEL!

On a lay religious professional, in a worship leadership role. I am hyperventilating here.

Sorry, do not have pictures. I was also on the chancel. In a dress. An appropriate dress.

Here’s the thorny part, though. I’m the brand new intern. Our mutual colleague who supervises this person (and me!) apparently doesn’t care what anybody wears. We’ve talked about the subject from time to time and this minister has other priorities. I think she’s wrong, but this is not a hill I’m willing to die on.

Political savvy, I do not have it yet. Is it obnoxious of me to keep wearing professional dress when the people I’m working with might as well be in their pajamas? Do I need to dress down? Or can I try to subtly nudge standards by dressing intentionally?

Sign me,
I put on hose for this? Yes I did.

Yes, you did, intern pigeon. And you will continue to dress appropriately even if others feel it is appropriate to insult the sanctity of the occasion by wearing yoga pants for any aspect of leading worship. Just because a religious professional is not ordained does not give them a “I’m messing around on the floor with the kids later so I can wear yoga pants now” pass.

PASS DENIED.

So what’s an intern to do? One way to broach a conversation with your supervising minister is to play dumb. “Is there any kind of dress code or expectation for Sunday morning worship attire? I was wondering.” Do NOT say, “I noticed that Sloppy Sally was presiding in gym wear, is that okay with you?” or refer to anyone else at all. You are in ministerial formation, so ask for yourself only. The supervising minister may have an interesting and thoughtful response or she may laugh at you for asking the question. The supervisor may not have thought about it, at which point you can say, “Well, I’ve been reading this blog called Beauty Tips For Ministers for awhile and the author has really persuaded me that we live in a visual, media saturated culture and that clergy need to be intentional about our public image if we are going to have the kind of impact we hope to have in the world.”

Conversation launched!

If your supervisor says, “Thank you for asking, I notice that you have tended to dress more formally and I appreciate having an opportunity to explain to you why I dress extremely casually,” you’re lucky, even if you yourself choose to dress more formally. The two of you can discuss your own strategies openly and you may decide to start skipping the pantyhose or sports jacket in deference to the particular ministry context.
If your supervisor says, “Oh my God, who cares?” then you should quietly file that away under “mentoring deficiencies.” Find someone else who does care with whom you can discuss and discern your developing leadership image.

All supervisors have strengths and weaknesses. While under a particular mentor’s tutelage, it behooves interns to play Follow The Leader to a certain extent, unless to do so violates their integrity. If you are dressing more formally than your internship supervisor, that isn’t necessarily a bad or inappropriate choice. You are modeling respect and professionalism, and the wider community may appreciatively note your self-differentiation and polish. Don’t be surprised if they come to you to complain about their pastor’s disappointing garb, as happened to someone I know very well. If that should happen, never triangulate with your supervisor! Tell the parishioner that it would be best to address their pastor directly about their concerns and get out of the conversation as quickly as you can. Never, ever under any circumstances be caught making critical remarks about your supervisor with parishioners or staff. That’s what your friends are for, or in the case of egregious ethical or professional violations, your seminary or denominational support systems are there for. Never, ever be tempted by the fawning admiration of a parched, frustrated or neglected congregation into taking testimonials about how crappy their minister is. Always remember that a congregation is a bizarre, “Rocky Horror Picture Show” carnival of God’s weirdos. You are Brad and Janet at the door in your pristine outfit and part of the initiation process is for you to get crawled all over by — wait, am I really using this metaphor?

Anyway, just stay in your lane and respect professional boundaries, dammit (Janet). You’ll be the one in the lab coat soon enough.

If members of your internship committee or parishioners comment on your attire beyond general feedback (and “We’d like to help you pay for a suit” is not an uncommon way for lay people to supportively steer seminarians toward a more professional look and hey, free suit!), alert your supervisor. It is fair game for lay people to comment on your grooming, attire, social affect and voice, as all of those aspects of your exterior presentation are important factors in your effectiveness. However, that does not mean that you have no right to set boundaries about how much, and when and where, you are willing to hear this feedback. Make sure that it is never in a free-for-all manner, and make sure that you are never subject to anonymous comments. Again, if you feel your internship committee members are commenting too freely and too frequently on your appearance, call in your supervisor.

“The sunlight creates a glare on your glasses in the pulpit, and this makes it impossible to see your eyes,” is helpful feedback. “It’s a shame you have such bad acne, would you like the name of a good dermatologist?” is not. Unfortunately, as I have written before, the minister’s body is in many ways a public body and you will eventually learn to stop being shocked by people’s insensitivity and sense of entitlement to insult you or violate your privacy.

For what it’s worth, I do think that “It’s a shame you have such bad social skills, would you like the name of a good therapist?” is a perfectly appropriate riposte to an invasive and cruel remark. Part of the changing clergy archetype in our time, in PeaceBang’s not-at-all-humble opinion, is reacting honestly to things that hurt. If we respond to obnoxious remarks with saintly patience, that only reinforces the stereotype of clergy as characters who are miraculously spared ordinary human emotions.

Show up for yourself and stand up for yourself, in non-defensive and non-anxious ways. Your clarity about how you want to be seen, how you want to communicate respect for the office of minister and the institution of the church (or wherever you are doing the work of ministry) may rattle clergy supervisors who have not deeply considered the question. You be you and let them work out their own stuff. If they get snippy or petty with you (“I don’t know how you can afford such nice clothes, it must take a lot of time to iron your shirts and do your hair so carefully”), keep cool. “I find a lot of great stuff at the Savers, actually” goes great with a smile. “Yes, I wake up 15 minutes earlier on Sundays so I can spend time on the details of getting ready; I find it really helps me center myself before worship” should shut that insecure senior colleague right up.

If respectful and appropriate attire is not a priority for your ministerial supervisor, that does not mean that you shouldn’t maintain it as your own priority. This time of formation and training is exactly the right time for you to be figuring out how to dress and groom and outfit yourself on your budget and within your time and energy constraints. You do not want to just start thinking about how to dress and comport yourself like a minister later down the road when your responsibilities have increased exponentially.

Good luck, darlings. We have all been there.

Land Of Drugged Out Doggies: Ministry To Animals And Their People

Aloha, noodles!

I am currently nursing a post-surgical beagle and finding it to be much more all-consuming than I had anticipated.

I knew I’d have to carefully help him around. I knew I’d have to do med management and find creative ways to get him to drink water (serve him warm, diluted chicken broth, as it turns out). I knew I’d have to SACRIFICE MY GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP and move downstairs to an inflatable mattress because the bedroom is up 13 steps and he’s not doing that until late October, and he’ll cry and bark all night if I abandon him. I’ve tried.

What I did not consider was that he would need constant supervision for the first few days as he figures out how to maneuver himself around on his little foam mattress pallet, and that he would need to have his cone put on and taken off multiple times a day, and that he would still want to check every rustling sound in the kitchen because it MIGHT BE A FOOD SITUATION.

He is my love and my darling and my dear, and he and the cat are my Guardians of the Galaxy, the A Team, the Cute Squad, Love and Beauty incarnate. The cat is Beauty, the dog is Love, although occasionally they switch. But I tell you what: I ain’t never putting this poor hound through something this major again. As I always say, animals don’t have a bucket list. Same goes for the kitty. I love her a million trillion hearts but I wouldn’t dream of causing her to endure something as upsetting as this.

This led me to wonder how much ministry you do around animals and pets (or, for the more earnest, “animal companions”).

I remember in seminary I took an Ethics class and we were talking about pastoral care and boundaries therein, and one seminarian arrogantly bragged that he coldly rejected the request to visit a member of his parish whose dog was dying. “Give me a break,” he said, or something like that, and I said, “Give you what break? What the hell is wrong with you? If people want to have pastoral support for their loss of a pet, you get your butt over there!” I immediately judged him to be a terrible person and unfit for the ministry. I did. I don’t care. It’s one thing to say, “I declined to visit the home of parishioners whose dog was dying because I had too much going on and I felt that they would be fine with a phone call or a visit at a later time,” but this guy was straight up contemptuous about the parishioners’ relationship with “just a dog.”

This was not cultural. I know that the American pet thing is crazy to a lot of people around the globe and I understand how some may struggle with understanding why and how Americans can spend so much money and energy on domesticated animals, but this was an American. Frankly, if you’re not into animals, that’s fine, but if you’re going to be a pastor you better learn to respect the very real love that people feel for their pets!

Someone called the church once and asked me to do a private blessing for her recently adopted dog. She prefaced her request by saying, “I know you will think this is ridiculous, but…” I said, “Try me.” She explained what she wanted and why, and I said to her, “I dunno. It sounds like a very sweet and respectful ritual you have in mind and actually not ridiculous. I’d be happy to do it.”

I did not wear a robe or stole. I think there’s a time when you’re representing the Church and a time when you’re designing and performing a creative ritual that is spiritual but not religious. By that I mean that you are providing something personal and not institutional– not legitimized by any community of faith — although certainly not harmful or disgraceful. We bring our full pastoral gravitas and affection to these rituals, I think, to honor love and to serve as bridges between the unchurched and traditional religious practice and sacrament. And also because dogs are awesome.

(I know this post is in desperate need of editing but I’m too tired to care. I’ve been nursing a beagle for the past 48 hours, people).

We do a Blessing of the Animals service at my church on St. Francis Sunday (or thereabouts), and I do vest for that because we are blessing the critters within the context of the worship of a covenanted community.

One of my colleagues has an animal chaplaincy and a quick Google search revealed a number of animal chaplaincy mentions. How about you, pigeons?

https://www.wedgies.com/question/57ad2f1308b80a1600564076

I’m interested in what you have to say! Meanwhile, let me get this pooch out to do his potty business.

P.S. That picture of me is a thousand years old!