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!