Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Nexus Search Committee

We had another meeting last night- the first to actually review candidate profiles.  Man, this is even more work than I thought it would be.  But, it's going really well.  Nexus has received a dozen candidate profiles (which means at least a dozen people are interested in exploring the possibility of being the pastor at Nexus).  The meeting went amazingly well.  We went through a dozen candidates in about an hour and did a quick up/down vote on each.  Up means we want to know more about them, down means we think they are better suited for another opportunity.

Ruth Brandon (our Association Minister) spoke with us last week and said something very profound.  The process of choosing a pastor is more like looking for a spouse than an employee.  We on the Call Commitee (Search Committee) take our responsibility very seriously.  Choosing the right pastor could make or break Nexus and we all know that.  

The process we're going through is actually working very well.  We did a survey of the congregation asking each person to choose their top twelve out of forty-two possible characteristics for a candidate.  Things like "Is an effective preacher/speaker", "Works well with youth", "Helps others live their faith in their daily life", "Works for social justice".  This process forces you to prioritize what is most important to you because you can only choose twelve.  Each of the candidates ranks himself on the same characteristics as do their references.  Of course what is of the utmost importance to some of us is of little importance to the others and vice versa.  But, we have the church's input to guide us, which is helpful.  For example, for me being an effective preacher/speaker is way down on the list.  Unless they're going to bore me to death on Sunday morning, I'm much more concerned with them being a good listener, coordinator, coach and organizer than with them standing up and teaching me.  But, for our church it is very important. So, we have to look for that in our candidate and I have to keep in mind what's best for Nexus, not what's best for Brian.  Having that and the results of the broader survey of the congregation we just completed is very helpful.
The profiles we receive are different from your standard resume. They are extremely well done and give us as good a picture of a candidate as you could get on paper. They consist of a resume-like portion.  But, it's is nice because it is in a standard format so it makes them easy to compare.  The candidate tells us which type of position they are looking for (the profile is not specific to Nexus so we get to see their real thoughts).  Do they want to be a pastor on staff (one of many)?  Do they want to be the sole pastor of a church?  Are they interested in new church starts?  It also gives their history, expected salary/benefits, etc.  The person then gets a chance to make a free-form statement about their view of ministry. This is a very important part to me.  We get to see their writing style (are they to-the-point or verbose?), their view of the role of the church and their view of a pastor's role in the church.  They give us telephone references we can check (which we will not do until much later in the process).  Then, they give us a self-appraisal.  The point of the statement on ministry is their view of ministry, in general.  Then, they tell us how they do in ministry.  This is a very telling section also.  In the next section, they take the 42 point survey mentioned above. But, we also have the results of each of their references' views on them.  So, while they may think they're the best preacher in the world, if none of their references (and it's not just three, it's about eight) think so, we have to wonder what's going on there.  Then, each references gives a free form statement on the candidate.  This is very helpful because you can get some really good information here that you would not pick up on a standard resume.  The last part of the profile is a background disclosure.  Have they had any criminal issues, disciplinary issues, etc.?  It's a "yes or no" thing, unless they have had issues in which case, they are given a chance to explain. 
Each committee member had all of the profiles before the meeting and we had each read them all and made our personal notes on the candidates.  One thing I have to say is I am so proud to be a part of a congregation and a denomination that is truly "open and affirming".  We are receiving profiles from people with a broad spectrum of sexuality and it's right there in their profiles. For such a small sampling (12), we had several people who are "out" about their sexuality.  The UCC is getting the reputation for being a place that is truly accepting of gay, lesbian and transgendered people and peopel who have lost their positions in other denominations (I won't name names) are coming to the UCC as a place of refuge.  Now, it's one thing to say you're open and affirming and another to actually practice it.  I can honestly and without any reservation say that sexual orientation did not play a role in our selections at all.  I've been in meetings where things that weren't supposed to be considered were actually talked about "in code".  But, there was none of that from our committee.  I don't know if we'll end up with a gay or straight pastor, man or woman.  But, I do know that we will not not consider a candidate because he's gay.  And, I know women have just as good a chance as men.  In fact, the split between the number of profiles we've looked at has been very evenly split between men and women as is the number of men and women we are taking forward in the process.   Another thing that was great to see is we did receive a profile of a candidate with a blemish on his background check and it was not seen a reason to not consider the candidate.  Even within a lot (most?) churches, while forgiveness is talked about a lot, it's not easily given.  
As we reviewed each candidate, it was pretty amazing to hear how similar our views were on most of them.  The members of the committee are Debbie Bereda, Katie Kool, Karl Ulrich, Pam Benjamin, Judy Waldron and myself.  In many cases, Debbie's notes could have been mine and Pam had some of the same comments I did.  I had highlighted my favorite candidates before going into the meeting.  One thing about the committee is that we have committed to making decisions based on unanimous agreement rather than majority rules.  If a candidate is going to go forward, we all have to agree.  If a candidate is not going to go forward, we all have to agree.  I had one candidate to go forward that a couple of people initially did not want to put forward.  But, we agreed to put her forward.  I had one that I wanted to put forward but people pointed out things in her profile that were not a good fit. She will not go forward.  There was one that I would not have put forward, but most people wanted to and convinced me it was a good idea to.  So, even where we had initial disagreements, we came to a unanimous decision pretty quickly on each and every candidate.
The result is out of the twelve profiles we received, we will tell six that we are not the best fit for them and we will ask six for more information.  We will send them our church profile (kind of our resume) and ask them to review it. We will ask them if they are still interested in Nexus. We will also ask them some questions to get a better feel for them.  We meet again in a week to try to narrow the six down to two or three and to consider any additional profiles we get in the meantime.
If you're a member of Nexus reading this and have any questions about the process, please feel free to ask.  We want to be as transparent as confidentiality allows.  We on the committee cannot discuss any individual candidates we are considering but we are free to talk about the process and want to keep everyone in the congregation informed.

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