Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Letters From the Soul: This Month's Newsletter Column

Dear church,

I cannot say enough about the gracious and loving welcome I have received from so many of you whilst I have spent my September relocating and transitioning into my new ministry here as your pastor. I was worried that in order to receive the full measure of Longview’s hospitality that I would have to arrive dressed in a squirrel costume; thankfully, you have instead simply taken me as I am. This includes the wider town community as well—people here are wonderfully nice, and it is truly a blessing for a stranger to experience!

As many of you know, this is a sort of homecoming for me, having lived in Portland for four years before relocating to northern California for seminary. I am absolutely elated to return to my beloved Pacific Northwest, and I truly believe that together, you and I can bring the inclusive love and compassion of Christ to our neighbors in this beautifully rainy region of the country that has long been written off by so many of our Christian brothers and sisters as the “Left Coast.”

As I begin my work as your pastor, know that I will make mistakes along the way, and that I will be counting on you to help guide me, just as I am here to help guide you. Our experiences as Christians will now be shared with each other, and even though we might stumble along the way, sharing this journey with one another will make our successes together even sweeter—and it is my strong belief that we will indeed enjoy many successes together!

And so at this moment of new beginnings and great possibilities, I am overwhelmed with thanksgiving for this church community that you have called me to be a part of. Know that I feel extraordinarily blessed to call myself your pastor.

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Eric

Sunday, September 25, 2011

This Week's Sermon: "The God Speaks, and He Lives"

Genesis 41:37-45

37 The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials. 38 So Pharaoh asked them, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?”

39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. 40 You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.”

41 So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” 42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. 43 He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and people shouted before him, “Make way!” Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt.

44 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, but without your word no one will lift hand or foot in all Egypt.” 45 Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-Paneah and gave him Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On,[d] to be his wife. And Joseph went throughout the land of Egypt. (TNIV)

The Christian author Phyllis Tickle would tell the story of when she once lectured at a large southern cathedral, where the question-and-answer period included a debate over the doctrine of the virgin birth—that Mary was a virgin when she conceived and gave birth to Jesus. And as the conference was wrapping up, Phyllis came across a young man who was an employee of the conference center, there to help prepare the venue and set up refreshments. She had seen him intently listening amidst his work, he said that he couldn’t understand why something like the virgin birth was such a hot-button issue with Christians today. Now, I can’t say what Phyllis thought when she heard that, but I know my mind would have gone to, “Does he think Christians are goofy and irrelevant for discussing this? Or has he already made up his mind and takes something like this extremely literally?” Basically—preparing for the worst, never mind hoping for the best. But no, he followed up that question by simply asking, “It’s so beautiful that it just has to be true, right? Whether it happened or not” Forget finding truth in facts, truth was found instead because of a boy’s need to believe because he feared he would be a different person, a lesser person, if he didn’t choose to believe. It’s so beautiful that it just has to be true.

I had not originally planned on accepting a call so quickly out of seminary—I thought about taking a year to write an academic master’s thesis in New Testament, I thought about returning to the world of teaching speech and debate, as I had done during both college and seminary. I was expecting my search and call process to take up to a year, possibly even longer. But then Don and Lori Powell called me in July, and I visited all of you in August, and in all of that, I came to understand…I have been made to understand…that the desire I felt to serve you as your pastor was so powerful, was so beautiful, that it just had to be true. And so instead of spending a year in search and call, I spent barely four months in it.

And instead of languishing in prison for life for a crime he did not commit, Joseph finds himself before Pharaoh after a far shorter term. The Bible says that Joseph began his service to Pharaoh at the age of 30…I am even younger than that, and while I admit it takes a special kind of hubris to compare yourself to a major Biblical character, much less in a favorable light, keep in mind that in this story, y’all are Pharaoh, so you’ve got a pretty good gig yourselves. But in this story, Joseph still is Pharaoh’s servant, just as I am yours.

After Potiphar has Joseph imprisoned, Joseph correctly interprets the dreams of Pharaoh’s incarcerated butler and baker, and some time later, when Pharaoh himself has dreams he is incapable of understanding, the butler recommends Joseph. And so Pharaoh calls upon Israel’s son, and we hear the story of the dreams of the seven fat and skinny cows, the seven full and withered ears of grain. In response to Joseph’s revelation of the coming years of both feast and famine, it is really very telling about Pharaoh that his first concern is how to address it—unlike our politicians of today, he does not punt on big stuff, he is ready to tackle it head on. This story is as much a tribute to Pharaoh’s courage as it is to Joseph’s vision, because Pharaoh is not only brave enough to immediately remedy the famine, his faith is deep enough that he entrusts the grand plan to a thirty-year-old Israelite slave. The famine in our church, in our denomination, is unfortunately not seven years in the future like it is in Genesis—we do not have that kind of luxury of a seven-year head start. Like other mainline traditions, we have been sapped of both membership and funds, and all the while the story that people hear and read about is not what can these storied churches still do, but what can these old fuddy duddy churches do to respond to the nondenominational churches, the megachurches, the evangelicals and fundamentalists who are waxing as we wane. And so, in response to the pain of famine and decline, churches everywhere are casting about for the point where they turn themselves around.

The Genesis story marks the turn-around point for Pharaoh and for Egypt in addressing the famine. Though it will not come for seven years, the key choice Pharaoh must make is happening now. Entrust this plan to the wrong person, and perhaps Egypt does not survive. I want to believe with every ounce of my faith and with every cell of my being that you have indeed called the best person, but I also know that I will not be as Joseph for you. I will make mistakes, I will misinterpret the future, I will stumble and I will fall down. But I also believe, just as adamantly, that just as Egypt likewise saw seven years of plenty along with the famine, that there will be many years of plenty in our future together precisely because the toughest job has been accomplished—the turn-around point has been arrived at, and the choice you had to make, the die you were asked to cast, has been achieved. It is to call me to you to be your pastor, and I am, from the depths of my soul, so very grateful that you have done so.

When Joseph was called by Pharaoh, he was given a new name, an Egyptian name. Zaphenath-Panaeah, translated from Egyptian into English, means, “The God speaks, and He lives.” A chicken-or-the-egg riddle this is not, nor is this the Biblical version of Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am.” But rather, it is one of the most fundamental truths of Christian religious life that you can find expressed in so few words. Because God speaks to us, we know that God still lives—lives, not only lived. And for every moment that you hear God’s voice ringing and whispering in your ears in this house, it is enough for me to be able to proclaim to you that God still lives. In the old days, the people would see God in both the good and the bad, that God sends both plenty and famine, both reward and punishment. Today, it is far too easy to walk around and say there is a God when only good things are happening to you. But for a church to go through such a long period of uncertainty and transition and to come out the other side still saying, “God speaks to us, and God lives in us,” that is real life, that is real theology, that is a real God who is no fair-weather friend, a God who will still speak, who will still live, and who will continue to demand that we see and hear His living, speaking presence whether we are in a good place in our lives or not, or whether our church is in a good place in its life or not.

But, I know that this is a church entering into a good place, a wonderful place, in its life. And I know it for the same reason as that boy who came up to Phyllis Tickle believes in the virgin birth. Because it is so beautiful, it is so right, that it just has to be true. This is not blind optimism—as you get to know me, you will quickly realize that I am not the type to vomit sunshine upon everything and everyone I come across. This is faith. And there is such a huge, huge difference between optimism and faith. Optimism is a hope, a hope that things will turn out for the best, a hope that our tomorrows will be better than our yesterdays. Faith is a knowledge, knowing that because God is good and just and loving, that He will watch over and guide this church as we begin this new and exciting chapter of our lives together. Optimism would be hoping that Egypt will survive the famine because they might decide on the correct course of action. Faith is knowing that Egypt will survive the famine because God has given them the gifts and the will to do so, because the God has spoken to Joseph, and to Pharaoh, and to their people, and to our people today. Faith is knowing that it is not merely that God could act in our lives as a church, it is knowing that God has already done so by giving us the will to change and to transform in our mission to bring Christ’s love to the world. And so now, let us begin—knowing that simply, fundamentally, and amazingly, that God lives. And for as long as God lives, so too may His church. This church. Our church. May it be so. Amen.

Rev. Eric Atcheson
Longview, Washington
September 25, 2011

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

So You Want to be a Pastor?

Well...maybe you don't. Probably you don't. But just in case...

There’s a wickedly hilarious book that I’ve been reading lately—Jon Acuff’s “Stuff Christians Like,” which is based on his blog by the same name. As the title suggests, it is a knockoff of Christian Lander’s “Stuff White People Like,” and like Lander, Acuff is funny precisely because what he writes is completely, utterly true.

One such entry in the book is “Thinking you’ve been called to ministry.” That is to say, every REAL Christian (said 100% tongue-in-cheek) at some point in their lives will wonder if they have been called by God to ordained ministry, to go from an amateur weekend warrior to professional Christian. For many, many folks, this ends up being nothing more than a phase, in the same way that as an eight-year-old kid, I wanted to be a professional dinosaur hunter.

Then there’s another, much smaller, group of people who actually conclude that this bizarre desire to work on almost every Sunday morning for the rest of their lives might actually be for real, and they decide to enroll in a seminary but realize after a year or two (or after having to take Greek, Hebrew, and The Systematic Theology of Eggplants During the Papacy of Clement II) that God isn’t really calling them to ministry after all. False alarm there, Big Guy. Or Big Girl. I hold nothing against such people—it takes guts and either deep pockets or a willingness to take on substantial debt to sacrifice a year or more of your life to attend God School.

Finally, there is the class of whackjobs like me, who not only respond to the voice of an apparently needling, meddlesome God who wants me to specifically do THIS, but to follow all the way through and graduate from seminary. We have not only drunk the Kool-Aid, we are drunk on the Kool-Aid, because we still want to do this for our lives in spite of this very true list written by an anonymous churchgoer from Oklahoma* (I have changed the language in places to make the wording more inclusive).

*Seminary friends: If this passage sounds familiar to you, it is because I used it in a lecture that Andrew Hybl and I held in our Angels Fear class about clergy burnout. Now on to the actual list:

"They know more of the personal problems of more people than does any gossip columnist, yet they tell no one but their Creator.

They must generate group enthusiasm as does a cheerleader of a disappointingly slow ballgame.

They feel the pressure to produce a winning team, as does the ball coach.

They are given the responsibility of leading but always from a servant position.

They must give three or more speeches each week to the same general group.

They must not be repetitious or boring. They must have fresh, up-to-date materials and data. They must do it without a speechwriter or research team.

They must be approachable at all times regardless of their own personal desire to be left alone.

They must teach from a book studied and read by their students, yet must be fresh and informative.

They must continually sell themselves, their company, their produce and, most importantly, their Boss, with the realization ever before them that to fail produces death.

They must never get behind in paying their bills; they must dress well; they must drive a clean car; they must have tools to do their job; they must be a leader in their gifts to charitable causes; they must entertain and they must do it on a salary, which is, most of the time, inadequate.

They feel the responsibility of having a morally healthy family as much as the physician does to have a physically healthy one.

They must be willing to listen to people by the hour, to not know how to enjoy an uninterrupted meal with their family, yet handle their own frustrations over lack of time for their spouse and children.

Their work is so much a part of themselves that they cannot separate the two. A criticism about their congregation is a criticism about them. A rejection of their group is a rejection of them.

S/he is a walking, talking, loving person of God, of men and women, of a family who is called “Pastor.”

They are trained to preach, to pastor, to administrate, but somewhere someone failed to give them the magic word, which changes them into “Captain Marvel.” S/he is a person, a good person, but just a person. Without the grace of God their load would be too great and they would break…

Some do anyway.”


Yours in Christ,

Sunday, September 11, 2011

This week's sermon: "Upon the Heights"

Habakkuk 3:17-19

17 Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

19 The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.

For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.

The rocker was no stranger to controversy. In decades past, his lyrics were appropriated by presidential campaigns, NGOs, and any number of people who decided their interpretation of his songs fit their own mission. But when he announced a series of ten concerts in New York City after a short hiatus from his work, an unprecedented thing happened…the New York police force’s largest union, the Patrolmens’ Benevolent Association called for a boycott of the entire series. What makes this story newsworthy is that the rocker was Bruce Springsteen, and in 2000, he had just penned the mournful song “41 Shots” in tribute to Amadou Diallo, the African-American immigrant and street cart vendor who was shot and killed by four white New York City police officers in his apartment in 1999.

But Bruce is also from the New York area, and just over a year after the boycott of his performances, the terrorist attacks that we remember today took place. Rejoining his longtime friends in the E Street Band, he penned a new song, called The Rising, for the eponymous album he would be releasing. And like so much of our painful pasts, the memory of the pain and hurt of the boycott was pushed aside.

You’ve probably heard this song at some point in the last ten years—and if you remember its bridge lyrics, they recall the New York sky, beginning as a backdrop for sorrow and tears before being transformed gradually into a sky of love, and of fullness, and of life itself. It is not often that poetry is put to events so fear-inducing. But every once in a while, across our history, it does happen.

The prophet Habakkuk likely began his career before the sacking of Judah by Babylon in 587 BCE, but much of the book attributed to him contains oracles concerning Babylon and the coming strife attending to Judah. His book begins with a cry that has been echoed by humanity from the Pearl Harbor and the World Wars to Oklahoma City and 9/11—“God, how long must I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?” In the oft-cliched question of why bad things happen to good people, Habakkuk has already arrived at his answer—either God can act and ruthlessly chooses not to, or God cannot act and is grieving right alongside us in our suffering. And based on that, Habakkuk creates three chapters of poetry in his dialogue with God; in fact, the final chapter, the one from which today’s reading comes from, was meant to be sung, as evinced by the final line of “to the leader, with stringed instruments.”

And so turning to music in our own times of suffering and of need is a practice as old as time itself. And transcending that time are images played over and over again in our minds and ears as we hear the notes played and the lyrics sung. Habakkuk then, and Springsteen now, offer to us the image of the sky—Habakkuk says “heights”—as the backdrop for hope itself, not for the death that has arrived on their doorsteps, but for the promise of renewal that God offers us, and we can fulfill that promise simply because God has created us to be extraordinary in the depths of our grace and compassion when the need arises to do so. It is not that God would see the hurt and violence that Habakkuk sees, that we see, and do nothing, it is that God has already done so much in creating us. Even amidst the jingoism and prejudice that 9/11 gave light to, I still remember the numbers of people lining up to donate their money, their time, their labor, their blood, whatever they could of themselves, because of one immutable, unchangeable, unbelievable reality—with God, all things become possible, all hatred will meet its opposite, and our salvation will never be any further away than it was before. The extremity of 9/11 brought out terrible parts of us, but it also brought out truly inspiring parts of us as well. It is our painful task to take the bad along with the good, and it is our difficult task to transform the bad into good, not unlike how the sky itself can be transformed, from sorrow into life, from blackness into light.

There is an epilogue to this selflessness, and it is that such actions can transform situations both before and after 9/11. After 9/11, many of our first responders began suffering from medical conditions. But people are stepping up to heal them as well, just as the responders had stepped up on that day. And before 9/11, Bruce Springsteen would not have been welcome in many a New York police cruiser, but after that day, the rock star returned home to honor his city. The real tribute in remembering 9/11 is not in public displays of patriotic piety as much as it is in the day-in and day-out work of elevating it into a place into our communal memory that remembers, and memorializes, and grieves, but that does not hate. And ten years later, that task is still incomplete. But we are working towards it, step by step, bit by bit, piece by piece, soul by soul.

May it be so. Amen.

Rev. Eric Atcheson
Olathe, Kansas
September 11, 2011

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Office

(, not the television show. Sorry.)

After receiving keys to the building yesterday, this afternoon I began the business of setting up my new office at Longview FCC--mostly it consisted of unpacking and shelving my many ministry-related books (have I mentioned already on this blog how much nicer a Kindle would be to unpack? Yep, I have. Lesson learned), but I also have been setting up a work-related email account, discussing a variety of plans for online ministry and communications with Charlotte, our church office administrator, that sort of thing. It is an exciting time for me, and hopefully, for Longview, as their new pastor has arrived with tags still on from the factory, er, seminary.

And these latter tasks, while a relief from the many manual chores of moving I've attended to lately, serve a greater purpose to me as a reminder that the four walls of my church office are still, in many ways, a facade, and that a minister's "office" extends far beyond the walls of the brick-and-mortar church. I think it is the United Methodists who coined the saying that the world is the pastor's parish, and as cheesy as that line may be, it is cheesy in part because there is a kernel or three of truth in it. And as a introvert, it is all too tempting sometimes to hole myself up in my office. It's even something Jesus sometimes did...not with an office per se, but when he saw the crowds coming in a number of instances in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, he would turn 'round and head the other way to have a little peace and quiet. Not that I'm comparing myself to Jesus, my ego is quite healthy on its own!

Dan Kimball, in his book "They Like Jesus but Not the Church," talks about how he would hold some of his weekly pastoral office hours not actually in his church office, but would rather visit different coffeeshops, bookstores, and the like around his town and get to know people outside of his parish that way. It is something I hope to work on doing myself in my ministry--not simply because it is a nice change of pace, but because I truly do worry that if I did not, my own work, work that I feel called to do on behalf of a wider church that believes in totally naive delusions like, you know, social justice and inclusiveness and sustainability, would become something of an albatross around my neck, in which I far more rarely interacted with people outside of my own Disciples orbit. May that never be the case for this pastor, or for anyone in the business of doing ministry.

Yours in Christ,

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Biblical Privacy and an American Question

I can't say I intended for this blog to touch on the intersection of religion and public policy quite so early in its life, but, as Virgil wrote in the Aeneid, fortune favors the bold. But really, it was simply a thought that struck me as I was reading the Bible tonight. So, naturally, I'm going to take that simple thought and make it much more complicated for you!

One of the major arguments against reproductive rights in America is that the US Constitution does not explicitly guarantee a right to privacy--an argument that is not at all new, ever since the Warren Court handed down its decision in Griswold v. Connecticut, which saw a right to privacy famously in the "penumbras" of the Constitution in favor of reproductive privacy. It's a landmark decision. I may not agree with my more conservative brethren that reproductive rights are unconstitutional, but I at least understand the basis for what it is they are arguing, to the extent that I can without holding a law degree.

Here's the rub, though--many, many of the folks opposed to reproductive rights, access to contraception, and other such issues are Christian. Again, I get where they're coming from, even if I'm not on board. But the Bible, upon which many of their arguments are based, does in fact recognize an expectation of privacy. Consider the following verses:

"But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." -Matthew 6:6

"If you take your neighbor to court, do not betray another's confidence." -Proverbs 25:9

Granted, both of these example verses present issues--Matthew's comes in the middle of an arc in the Sermon on the Mount on the spiritual practices of almsgiving and fasting as well as prayer, so context matters. Whereas with Proverbs, a book of collected one-liners, context is nearly impossible to determine.

However, an expectation of privacy does endure throughout the Bible, with examples from the Old Testament and the New Testament. And so while I understand the basis of the views of someone who might oppose family planning on religious grounds of a right to life, or on constitutionality grounds of lack of privacy, I feel like those two arguments are tough enough to reconcile that if you are going to tell me the Constitution vetoes a right to privacy, bringing the Bible into it is nowhere near as cut-and-dry as you may think it is on this.

You would think that after seven years of post-secondary education in religious studies and theology that I would be more apt to have a cut-and-dry answer, but really, there are probably times when the Bible does not say what we think it says, and there are probably times when we are just kinda improvising as we go along.

Such is the life of a wayward child of God.

Yours in Christ,

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Wizard Behind the Curtain: A Look at Accepting a Pastoral Call

August was my last month of being “in search and call” (or, what more realistic cynics would call it, “being unemployed”). Starting with my move on Monday, I will begin the gradual transition into my new job as Senior Pastor of Longview First Christian Church in Longview, Washington, and today, I believe I will be withdrawn from the search and call process by the general church.

The search-and-call process for finding a minister, at least in the Congregationalist polity of the Disciples of Christ, is very different from the world of secular hiring, but it is also very different from the traditional itinerancy model that denominations like the United Methodists use, in which you go wherever your bishop has assigned you to go. So for the Disciples, a lot of this process has to do with building connections and relationships with a parish’s search committee (in anticipation of the entire parish). Russ, my mentor and supervisor at FCC Concord, always said the search and call process was more akin to dating than hiring, that you had to go on a few dates with a church before exclusivity—I would amend this one step further in saying that it is akin to online dating, since the whole process begins with you and parish viewing one another’s online profiles (provided by eChurcharmony, er, I mean, the Office of Search and Call).

With graduation from seminary around the corner, and at the strong suggestion of Ben, my regional minister here in California, I put my profile (a pastoral hybrid of resume/biographical information) into circulation at the end of April 2011. This was actually earlier than I had intended—I had planned on returning to school for one more year to write an academic master’s thesis in Biblical Studies. But a combination of factors—especially emotional factors—led me to think that I was finished with school and needed to move on to the next step in my life.

What Winston Churchill said about democracy (“It’s the worst system, except for all the others”) is sort of how I feel about our search and call process, but it does have its definite advantages—for one, while there is a level of involvement from our regional ministers (our rough equivalent of bishops) in that they send profiles to churches and candidates, they do not outright assign us, so we still have a say in where we go. Similarly and secondly, you can be very specific about asking particular regions for preference in hiring. In my case, I asked the regions in Southern California, Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and Kansas City for preference—the West Coast being that I had lived here for the last seven years of my life and would love to continue to do so, and Kansas City so that I could return to my boyhood hometown and live in (relatively) close proximity to my parents and sister. I never heard from any parishes in Oregon or Southern California, and a couple of leads in Northern California and Kansas City ended up falling through, which left Washington.

On May 12, around two weeks after my profile had gone into circulation, I received an email from the Rev. Sandy Messick, the regional minister for Washington, Northern Idaho, and Alaska (and who is absolutely wonderful, despite being a ginger), asking me if I would be interested in a church in Longview, Washington, a town about an hour’s drive north of Portland, Oregon. After chatting with her and taking a night to sleep on it, I said yes—aside from starting my vocational career as a solo pastor (which is what I felt most passionate about), it would return me to my beloved Pacific Northwest, less than a two-hour drive from many of my college friends as well as from my aging grandfather, who lives on the Oregon coast.

I was exuberantly excited (to the extent that I get exuberant), but I wasn’t contacted by the parish until June to schedule a Skype interview, which we did in early July. The parish quickly followed up with me to request that I come visit them in person, which I did in early August for a series of face-to-face meetings as well as to preach a “call” (aka “audition”) sermon on August 6. On the following Sunday, August 14, the church voted to call me as their next senior pastor. Subsequently, they presented a "letter of call" (aka a contract) offer to me. The offer itself was very fair and generous, and so there wasn’t much negotiating to do—a few days later, we agreed to terms, and I have since gone about the many details of relocating from Berkeley to Longview.

As with most pastoral searches, this was a lengthy one compared to the process of a secular company filling an open job-—I was first contacted by Sandy on May 12, and my first Sunday on the job is September 25, which, for those of you keeping score at home, is roughly 4.5 months from first contact to first Sunday of work (and FCC Longview themselves had an interim pastor for several months before even contacting me). That’s a lot of time to be under consideration for one particular job opening, but it is still very short compared to the lengths of search and call that I’ve seen many of my friends and colleagues undergo. In any event, I’m glad I did it, and I’m glad it’s over with so that I can get on with the actual work of ministry, because I am quite psyched to begin my work with the folks up in Longview.

Finally, I am always interested to hear the stories of clergy colleagues and my seminary classmates about your own navigation of the search and call process, as well as from laypeople who have, say, sat on a search team for their parish. Search and call is a delicate issue for many pastors and many parishes, but talking about it (even in more general terms to protect confidentiality) can be a great help—in my experience, I often felt like I was a little on guard, unsure of how much information to give away at any one time, and that can take its toll on a person, which is unfortunate when you are just one step away from beginning the next great stage of your work as a servant of God.

Yours in Christ,