I recently began a new call which means I am fresh out of what we Presbyterians call “the call process.” It is not unusual to hear people in the midst of the process lamenting – no, let’s be honest – ranting and raving about how horrible and broken the system is. Of course later, after they have landed a great call, they are so wrapped up in all the excitement that it becomes easy to forget what a struggle it was and calmly say things to their call-seeking friends like, “You just have to trust the process,” without even a hint of sarcasm.
I believe in the process. I believe that God was at work calling me to the church where I am now, and the people here believe that too. Nevertheless, we are also still fresh enough from the struggle that it hasn’t yet completely faded and there is at least one important reflection that I want to share about my experience: There is an important difference between confidentiality and conflict avoidance.
In the course of my call search I have been snuck through the back ally of a church, I have been introduced as a long lost family member, I have been taken on an impromptu hike through the woods in my Sunday heels in order to avoid being seen by church members in the parking lot. I have done neutral pulpit sermons at churches where I was asked to lie and say the PNC were my family members come to see me preach. My question is: Is this truly necessary?
Of course, it is common for someone to be looking for a new call while still in a current call and confidentiality in these circumstances is a very worthy concern in our all-too-small Presbyterian world! That being said, when we are sneaking people in back doors, we are confusing confidentiality with conflict avoidance.
Let’s make a game plan. If we unexpectedly run into a church member, please just introduce me as a potential candidate. Don’t share my name if I have asked you not to, but please don’t lie and say I am your daughter. When they ask you later for the scoop—because we all know they will— it is indeed possible to politely tell a nosey questioner that you cannot share the candidate’s name or where they are from for reasons of confidentiality.
Christians, we have to learn how to say ‘no’. I know you do not want to be rude—that is the reason I never stepped up myself to stop this madness. So I need this reminder as much as anyone: Keeping appropriate boundaries is not rude. It is okay for your fellow church members to know you are interviewing someone. That is the job they elected you to do!
To their credit, several places where I interviewed handled this dynamic in a completely appropriate way where I did not feel like a refugee being hidden in a basement. I truly appreciated their composure. It was those wise committees who helped me to realize that the difference between confidentiality and conflict avoidance is simple. It is authenticity.
The committees who did this well never forgot that this process is about listening and watching for the Holy Spirit. They never forgot that the process is about discovering the real gifts of a real person—not about covering them up. I have great hopes that it will be a while before I am out looking again, but when that time comes I hope I will remember to hold tight to that sort of authenticity. And I hope you will, too.
CAITLIN THOMAS DEYERLE is pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Virginia where she lives with her husband James, their cat Calvin, and a very rebellious puppy named Molly.