THE CALL PROCESS OVERVIEW
What is the process for calling a pastor in our denomination, the PC(USA)?
The pastoral call is a three-way partnership with the congregation, the pastor, and the Presbytery (our local governing body). A pastor nominating committee (PNC) is elected to hold the ultimate responsibility for presenting a pastor to the congregation for election as the next pastor or associate pastor. Their discernment process involves seeking God’s will to select a candidate to nominate for the presbytery and congregation’s consideration and vote. If you would like to read about the process in detail, click here for the booklet, On Calling a Pastor. In our fast-paced Bay Area world and compared to the recruiting processes we experience in business, this process might seem slow and complex but it is one of the most important congregational tasks in the life of a church.
Why is the process of hiring a pastor different than hiring other church staff?
Calling a pastor is not the same as a job interview for non-pastoral staff. We believe that God uses committees and governance along with abundant prayer, Scripture, and worship, to help discern God’s voice in selecting a pastor. Making this choice takes patience, good process, and spiritual discernment. Finding the right fit also takes time. As set out in our denomination’s instructions, the PNC journeys through the pastoral search process, seeking to hear the call of Christ and “to participate in God’s own choice” for the church’s next pastor.
How is the Presbytery involved and supportive during a PNC process?
The SF Presbytery is our local denominational body. They provide a liaison to serve and work with the PNC to guide and assist the process. The Presbytery provides resources to the PNC and administers candidate reference and background checks. A Presbytery sub-committee, the Committee on Ministry (COM), also examines ministers for membership in the presbytery and votes to approve the call as mentioned above.
How is a PNC formed?
A PNC is developed with great intention to be reflective of the complexity and diversity of the whole of the congregation by the Nominating Committee (whose members are also chosen by the congregation). Possible PNC members are vetted for their engagement and commitment to the life of our church, their ability to commit the extensive time it would require to serve, and the groundedness of their faith. When a slate is presented to the congregation, the congregation reviews the statements of faith, considers the nominees, and votes to form the PNC and entrust it with the responsibility of selecting a pastor candidate.
Why is a committee entrusted to do such important work?
We trust PNC members because we know them as members of our community, they know and love our church, and they demonstrate unselfish commitment to the church by serving on a PNC. We trust in their ability to hold this responsibility because of their call to group discernment, group decision-making, confidentiality, and care for one another. We choose them for this purpose to do a work on our behalf. And we trust that God is with us, for us, and working through a PNC, even if its members are far from perfect.
What is a congregation’s role in calling a pastor?
From the start, congregations play an active role in electing a PNC, and are encouraged to regularly support and pray for the church and the work of the PNC. The PNC considers congregational input along the way through questionnaires, forums, the Mission Study Report, Dream Team Visioning, and other processes, plus they personally review all correspondence directed to them. Ultimately, the congregation comes together for a congregational meeting to meet the candidate, hear about the work of the PNC, and vote on extending a call.
Why does a PNC work with such high confidentiality?
Maintaining confidentiality ensures that the identities of the prospective pastors under consideration and their churches are protected. Maintaining confidentiality within the PNC is an issue of integrity, trusting God in the process, and spiritual leadership. In some ways this is no different than many human resource recruiting processes in the professional world. However, we recognize that being in the dark can sometimes feel hard for the rest of us who are not part of the PNC.
ANNOUNCING THE CANDIDATE
How and when do we hear about a candidate?
The congregation is informed about the nominee in the days or weeks prior to hearing the candidate preach on Candidating Sunday (in our case, the week of August 17). The PNC announcement email to the congregation includes the process the PNC followed, a brief biographical sketch of the candidate which helps the congregation to know him or her more intimately, and a letter and perhaps a video from the candidate. The candidate’s congregation is told at the same time we announce.
What can I expect on a Candidating Sunday?
The nominated candidate preaches a sermon and participates in worship on Candidating Sunday. Following the worship service, we hold a Congregational Meeting to consider the nomination and call the pastor.
How will we hold a Congregational Meeting during COVID-19?
During COVID-19 any Congregational Meeting will necessarily be held via Zoom as state and local orders do not allow large in-person gatherings. Virtual Congregational Meetings have been used by other churches and are approved by the SF Presbytery. Our upcoming meeting is scheduled for Sunday, August 30, and we will send out details in emails a few times before the meeting. We will do all we reasonably can to invite members to join and participate in the Congregational Meeting.
Specifically, what will happen at the Congregational Meeting on August 30?
During our upcoming Congregational Meeting, the PNC co-chairs will make the following motion: The PNC recommends that the congregation call the Rev. Dr. Charlene Han Powell to serve as Senior Pastor and Head of Staff of First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley.
Members of the PNC will speak to the motion by presenting a report. This will include the candidate’s background, experience, and abilities. This will be followed by discussion so any members of the congregation may ask questions. After the PNC report and congregational discussion, the congregation will vote on both the pastor’s call and terms of call.
Why are we asked to vote, if there is only one candidate?
As a congregation, we entrust the task of selecting a pastor to a committee. They listen to us carefully, seek to discern where God is calling our church, and select someone to recommend to us. The congregation affirms the selection and extends the call to the candidate. It is an exciting and deeply moving moment of commitment when the candidate and the congregation mutually declare their partnership in ministry together and trust God for what is to come.
What kind of questions can be asked at a Congregational Meeting?
The Congregational Meeting is called for the purpose of hearing a PNC report and voting on a selected candidate; this is the only topic on the meeting agenda. The meeting is meant to be one of anticipation and celebration for the church and a time of welcome and hospitality for a candidate and family in attendance. All questions about the candidate and his or her call to First Pres are welcome.
LOOKING FORWARD POST-CANDIDATING SUNDAY ON AUGUST 30
What happens once the candidate is approved and called to serve First Pres?
A date is confirmed for the start of the new pastor’s ministry with us. The pastor will need time to conclude his or her ministry with their current congregation and relocate to the Bay Area, so the start date will typically be a month or so out from the congregational meeting. When the Senior Pastor arrives, we will set aside a time of special celebration on a Sunday to welcome them.
How can we make the transition as positive as possible for a new Pastor?
Trusting in God’s provision and the leading of the Holy Spirit with the PNC and the Senior Pastor, we can open our hearts to enthusiastically welcome them. You can volunteer for new opportunities to serve and continue to contribute financially in order to make the fall a strong launch to build momentum into 2021. We can remain in prayer throughout the transition process for our church and the Senior Pastor God has called to serve First Pres.
If I’ve read through all FAQs (this week and last) and have more questions about the process, whom do I contact?
If you have any questions or concerns, write to church leadership. The Session, Pastoral Staff, and PNC welcome the chance to be in dialogue leading up to the congregational meeting. Please write to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will be in touch with you personally.