As Alana has mentioned here, I have come onto the ministerial job market. I have finished my doctorate and am trying to figure out what happens next. In the parlance of Reformed/Presbyterian theology, I am seeking a call, whether that be to return to congregational ministry (which I was doing before my PhD) or to teach theology academically. Personally, I am looking at whatever possibilities come up for either option.
In most Reformed Churches, at least those with a Presbyterian system of government (in which the church is governed by several layers of committees, from the congregation to a regional group of congregations and so on) the procedure for seeking a call to be a minister of a particular place follows a more-or-less common pattern. You look for a church where the pulpit is ‘vacant’–that is, where the congregation is looking for a new minister because their previous minister has retired or moved elsewhere–and if you find one that interests you, you apply. If the congregation’s search committee (or ‘nominating’ or ‘vacancy’ committee, different denominations use different names) thinks that you might be the person that they are seeking, then they might invite you to an interview. If they think you are the best candidate, you ‘preach for the call’ one Sunday morning, and the congregation as a whole votes on whether to call you to be their minister. If the vote is a yes, the matter is sent to the regional governing body, the presbytery. Theologically, the whole process is designed to seek out God’s will, to be made known by the Holy Spirit through the various committee mechanisms.
Being the clergy-type person for a group of people carries with it a certain set of roles, including spiritual guide, mentor, teacher, confidant, rabble-rouser and all-around dealer in matters that cut close to the heart of what many people hold dear. You are privileged to participate in significant events in the lives of others. Because of the peculiar and particular ties between a minister and a congregation, the line between private and public blurs. In few places is this more evident than with a ministry candidate’s family. Traditionally, a new minister brings his or her family to the congregation, too. A cluster of expectations often surround the minister’s spouse, most hailing from the days when the minister was always a man and his wife took care of home and children with or without other employment of her own. Many people have expected a minister’s spouse to be involved in church life, working on one of the committees, for example. This has often led search committee members to ask about a candidate’s private life, about what her or his spouse might bring to the community.
Back when I was in theological college training to be a minister, fellow students and I would often talk about the call process, especially as we neared graduation. Dealing with search committee enquiries concerning spouses and family became a particularly hot topic. Days are different now, most of us averred. People should not assume that any spouse would desire the traditional role reserved for her or him. After talking with people who had already gone through the process, we decided that the best way to answer a question about a spouse would be to say that he or she was not the one being considered for a call, and leaving it at that.
These days, such an answer feels like a luxury that could lead to a disaster, and this irks me.
Back then, I was single. Now I am not. If search committee members ask me about my partner, I would like to remind them that I am the candidate being considered, not her. But the question is thrown on its head by the fact that my partner is Jewish. I need to know if the congregational culture will accept that or if people will make a church job and community life unlivable. I sincerely believe that most congregations, once they get over the surprise, would have no problem with a minister whose spouse is Jewish. However, some would. Some would think that I should be trying to convert Alana or, if we ever have children, get them baptized. Already a friend of mine has told me that she did not think her congregation would accept me. Maybe she is wrong about that, but she did remind me that the sanity of both Alana and myself requires that I make sure that any congregation will not object to us being together.
Thus, instead of telling people that my spouse keeps her own religious counsel, and should not be considered when I am the candidate for filling the vacancy, instead of deflecting questions about her, I have to make an about-face and actually bring up the matter of our interfaith union myself. For the sake of future peace, I have to implicate Alana in the way the church manages its business, even when she will never be a member of that church.
Even though I know that this is the wise course of action, that it is all about determining if a possible home will be a safe and healthy haven for our life together, it still irks me that it has to be this way. Some days more than others. Some days, it feels like I am, in some way, betraying the partner I love.