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Speed-dating, Presbyterian style

‘Face-to-Face’ event at Big Tent matches employers, call-seekers

 by Jerry Van Marter | Presbyterian News Service

A whiteboard at the Face-to-Face event at Big Tent, lists all the participants MIFs and PIFs. (Photo by Jerry Van Marter)

ST. LOUIS – While some 600 Presbyterians are gathered here this week for worship, fellowship and topical workshops at Big Tent, 27 others are here for a very different purpose: seeking their next call to ministry in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

“Face-to-Face” – sponsored by the Church Leadership Connection in the Office of the General Assembly (OGA) – periodically brings together Presbyterian ministers (and candidates) seeking jobs and churches and other PC(USA)-related institutions with open positions.

“It’s almost like Presbyterian speed-dating,” said SanDawna Ashley, manager for call process support and teaching elder ministries in OGA. “This is an opportunity to go beyond PIFs (Personal Information Forms) and MIFs (Ministry Information Forms) and match faces and personalities with names.”

In a perfect world, all 27 call-seekers will be employed by the time Big Tent concludes on July 8, as there are also 27 calling organizations represented at this Face-to-Face. But, of course, that’s not the way the PC(USA)’s call system works.

“This is an introductory part of the call process,” Ashley explained. “There’s no guarantee of interviews, but we know that this way of getting call-seekers and prospective employers together works. They come, engage in orientation to the process and then start circulating, participating in interviews as the spirit mutually moves them.”

Brian Merritt, a self-described “Presbyterian dork,” loves the “relational nature” of Face-to-Face events. (Photo by Jerry Van Marter)

The Rev. Brian Merritt, a pastor from Chattanooga, Tennessee, loves the Face-to-Face model. Having just concluded a five-year call as an evangelist with a new worshipping community called the Mercy Junction Justice and Peace Center, Merritt was at his first-ever Face-to-Face.

“I’ve had a long, circuitous route around the PC(USA),” Merritt said. “I wanted to get back to a more structured situation after several years kind of out there on my own. A Face-to-Face was recommended to me by several people, and this has been great!”

Of course, Merritt added quickly, “I generally have a pretty good time at these things, but, then, I’m a Presbyterian dork – I like just showing up and talking to people.”

Joy Ridge, a candidate of Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery, sets up an interview at Face-to-Face.
(Photo by Jerry Van Marter)

Joy Ridge came to this Face-to-Face a little differently. A candidate under care of Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery, she is unemployed “and really looking.” The 2016 Eden Theological Seminary graduate worked part-time in a church “but wanted more.” She’s just completed a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) residency in May of this year and says she is “very pro-active” in her search for a call. Her phone rang several times during this interview.

“I’ve had one interview already this morning and have another one this afternoon,” she said. “This [Face-to-Face] is a really good idea – an orderly, Presbyterian way of doing things.”

Ashley said CLC has added education components to Face-to-Face events in recent years, including PIF and MIF training and feedback and training for Pastor Nominating Committees. “We want to provide help and resources to all parties in the call process,” she said.

Ridge, for one, is very appreciative. “The PIF review-and-feedback is a great service,” she said. “I think my PIF is okay, I guess, but other perspectives are great in knowing what works and what doesn’t.”

One thing on which all agree: Face-to-Face events are a valuable way of moving beyond forms to real relationships. “It’s just nutty,” Ridge said, “that people can turn you down based solely on a piece of paper.”


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