In my work supporting Search & Call in the Massachusetts Conference, it is my privilege to communicate with hundreds of ministers, and dozens of search committee members, every year. Routinely we have some 250 ministerial candidates, from all over the United States and occasionally beyond, discerning the possibility of a call to a Massachusetts church. Similarly, two dozen or more of our congregations are searching for a settled or designated-term pastor at any one time. The only way to keep up with the volume is to make creative use of a number of technical resources: a contact database, a robust email program, and a large collection of pre-crafted boilerplate messages.
One might think that the semi-automated, template-driven processes I rely on every day for routine communications erect barriers to meaningful, personal interaction: or, in business terms, “high tech” interfering with “high touch.” And yet it seems that just the opposite takes place. It’s precisely because of the technology that I have the time to be more present to search committees and candidates, as well as the Regional Associate Conference Ministers who assist our churches with their searches—to “touch” them individually, according to their need.
Last year, one minister in search wrote to me, “This process often feels very sterile—and like no one is really paying attention. It is good to know that there are people who aren't just sending form letters!” Personal contact and individualized assistance—paying attention—is the part of my job that cannot be replaced by technology, no matter how robust. It is time-intensive. It can be draining. It is, occasionally, profoundly frustrating.
Search committees may experience feast or famine, being inundated with ministerial profiles from eager candidates or struggling to receive even a few. Candidates, some just out of school and with mountains of debt, need a call, now! Anxieties abound, all around. High touch—paying attention—reduces these anxieties. When I answer process questions, guide computer-challenged candidates through a national profiles system that assumes all users speak fluent Geek, help perplexed search committees to understand why they’re not receiving profiles, remind amped-up candidates to slow down and breathe, and support the Regional ACMs with comprehensive data collection and reporting, I like to think that I help to reduce those anxieties. If I can be the eye of the storm, a moment of calm in the midst of the chaos, maybe I can help everyone to focus a little less on their own turmoil and more on what God may have in mind for them.
What a small thing to desire: for someone to pay attention. Isn’t that what we all want? Shouldn’t it be integral to everything we do? How can we continue to pay attention in a world that increasingly rewards the mechanized, the automated, over the individual and personal? And how can paying attention help us to make God’s love and justice real?
Martha Goodman is the Administrative Assistant for Search & Call for the Massachusetts Conference, UCC.
We invite users of this website to post comments in response to posts published here. In order to maintain a respectful community, we insist that comments be polite, respectful and tolerant of opposing viewpoints. We reserve the right to remove comments that are hostile, hateful or abusive to others, or that constitute personal attacks. In the interest of transparency, we highly recommend that users comment using their full names. For those who feel a need for more anonymity, however, we will allow posts using first names and last initial.