Wednesday, October 30, 2013

An Unsolicited Job Reference for Arlene: What You Should Be Wanting in a Pastor

Seminary buddy Arlene shares on FB her journey in seeking a call with 7+ years of experience as a solo pastor under her belt.

Arlene reports some of the reasons she’s been given for not being called:  shoes, hair, laugh (not sure if was that I did or that it was too loud), age, my voice . . . 

Here’s what I know about all this insanity:

1. It’s easy (for me) to reduce this to sexism (I firmly believe it is that, but it is other things as well).

2. There’s a harsh irony that lives within me that ‘appreciates’ the honesty of these folks – would it be kinder or smarter to keep that nonsense to themselves?  I think so.

3. I am learning from Arlene’s experience: should I ever be in another job interview situation, I think I’ll just take it straight on with something like this: some of you may not like my hair – or my voice – or my style of dress – or my laugh – that’s okay – I don’t like yours either, yet here I am, still willing to be your pastor . . . or something like that – ‘just being honest’ (which is vastly different than truth telling) can be a reciprocal thing – how quickly we forget that.

4. Some of us are taking ourselves wayyyyyy to seriously if another’s laugh brings discomfit.

But I didn’t write this for them.  I write this for Arlene.  And here is what I would have you know about this dear friend, beloved by so many:

I met Arlene in the summer before our first ‘official’ semester in seminary.  We, and a whole host of others, were getting a head start by taking Greek in the summer semester.  Within a few hours spent in her company, I was astonished to observe the interactions of others with this woman I barely knew.

Strangers would, within a few minutes of sitting beside her, begin to unburden themselves uninvited on her – sharing their pain and sorrow, seeking solace in the gentling of her presence.

She’s that gal – the one you can tell anything to and know that somehow, you don’t know quite how – she will hear and understand.

I realized then that Arlene already was a pastor – all she needed was the paper to make it official.

I don’t remember her shoes, but her feet are walking feet – feet that go the extra mile simply to sit with a friend or even an enemy, in need.  And they’re feet that know how to jump and dance and live.

Her laugh is contagious, inviting everyone in on the joke.

I’m not sure what the hair thing is about – all I can draw from there is my own experience, by which I continue to be surprised at how invested congregants can be in how I choose to style my hair.  It’s a bit flattering and more than a little weird.  Even my mother doesn’t have that much to say about my appearance (and believe me when I tell you that she is not silent on the matter).

Arlene points out that the reasons that she’s been given have not included anything about her pastoral skills, her theology, her preaching (silly us: that’s what we thought it was all about).

I wish churches had the wisdom of 12-Step programs, which say something like this: although you may not like all of us, you will come to love us in a very special way, the same way that we already love you.

When it comes to church, I can truthfully say that I have seldom cared much about being liked; but I care very much about loving and being loved.

Isn’t that our business – loving?

Can’t we do better than this?

Consider how my sister in the faith concludes her own musings on the hurts she has sustained:  . . . all will be well, all will be well, all manner of things will be well (borrowing from Julian of Norwich).

That’s Arlene in a nutshell.

You may not have any idea of the life journey she’s had.

It isn’t necessary that you do.

But know this: whether you love her or not, she already loves you.

And by my reckoning, that makes her someone you would be damned lucky to have in your church.

*I asked Arlene for permission to publish this, as it is her story, her experience.  She agreed, hoping that someone might draw solace and healing and perhaps feel less alone in what can be a very painful journey in seeking a call.


  1. Thank you Arlene for letting Beth write this

    It seems to be the very nature of who you are as a someone who is pastoral- to allow others on your journey to gain wisdom and solace.

    I hope someday I will be that courageous.

    Melissa-- friend and co-worker of Beth

    1. Melissa - yes she is and so are you in my eyes. Beth

  2. All I can or should I say will say is: You know I know and the knowing has made me so, ao tired! Please tell Arlene I'm sorry she's going through thus. Rhonda

    1. I know - was thinking of you too in all this - if we were but still enough, we might actually hear the breaking of hearts. :-(

  3. I have known Arlene since high school and she had the same qualities back then. it is part of her fiber, her being, she cannot help but be her wonderful self. she is smart, articulate and kind. I could do an essay, but won't here.

    1. She is so all that and more and aren't we some of the lucky few? Thanks for sharing. Beth