How to Write an OTM Portfolio, Part 1: The Basics

NOTE: This post will cover everything about the OTM EXCEPT the Narrative and Personal Statement sections. For tips on drafting those, stay tuned for Part 2.

I am in the minority among my millennial peers in that I have never really tried online dating: I met my future spouse in 2004 and never looked back. This trajectory has had certain perks (love you, honey!), but put me at a major disadvantage when it was time to make a search profile for my first rector job. While your resume shows where you’ve worked and what you did there, your clergy search profile is an altogether different beast. In it, you are expected to reveal all sorts of personal information you would never share in a normal job search, like whether you have children and how much you pray. It’s not about what you’ve done, it’s about who you are. Once you post your profile, churches can scope you out and see if they’d like to get to know you better; you, in turn, can read over the profiles of individual churches and think about whether any one of them might be a good match.

Like I said, I’m no expert. Still, it makes sense to me to treat your clergy search profile like a dating profile. There are other places to list your accomplishments; this is about showing prospective churches what kind of pastor and person you are, and helping them get a sense of whether you’re someone they could see spending the next ten years with.

In the Episcopal Church, the online dating system of choice is the Office of Transition Ministry (OTM) portfolio, which old-timers will recall as the Church Deployment Office (CDO) profile. I trust that other denominations use similar systems, but I am frankly too lazy to look them up, so my advice here will focus on the OTM. I hope all you lesser Protestants* who secretly read this blog will be able to salvage some helpful dregs.

Step 1: Decide whether you even need an OTM portfolio.

Every diocese is different, and there are exceptions to every rule. With that disclaimer in place …

You probably DO need an OTM portfolio if you are looking for a job as a:

  • Bishop (how did you get this far up the ladder without writing any OTM essays, bro?)
  • Priest-in-Charge
  • Rector

You probably DO NOT need an OTM portfolio if you are looking for a job as a:

  • Curate
  • Assistant/Associate Rector
  • Deacon
  • Chaplain
  • Lay Minister

If you’re not sure what kind of job you’re looking for, or if you’re open to a variety of calls, just go ahead and get the damn thing started, for reasons that will become apparent in Step 2.

Step 2: Register with the OTM.

This is the easiest step of the process! Just click here to set up your account.

Ha ha! Just kidding. Nothing in the church is ever that simple.

Once you fill out your registration form, which will only take you 30 seconds, your request for access will be bounced to your diocesan transition minister. This is one lone soul, usually an extremely overworked person with a lot of more pressing tasks to do, who holds the keys to your account. Here is a listing of diocesan transition ministers as of November 2021. These names change often because for some reason nobody wants to do this job, so the best way to find a current list is to visit this page and look in the menu on the left for the “Diocesan Transition Ministers” list.

If this person is on the ball, you will have account access within a week or so. If this person is behind on their email (raises hand), or is away at a conference, or has recently left the diocesan staff, or has no use for women clergy and steadfastly ignores all your requests for OTM access until you give up and go over their heads (cough), months may pass before you can log in for the first time.

Unfortunately for you if this person is a dud (or if this office in your diocese is vacant), you are not done with them after they activate your OTM account. There is certain information in your profile, such as order of ministry (lay/deacon/priest/bishop) and canonical residency, that only they can change. And that is how I wound up applying for rector positions, several years after my ordination, with my order of ministry listed as “Seminarian” on my OTM.

Step 3: Say this prayer.

I’m not saying it’s going to help you in this process but it’s certainly not going to hurt.

Really, though, you don’t have to say the prayer so helpfully provided on the OTM site, but now is a good time to sit back and take a moment to pray. It’s easy to be cynical about looking for a job in the church, but at its best, the search process is a true experience of discernment. Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you with wisdom, good judgment, and the grace to prayerfully consider everyone’s needs — yours, your family’s, your prospective church’s, and, yes, God’s. If God didn’t need you for something you wouldn’t be filling out this stupid thing in the first place.

As an aside, did you notice how the link for that prayer took you to a page which required you to click on a separate, strangely formatted PDF? Get ready for a lot more of that.

Step 4: Tackle the Basic Information.

Now is the time to share an unfortunate truth that has no doubt already become apparent to you, which is that the OTM website is unrelentingly janky and will delete your unsaved work before you can say “homoousious.” If you are writing anything longer than your name, for the love of God, don’t type it directly into the OTM. Type it into a document you can save, and paste your text in when it’s done. (On the topic of website jankiness: I prefer to compose in a plain text editor like Notepad or Wordpad, rather than something with higher functionality like Microsoft Word, because “smart quotes” and the like can go haywire when you paste them into the OTM. If that last sentence made you break out in hives, just type your answers in whatever computer program you’re most familiar with and carefully look them over when you’re done.)

Okay. So we have your name. We have your personal ministry statement, which we’ll come back to later — you can leave it blank for now. We have your order of ministry, canonical residency, licensure in an additional diocese if applicable, ordination date, gender, birthdate, marital status (!), and race. I’m not sure why a church that’s seeing your name for the first time would need your Church Pension Group (CPG) client number. Just leave that blank.

Next, you’ll have to choose from a long and peculiar list of “Languages Written,” “Languages Spoken,” and “Languages in Which You Are Able to Lead Worship.” When in doubt, it’s okay to err on the side of slightly overselling your language abilities. Some church contexts will require full linguistic and cultural fluency in a second language; others are just looking for a priest who can lead a service in that language once in a while. Rarely will it be very hard to determine which is which.

Then, you have your work contact information (don’t be afraid to leave this blank), your home contact information (fill this in so that churches can reach you), website (don’t be afraid to leave this blank), and information about your spouse and children (UGH). There’s an argument to be made for leaving this blank, and an argument for filling it in:

Team Leave It Blank: Churches are always looking for reasons to screen candidates out, and might not invite you to interview for any of the following reasons:

  • You are in a same-sex marriage (revealed by your spouse/partner’s first name)
  • You are a young mother (revealed by your gender, birthdate, and number of children)
  • You are part of a clergy couple (revealed by your spouse/partner’s order of ministry)
  • You will require full-family health care (revealed by your number of children)
  • You have too many children (subjective, revealed by your number of children)
  • You are divorced or formerly partnered (revealed if you are fairly young and your “Number of Children” does not match your “Number of Children Living With You”)

Do you want them to rule you out before they even see your face? Maybe a church that can’t imagine itself calling a gay rector (or a divorced rector, or …) will meet you, fall in love with you, and decide to take a chance on you. It could happen! After all, you are pretty great!

Team Let It All Hang Out: Do you want to waste your time interviewing with people who, once they see a picture of your family, will just toss your painstakingly crafted OTM portfolio into the trash? I don’t, but a lot of clergy are better at suffering fools than I am.

Ultimately, this is a matter of personal choice. Just be aware that church jobs are weird, and that, at some point, you will have to talk to the search committee about your family. You can’t keep your partner or your ex or your eighteen children a secret forever.

Then we get to the background check. Clergy background checks are quite invasive (I once had one where the investigator called my grade school); if you’ve had one in recent years, you’ll remember. It’s fine to ballpark the date, though the record-keepers at your diocesan office should be able to tell you the exact date and the name of the company that performed it. If you’ve never had one, just leave it blank.

Step 5: Narrow your eyes at Compensation & Housing.

For this section, I favor leaving evvvvvvvvvvverything blank unless you are only willing to consider positions that come with housing. If that is the case, fill out the “Housing Required For” number and skip the rest, including “Healthcare Needed.” Providing this information now is just giving away chips you can use to negotiate later. (I stand firm in this belief, but you’re welcome to make your case otherwise in the comments.)

Step 5: Move along to Education & Continuing Education.

The “Degrees Conferred” section is pretty straightforward. Include your highest undergraduate degree (that means that if you have both an associate’s and a bachelor’s, you should only list the bachelor’s) and your seminary degree, if you have one. Listing other degrees is optional. If you have a law degree or whatever, you run the risk of bumping into people’s stereotypes about second-career clergy, but if you practiced law for twenty years before you got ordained, it’s probably going to come up.

For “Continuing Education,” you can only include four items. If you have more than four to choose from, pick the most important ones, not the most recent ones. This is also the place to put graduate certificates, because there’s no good way to indicate them under “Degrees Conferred.” If your academic training for the priesthood was outside the context of a degree program, list that here too.

It may take you several tries to get this information ordered in the way you want it. Don’t be afraid to hit “Save Draft” a lot and take a look at how it will appear in your final portfolio.

Step 6: Fill in your Work History & Skills.

Here, the OTM treats you to a cute little prank. You’ll be invited to type in a bunch of information about up to six of your past positions. And yet, when you download the “full portfolio” version of your PDF, you can only see the details for the first three. Ha! Good one, OTM! Glad I spent all that effort brainstorming the “Primary Gifts/Skills Engaged” for the school office job I held back in 2010!

Okay. Don’t make the mistake I made. For your three most important or relevant positions (which may or may not be your three most recent ones), you’ll want to fill in every field, including “Primary Gifts/Skills Engaged” and “Notes.” Some people get really worked up about selecting the right keywords for “Primary Gifts,” but I implore you to give this a rest. You are not applying for a job at Google. There is no algorithm reviewing your OTM portfolio, only a tired group of search committee members in reading glasses, skimming page after page while crowded into a dimly lit church sitting room. (Or, these days, crowded into the gallery view on Zoom.) If you’re in a specialized ministry area, you’ll know what your keywords are. If you’re an ordinary schmuck in a parish, just choose some combo of liturgy, formation, administration, leadership development, preaching, and pastoral care.

For “Notes,” it’s fine to copy and paste text from your resume, and either bullet points or a full-sentence format are fine. Just don’t try to paste in the actual bullet points, or expect to rely on line breaks of any kind, because the OTM cannot abide such frippery and will screw your formatting up.

Oh. I’d be letting you down if I didn’t give a nod to the amazing drop-down menu for “Position Title.” You remember that bot that wrote the Olive Garden commercial? I’m pretty sure it also generated this list:

  • Academic Research
  • Africa Partnership Officer
  • Analyst
  • Archdeacon
  • Chaplain, Federal Prison
  • Chaplain, Prison [this is a separate option]
  • Chaplain, Port
  • Co-Sponsorship & Church Relations Program Manager
  • Consultant
  • Controller
  • Counseling/Social Work
  • [Etc.]

It should go without saying that there is no “Other.” When in doubt, just choose the closest possible option, like “Business field” or “Education field” just label everything as “Chaplain, Port.”

Step 7: Click through your Availability & Position Preference.

Here, you will be presented with the same list of mysterious options you saw in the drop-down menu from Step 6. Check as many position types as you would be interested in and resist the urge to come up with humorous combinations, even though it is pleasing to imagine a candidate who selects only “Religious Order Member” and “Entertainment field” and ends up cast in an Anglican remake of Sister Act.

“Open to Consider New Positions” and “Desired Geographical Location” shouldn’t take you very long. You know best where you are willing to live and whether you are willing to consider full-time work, part-time work, or both. If you’re not sure, check all the boxes that could possibly apply to you to keep your options open.

It’s fine to leave “Additional Geographic Notes” blank, but sometimes it’s helpful to fill it in. Why? “Desired Geographical Location” is organized by province. If your heart is set on a job in Manhattan, you’ll click the box for Province II of the Episcopal Church, which includes New York, New Jersey, Haiti, Europe (yes, the whole continent), and the Virgin Islands. Would churches in Paris be wasting their time by contacting you? Then it’s a courtesy to write, “I am searching for a position in the Diocese of New York.”

Side note: One of the options under “Open to Consider New Positions” is “Pilot Project: New Dreams/New Visions,” an initiative I had to look up. If you’re open to considering new dreams and new visions, I regret to inform you that this pilot project ended in 2012.

Step 8: Skip ahead to Connections.

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about the Narrative section! Lest I give you a migraine, we’re going to tackle that in a separate post.

By this point in the process you’re probably exhausted, so rather than writing anything new, we’re going to focus on things you’ve already done. Don’t fret if you can’t think of any links to paste into these sections; it’s fine to leave them blank. Here is some stuff you might choose to include:

  • Sermons you’ve preached: Sermon page from your last church’s website, personal sermon blog if you have one
  • Classes you’ve taught, resources you’ve produced, or publications of your work: Formation page from your last church’s website, articles you’ve written, videos of you teaching if you are fancy like that
  • Other sites where you might be found: LinkedIn, other social media if you use it for church business, your website or blog unless it’s full of dumb vestment jokes in which case maybe leave it out
  • Sites where others have reflected on your ministry: Articles from church publications or local papers**
  • Sites of groups/associations you participate in: Church stuff like Young Clergy Women International, Episcopal Peace Fellowship or the Society of Catholic Priests; non-church stuff like hobby, affinity or activist groups (use your judgment here — you may be very proud of your advocacy work at NORML, but do you want a search committee to rule you out because of it?)

Finally, it is an insult to have to upload your resume after painstakingly typing all its contents into a webform, but you’re going to have to do it anyway. I have a whole bunch of thoughts about clergy resumes, none of which I imagine you want to hear after slogging through a 3,000-word blog post about the OTM, so we’ll save that for some other time.

Step 9: Fill in Contact your References.

The OTM leaves you space to include a shitload of references, more than any self-respecting search committee member would ever want to call. Your options are:

  • Bishop (okay, not really optional)
  • Diocesan Transition Minister (also not really optional)
  • Active Clergy (1)
  • Clergy (1)
  • Colleagues in Church Governance (2)
  • Colleagues in Ministry (2)

Who needs eight references in their search profile?!?! Certainly not me. (Also, why the distinction between “Active Clergy” and “Clergy”? Is it in case all your clergy friends are retired? But I digress.)

After you fill in the contact information for your bishop and transition minister, pick two to four clergy who have mentored or supervised you in some way. Then EMAIL OR CALL THEM AND ASK IF YOU CAN USE THEM AS REFERENCES. If it’s been a minute, gently remind them of when and how you worked with them (“I learned so much from you when I was your seminarian at St. Felicity’s in 2018-2019, and I was wondering if you would be willing to serve as a reference for me in my upcoming job search. I’ve attached copies of both of our final field education evaluations. Thank you for your consideration.”)

Then, wait for them to say yes before you peck their contact information into the OTM. I’m always honored when I’m asked to serve as a reference; I am less than pleased when I get a surprise call about someone who hasn’t bothered to ask me first. An annoyed reference is rarely a glowing reference. Don’t give your references a reason to be annoyed.

Step 10: Fill in your References.

Okay, okay, now you can fill in your references. It really doesn’t matter who gets to be “Active Clergy” and who is “Clergy” and so on. Use the “Relationship” field to indicate “Current Supervisor,” “Past Supervisor,” “Fresh Start Mentor,” etc.

Step 11: Take a breather.

If you’ve plodded this far, you have done good work and earned a break! Go ahead and take yourself out for a short afternoon walk. I’ll be back next week with a bunch of opinions about drafting your OTM Narrative.

* Kidding! KIDDING.

** Pro tip: At your town or neighborhood newspaper office, there is no doubt a bored reporter who struggles to scrape together enough words to fill the paper every week. They are often the “features” or “culture” editor. Find this person and contact them every time you do anything interesting at church! They will usually be grateful that you are making their job a little easier, and it’s an easy way to drum up some publicity for your ministry.

The Books I Read in 2020 and What I Thought of Them

2020: Huh.

I’m still trying to come up with the right words to describe my experience of last year (aren’t we all?), but one thing I can tell you about for sure is what I read. I set myself a 2020 goal of just reading whatever I wanted, exactly what I wanted, not what I thought I should read. So here’s exactly what I wanted to read in 2020: feminist novels, funny memoirs, comforting classics from my childhood, and books that helped me unlearn my own racism and/or figure out how to move through the world as a white person without further screwing everything up.

Review Categories

The Best Book I Read in 2020
Highly Recommended
Recommended With Some Reservations
Not Recommended But I Don’t Know Everything So Maybe You’ll Like Them

Within each category, books are listed alphabetically by last name of author.

*Asterisks denote books I re-read in 2020. Sometimes you just want to know what’s going to happen at the end.

The Best Book I Read in 2020

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A Visit to My Dying Uncle in 22 Greek Flash Cards

ὁδός, way, road

The hospice building is clean and pleasant, in a small town a few miles from the Illinois/Wisconsin state line. After I get off the expressway, I drive past rolling fields beginning to turn golden, down state highways flanked by oak and maple trees. In late September, their leaves are still mostly green, but every so often a single branch is glowing brilliant red.

ἐσθίω, I eat

He’s not eating much these days, so I stop at a local chain’s drive-through for milkshakes. When the masked employee comes to the car window, I order a large strawberry shake for him and then stall out. Do I want a milkshake for myself? Chocolate or vanilla? Large or small?

There are no cars lining up behind me, but the decision still feels urgent. I panic and ask for a small vanilla. As I inch toward the pickup window, I think about how I used to be able to tell the difference between important and unimportant choices. Now every decision feels important. Or maybe every decision feels like it doesn’t matter, in the end.

Driving away, I rip the paper off one of the straws and take a slug of my small vanilla milkshake. I decide it’s exactly what I wanted.

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How to Write a Church Reopening Plan in 68 Easy Steps

  1. Close your eyes and pray.
  2. Take a deep breath and offer your life and ministry up to God. Ask for guidance, wisdom, and grace as you attempt to lead your community through a faithful response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  3. Consider both the short-term health of your individual church members and the long-term health of the church.
  4. Consult your state, local, and denominational reopening guidelines.
  5. Shit, these guidelines are all different. Which ones are you supposed to follow?
  6. Probably the most conservative ones, right?
  7. But wait, those guidelines are by definition overly broad. Maybe you’re being too cautious. There have been a lot of coronavirus cases in your state, but not that many in your region.
  8. Yet.
  9. Why do these denominational guidelines say you’ll be receiving more information in June when it’s already August?
  10. Hang on, you’re looking at the wrong PDF. This is version 1. Your regional judicatory is now on version 6.
  11. Check your email to see if version 7 has come out yet.
  12. There’s no version 7, but you do have a new email from a parishioner who would like to see you. After a lifetime of struggling with alcohol, she was finally getting her drinking under control when the pandemic hit. Now she’s drinking to the point of blackout every night and feeling very scared. She would consider inpatient rehab, but she’s in her 60s and afraid of contracting COVID-19.
  13. Reply to her and offer to meet with her next Thursday.
  14. Recall that this parishioner is confused and overwhelmed by Zoom. Suggest that you meet outdoors, in the park across the street from your church building, where you will sit six feet apart from each other while shouting over the noise from the busy street, your voices muffled by masks.
  15. Briefly anticipate yourself squinting through your foggy glasses, sweat trickling down your temples, as you lean forward and repeat: “I SAID, SO YOU MENTIONED BEFORE THAT YOU STARTED DRINKING AS A WAY TO COPE WITH TRAUMATIC FLASHBACKS FROM THE ABUSE YOU EXPERIENCED AS A CHILD?”
  16. Close your eyes and pray.
  17. Okay, back to the reopening plan.
  18. Review your notes from the last Zoom meeting of the reopening committee. Two members feel strongly that the church should reopen its building for worship, two members feel strongly that the church should keep worship exclusively online, and two members missed the meeting because they logged into Google Meet instead of Zoom.
  19. Recall that all six members are in agreement about one thing and one thing only: Ultimately, the final decision and its consequences belong to you.
  20. Check your email to see if you’ve heard anything new from the reopening committee.
  21. There’s nothing from them, but you do have a new email from another one of your parishioners with a link to that month-old New York Times article about coronavirus transmission in churches. The subject line is “Have you seen this yet??????”
  22. Reply to him with a complete sentence, not just the word “Yes.”
  23. Re-read the article in spite of yourself.
  24. Gosh, it’s pretty bad.
  25. Close your eyes and pray.
  26. Think about Frances. Frances is a 96-year-old woman who has been attending your parish since she was baptized there as a baby. She has no home Internet access, so she hasn’t been able to participate in online worship. Every time you talk to her on the phone, she tells you tearfully that she’s been a faithful churchgoer every Sunday of her life, and she never thought she would go so long without darkening the door of a church.
  27. Think about how, frankly, you never thought you would either.
  28. Think about how you would very much like to live long enough to do Frances’ funeral.
  29. Think about Esther. Esther is a 6-year-old girl who has been attending your parish since she was baptized there as a baby. Every time you talk to her on the phone, she tells you with quivering resolve that she misses church and Sunday school “so, so, so, so much.” Her mom and dad helped her mail you a picture she drew of your family and her family having a picnic together at church. It is labeled PICNIC HAPPY. You put it on your fridge.
  30. Think about how you know first-graders named Esther, Vivian, Hazel, and Ruby.
  31. Calculate how long it takes old-lady names to become baby-girl names again.
  32. Think about how it would feel to do Esther’s funeral.
  33. Close your eyes and pray.
  34. No, for real now, you need to get to work on this reopening plan.
  35. Jiggle your key in the lock to let yourself into the sanctuary. It will take you a minute to get the door open.
  36. Remember that you used to do this key jiggle flawlessly, without even noticing, back when you were in the church every day.
  37. Inventory your supplies. You have 500 disposable masks, 6 gallon jugs of hand sanitizer (you wanted those touchless dispenser things but couldn’t find anywhere to buy them), and 30 rolls of blue tape.
  38. Is it even smart to be messing around in your sanctuary with the blue tape? Should you just be holding services outside in the noisy public park?
  39. Wait, speaking of noise, you need to do a microphone check. Turn on the sound system, tighten your mask, and recite your favorite psalm into the pulpit mic.
  40. Pretty good. As long as you have no parishioners who depend on seeing your entire face to help them understand your words, and as long as you are careful not to say any words ending in “t,” people should be able to hear you just fine.
  41. Back to the matter at hand. First, you need to figure out your newly reduced seating capacity, based on safety guidelines and the size of your worship space.
  42. You know what would be really helpful here? A tape measure.
  43. Leave all your rolls of blue tape piled on the altar and wander away to go look for one.
  44. Return to the altar 40 minutes later, defeated. There is no tape measure to be found anywhere in this church.
  45. Oh well, you’re 5’3″, so if you can lie down between two seats with a decent amount of head room, that’s about six feet, right?
  46. Remember your former bishop’s admonition never to set your pen or coffee cup on the altar because “the altar is reserved for that which you are offering up to God.”
  47. Touch the altar. Think about how long it has been since you received the Eucharist.
  48. Gaze heavenward and say aloud, “Look, all I have to offer you right now is myself and this fucking blue tape.”
  49. Close your eyes and pray.
  50. Go back to your state, local, and denominational guidelines about seating capacity. Based on the guidelines, determine that your new capacity is either 35 or 50 or 124.
  51. Probably best to go with the most conservative figure, right?
  52. Get to work taping out 35 seats for worshipers.
  53. Wait, you and the organist have your own seats. Do you count as part of the 35?
  54. Probably best to assume yes, right?
  55. Get to work taping out 33 seats for worshipers.
  56. Under your breath, start singing one of your favorite hymns from childhood: “Be not afraid; I walk before you always …”
  57. Abruptly remember that you’re not allowed to sing.
  58. Pull out your phone and check your email to see if your music director has had any epiphanies about participatory worship music with no singing.
  59. There’s nothing from him, but you do have a new email from the sexton. All the basement flooding from heavy rains this summer has led to black mold in the third-grade Sunday school room. He just wanted to let you know.
  60. Size up the X of blue tape you have laid out to demarcate the seats in the fourth pew. That’s about six feet, right?
  61. Crawl under the X. Lie down on the pew and line up your feet with one end of it. Reach up above your head. Yup, seems fine.
  62. Look up at the ceiling. Watch the light filter in through the stained-glass windows. Look at the particles of dust dancing in the air, captured by each ray of sun.
  63. Think about how much easier all this would be if COVID-19 particles were visible to the naked eye, like dust.
  64. Take a deep breath. Breathe in the stale, holy air of this space.
  65. Breathe in all the prayers and hopes and dreams that people have brought here over the generations.
  66. Breathe in the Holy Spirit.
  67. Remember that the Holy Spirit is everywhere.
  68. Close your eyes and pray.

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What Your Reaction to “What Your Seminary Says About You” Says About You: Errata, Elucidations and Updates

Hey, Reverend! Hi! Nice to see you again!

Boy, was I surprised by the sudden wave of traffic my last post received. This blog is a pretty tiny, churchified niche of the Internet, where I tell you what to buy as an ordination gift or how to be a youth pastor if you’re not cool. Most of my posts are only read by desperate seminarians and two of my aunts. (Hi, Aunt Maureen and Aunt Peggy! Love you!)

But it turns out a LOT of us have strong feelings about where we went to seminary. I feel compelled to specify that I’m just a stranger on the Internet. I’m not on an ATS accreditation team or anything. If your school didn’t make the list, the reason is simple: I couldn’t think of a joke about it.

However, having received some helpful tips and corrective feedback, I have a few things I want to clear up:

What Your Seminary Says About You (abridged, with comments)

Virginia Theological Seminary
You are 27 years old and contemplating your first run for bishop.

No one disputed this.

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What Your Seminary Says About You

Hey there, Reverend. I’ll be honest: I’ve spent three months trying to write one encouraging post about “ministry in the age of coronavirus,” and another about “motivating your church to work for racial justice,” and I just don’t have enough in the tank. Maybe you’ll get those when the pandemic is over. Or when I have child care again. Whichever comes first.

I recently attended a compulsory clergy retreat, on the topic of Finding Your Center During a Global Pandemic. By “attended” I mean I turned off my Zoom video and half-listened through headphones while feeding beans to my toddler and then helping her fit the pig, barn, and chicken pieces into her farm puzzle approximately 1,000 times. I only caught the gist, which I believe was “find your center,” but as I pocketed the rejected pieces of the farm puzzle (sheep, goat, horse, cow, and duck), I thought about the three things that help me center my soul instead of letting it spin around like an unsteady top:

  1. Dwelling in the presence of Jesus, who is the light and hope of my life.
  2. The love of my family and friends, even when transmitted over Zoom.
  3. Dumb jokes.

It is in the spirit of this last item that I present to you the following list. If your seminary is not included, it’s probably because I don’t know enough about it to come up with any sweeping generalizations, but if you mention it in the comments I’ll make one up.

I hope you will take this list in good fun (and perhaps comment to let me know whether I got your seminary right). We’re in this together, Reverend. Hang in there.

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How to Write a Kickass Ember Day Letter

Greetings, my fellow Episcopalians!

So you’ve been admitted to postulancy for Holy Orders. Congratulations! Time to get to work brainstorming your first Ember Day letter.

Ember Days are special occasions when the church is invited to pray for all those preparing for a life in ministry. If you yourself are preparing for a life in ministry, and by chance you have picked the ordained kind, Ember Days seem like they should be a chance for everyone to dote on you. Nope! Instead, they are a chance for you to do a little extra work.

By canon law, if you are in the ordination process as a postulant (step 1) or candidate (step 2), you are required to “report” to your bishop four times a year — during, you got it, the Ember Days. I will just go ahead and tell you when they are, because as far as I am concerned there is no earthly way you could guess. Continue reading

Every Single Book I Read in 2019 and What I Thought of Each: An Exhaustive List

Hello, Reverend! I recognize that 2019 was a quiet year on this blog, in large part because it was not quiet anywhere else. With my family, I moved cross-country, bought a house, started a new call at a new church, and adjusted to life with a tiny baby … who is now a not-so-tiny, joyful, rambunctious toddler. Nobody warned me that every cliché about how fast they grow up is true.


She also helps unload the dishwasher.

In the midst of all that chaos, I did manage to read a few books. Not nearly as many as in past yearsI’ve kept a running list of every book I’ve read since 2007but enough to keep me sane amidst the chaos of ministry and parenthood. If you need a book to do the same for you, allow me to present the following 17 micro-reviews as a small encouragement to read something non-work-related in 2020. Woman cannot live on Feasting on the Word alone. Continue reading

Youth Pastor Ken (or: On Being Uncool in Youth Ministry)

Good morning, Reverend! Is this a busy week, or what?

Here in my neck of the woods, we’re getting ready for Homecoming Sunday. I am hard at work prepping my sermon, trying to recruit that final leader for seventh-grade Sunday school (why is it always the hardest position in the church to fill?!?!), and counting the days until I get to see my beloved high school youth group kids again.

I have two words about high school youth group: GIANT JENGA.

Actually, I also have a little story. Consider it a pep talk as you launch into this crazy time of year, at least if you are resolutely uncool like me. Continue reading

Spiritual Strengths Inventory (for when your faith is down in the dumps)

Hey there, Reverend! I know it’s been a while since I’ve written. If you ever choose to go public with your thoughts about sexual harassment or sexual violence in the church, I suggest building in several months off afterward to deal with all the mail.

On a not wholly unrelated note: I don’t know about you, but I found my seminary training to be a bit lacking in the pastoral counseling department. I did take one class on something called “spiritual care,” during which I learned a great deal about the love lives of my classmates and very little else. If I am ever again in a position to counsel someone who is heartbroken after desertion by a paramour from the back row of Old Testament II: Histories & Prophets, I will be ready to roll.

Somehow, though, I had a feeling that my friends in the mental health field were developing skills a bit more sophisticated than “mirroring” and “active listening.” They were learning to notice their clients’ thinking errors and challenge them, directly but kindly. They were learning how to help people name their struggles and — even more important — start to imagine being able to overcome or endure them. Continue reading