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.

6 thoughts on “How to Write an OTM Portfolio, Part 1: The Basics

    1. Thank you so much! I was waylaid by the last trimester of pregnancy (and then by the wilderness of caring for a newborn) but the second draft will be coming one of these days soon!

      Like

    1. Thank you so much! I was waylaid by the last trimester of pregnancy (and then by the wilderness of caring for a newborn) but the second draft will be coming one of these days soon!

      Like

    1. Thank you so much! It is seriously daunting, but it’s kind of like that old joke about how to eat an elephant: You just tackle it one piece at a time.

      Like

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