Face to Face with God’s call

October 14, 2014

Louisville

Thirty years ago Kathleen “Katie” Kelly Hopper and her husband, James Harmon Hopper, found their first call, to be co-pastors of three small congregations, at a Face to Face event—a kind of Presbyterian job fair—in Dallas.

The two were in their final year of seminary. “We drove up from Austin Seminary,” Katie recalls. “It was a good experience.”

This summer, soon after her interim-pastor position ended in Monticello, Illinois, Hopper jumped at the chance to attend another Face to Face event. Sponsored by the Church Leadership Connection (CLC), the internet-based matching and referral system of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), this year’s event brought about 65 call seekers and 75 calling organizations together during the 221st General Assembly (2014) in Detroit.

The Detroit Face to Face was “the largest event of this type that anyone can remember,” says SanDawna Ashley, coordinator of leadership development in the PC(USA)’s Office of the General Assembly and point person for CLC.

“I probably had 15 interviews,” Hopper says. As a result of one of those interviews, she began work October 1 as pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Philipsburg, Pennsylvania.

The Philipsburg congregation, without an installed pastor since 2011, was delighted to find Hopper, says Jeff Eyet, who chaired the church’s Pastor Nominating Committee (PNC). Even though the 150-member congregation could not afford to send anyone to Detroit, the PNC found creative ways to make the most of the Face to Face event.

The church was represented at Face to Face by two leaders of Huntingdon Presbytery who were attending the General Assembly: General Presbyter Joy Kaufmann and Committee on Ministry liaison Kate Sillman. They met with multiple candidates and brought back information on eight to ten people, including Hopper.

Hopper liked the Philipsburg PNC’s strategy. “Candidates want to know if a church is reasonably healthy,” she says. Presbytery executives are often the best source of that kind of information because they know the histories of congregations in their region.

Hopper says her conversation with Kaufmann and Sillman convinced her that First Presbyterian was “a loving, healthy congregation.” She also appreciated the fact that Sillman began their meeting with prayer. “It was very beautiful and touching and says a lot about the presbytery.”

Another thing that attracted Hopper to the Philipsburg church was the flash drive of photos and other information the PNC had prepared for candidates. The flash drive contained copies of the church’s Minister Information Form filed through CLC and its most recent annual report. But the best part, Hopper says, was a journal of photos and comments from members about what they loved about their church.

Eyet says the PNC wanted to give candidates some visual images of their church and community. “We’re a visual society,” he says. “It helps to have pictures to accompany the written material.”

The photo journal highlighted aspects of First Presbyterian that appealed to Hopper, including an emphasis on families and a strong music program. The congregation, in turn, was drawn to Hopper by her musical gifts and her love for family-oriented ministry. It was, as Eyet puts it, “a match made in heaven.”

SanDawna Ashley says stories like Hopper’s underscore the value of Face to Face events as opportunities for “putting a face to the paperwork” and enabling connections that otherwise might not happen.

The event at General Assembly was particularly successful, she adds, because of its educational component. There were workshops on applying for non-parish calls such as chaplaincy positions or positions with the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Job seekers received one-on-one coaching on how to improve their personal information forms to get better results.

This new educational component responds to the reality that theologically trained job seekers are finding fewer fulltime positions in mid councils and congregations. While future events will continue to connect pastors and congregations, Ashley says, they also will help candidates transfer their skills and experience to a wider range of employment options.

Hopper says the educational component made this year’s Face to Face “even better than the first one I went to”—the one that launched her into ministry in 1983.

Two Face to Face events are planned for 2015: one at the Worship and Music Conference at Montreat Conference Center, June 25–30, and one during Big Tent in Knoxville, July 28–30 (exact dates to be determined).

For more information about Face to Face events or the Church Leadership Connection, contact SanDawna Ashley at 502-569-5730 or sandawna.ashley@pcusa.org.

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