Singing the unemployment blues

Minimal help, outdated job listings and silence from potential employers test job seeker
January 29, 2007

After working for about 20 years in ministry, I decided to take some time off and smell the roses. It was fun for about three months; then I began seriously defining myself as unemployed. I did not like not living into my ordination vows, did not like getting up later and later every morning and began to question my validity as a priest if I did not have a cure.

My job search began in earnest. In the good-news camp, I was able to subscribe to the Positions Open Bulletin online with no charge because I was – that dreaded word – unemployed.

Armed with my bulletin, my computer and the courage of my conviction that I am a good priest, I began in earnest. I had determined early on that the diocese of the city to which I had retreated was not for me, for several reasons. We did not fit theologically was the basic reason. I had to move and looked forward to it. I would have a fresh start, a new parish or ministry, a new beginning at 50 years old.

“It’s not what you know; it’s who you know,” the old adage goes. I called on friends in diocesan positions. All were sympathetic on the phone; only one actually tried to be of help. All of my old friends of many years seemed to feel quite satisfied to simply give me the name of the deployment officer in their diocese. (I got that from the Positions Open Bulletin.)

One bishop sent my name to an actual parish. I don’t know that any of them, except that one bishop, actually got up, walked down the hall and put in a good word. These are people with whom we have kept in touch for years; I began to wonder if I am that bad of a priest. Only one person cared to help me out?

I considered that interim positions might be a good place to start. “It’s easier to get a job when you have a job,” says old adage number two.

While I looked at diocesan web pages for job openings, I also checked for interim availability. I nearly used up an inkjet cartridge mailing off interim applications. Obviously, I am so bad a candidate that not even one parish bothered even to send me a rejection letter. Those applications are still out there blowing in the wind, or have long been sent to the round file.

Throwing the wisdom of adage number two to the wind, I began to send out cold applications. I did get two telephone interviews; these jobs went to someone else. But in about 95 percent of the cases, no letter ever came back in response. Not even an acknowledgement that they had received my application.

Worse are the parishes that ask you to fill out multiple questions (that take quite a bit of time to fill out if done with any compunction), then never contact you again. The best is when they ask for references and never contact them. This means that you have exposed yourself to friends, telling them that you are actually worth considering, only to have them never be contacted and hence lowering their estimation of you.

Another favorite of the unemployed (and probably employed) job seeker is the stale job announcement. Numerous times, I would spend time putting together a job application only to find out that the position had been filled months ago. The parish or diocesan deployment officer just never bothered to take the job posting off the bulletin or website.

(One question I must ask at this point is: Why have a webpage if it is at minimum six months old? “Please look at our Parish Profile,” the webpage says, when in fact the parish is down to its final three candidates.)

I must say that these people often are the ones actually to respond to your query – with a “no.” This job would be great for you – if it had not been filled already.

Sour grapes of the unemployable? Maybe so. However, conversations with other job seekers usually will be filled with the same stories across the board. We usually try to laugh about the situation, gallows humor being one of my strong suits.

In my lowered state of unemployment, I would ask of deployment officers, vestry leaders and search committees:

  • Be current on the information you post on your webpage.
  • Keep the Clergy Deployment Office apprised of your current state.
  • Respond to job seekers. We have gifts and hopes and dreams – and feelings.

I think all of this sadness and frustration goes out the window when someone finally lands a job. The joy of having communicated with someone who listens and responds to you maybe wipes out the sad memories of all the dashed hopes. But that doesn’t help me now.

Remember the unemployed, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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