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Tips for Successful Chaplain Searches

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Last Updated: May 1, 2019, 15:52 PM
Date Posted: May 1, 2019, 12:00 PM

A search for a new chaplain or chaplains is an exciting moment to focus on a school’s identity as an Episcopal school; to have important conversations with the community and with candidates about the school; and to find just the right person to fill this critical role.

Because of the unique and varied roles that chaplains play in Episcopal school life, however, the elements of a chaplain search—whether the position be part-time or full-time, solely at the school or shared by a parish and school—will be different than those for teachers, administrators, or other staff positions. These practical suggestions for a can help improve your chances for a successful chaplain search.

The Importance of “Culture Fit”

The degree of “culture fit” between the chaplain and the school, and between the head of school and the chaplain, is often at the heart of making a successful match. Heads of school and search committees need to structure information, conversations, and school visits such that the school and the candidate can evaluate together the religious, philosophical, and stylistic match between candidate and school. Ideally, the search process provides multiple ways for candidates and school and congregational leaders to have substantive conversations about how the school lives into its mission and identity as an Episcopal school, its vision for the future, and the chaplain’s role in realizing that vision.

As one experienced Episcopal school chaplain has noted, “Some things in my own searches were red flags and should have been addressed directly and honestly by the school. As a chaplain, these included little or no mention of the chapel program on the website, a general lack of description about what actually happens during chapel, some uncertainty about the exact role of the chaplain, and lack of information about the faculty’s attitude about chapel and student involvement in worship.”

By contrast, another chaplain reflected, “Having a search committee was very helpful, especially since it was made up of administration, board members, and a variety of faculty members. Providing written responses to particular and universal questions gave me a chance for reflection and to share my voice. For me, understanding the demographics of the surrounding area was another essential part of the search process.”

The following information and questions can assist both schools and candidates when exploring this “culture fit” as well as the details of a given position.

Information About the School and Position

The search process, including a comprehensive job description, should offer in-depth information about each of the following aspects of the school and the position. Candidates should be prepared to ask these questions if the information is not provided.

The School’s Mission and Identity

  • How does the school live into its Episcopal identity?
  • How does the school talk about itself as an Episcopal school?
  • Is this identity seen as a marketing problem, as a strength that distinguishes its from other schools, or something in between?
  • Are there specific ways that the school hopes the next chaplain will advance, clarify, or embody the school’s Episcopal mission and identity?

The School Community

  • What is the religious composition of the school community?
  • How does this inform school culture, particularly around questions of religious identity and families’ expectations of the school?
  • Are there particular areas, new initiatives, or community conversations that the new chaplain will lead or facilitate?
  • In a parish or cathedral school:
    • What is the current demographic composition of the parish community?
    • How do the parish and school interact?
    • What role does the chaplain play in bridging these two communities?

Reporting Relationships

  • What is the reporting relationship between the chaplain and key leaders, including: the head of school, divisional administrators or department chairs, or other chaplains?
  • Is the chaplain a member of the administrative staff or a member of the faculty?
  • Does the chaplain have a faculty or administrative contract and school year?
  • How and by whom is the chaplain evaluated?
  • What are the expectations of the school’s chaplain on the part of the bishop or diocese?
  • In a parish or cathedral school:
    • If the chaplain also serves as parish clergy, how will his or her duties at the school and parish be fairly determined?
    • How will the parish and school insure that the chaplain’s schedule provides for appropriate vacation time and days off?
    • Are there any areas where the chaplain may benefit from additional training and support?
    • How will the chaplain be evaluated both as a parish priest and as a school chaplain?
    • If the school employs the chaplain on a full-time basis, what will be expected of the chaplain in relation to the parish?

Chapel

  • What are the specifics of all regularly scheduled chapel services?
  • What special religious or secular school services are there, including Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter?
  • Is there a school prayer and when is it said?
  • Describe any existing groups that the chaplain oversees, such as a student vestry or other chaplains.
  • Are any changes being contemplated?
  • In a parish or cathedral school:
    • How is the chapel program developed and implemented?
    • What is the chaplain’s relationship to the rector or dean, head of school, and faculty in terms of the content, planning, and leadership of school worship?

Teaching and Curriculum

  • What are the specific teaching duties and courses: content, grade levels, frequency, graded or ungraded, required or elective?
  • What is the chaplain’s role and responsibility in the development and implementation of the school’s religious studies curriculum?
  • Are there significant changes being considered?

Pastoral Care & Counseling

  • What is the role of the chaplain as a visible advocate and resource for the faculty and staff, students, parents, and families?
  • How is this communicated and then accommodated in the chaplain’s schedule?
  • How will the chaplain interact with other guidance staff such as deans of students, divisional directors, advisors, student health personnel, and/or the school psychologist?

Community Service and Service Learning

  • What priority does the school place on service?
  • What are the components of the program and how are they developed, implemented and assessed?
  • What are its strengths and areas for change or improvement?
  • What is the role of the chaplain?

Extracurricular Duties

  • What additional duties is the chaplain encouraged or required to take on, such as coaching, advising, lunch or bus duty, leading a retreat, or sponsoring a club or activity?

Questions to Ask Candidates

It’s important that candidates are asked to articulate their theology, faith practices and core beliefs, as well as their vocational call to school ministry. Asking candidates to provide a written personal statement of some kind should be a requirement. Many schools also ask candidates to submit one or two samples of their preaching or chapel talks, either in writing and/or in the form of a video. Just as teachers often lead a sample lessons, candidates for chaplaincy can be asked to teach a lesson in the classroom and/or offer a chapel talk to an appropriate age group.

Here are some specific questions that searching schools should ask and candidates should be prepared to answer:

  • What aspect of your faith is most meaningful to you?
  • Describe a moment in your current ministry that you recognize as one of success and fulfillment.
  • Tell us about your call to school ministry.
  • Describe your leadership style.
  • Why are you interested in this particular school? What is it about the school' mission statement that attracts you? 
  • What is it about the job description that attracts you? What questions does it raise?
  • What experiences and/or strengths make you a good fit for this position and school?
  • Why is chapel important?
  • How would you provide ministry to students and colleagues of other faith traditions? 
  • How do you view your relationship with the faculty, staff, administration, parents and, most importantly, the students?
  • Social issues and events can impact on school life, as do community tragedies and controversial decisions of school or church leaders. How would you envision your approach to social issues such as sexual orientation and gender identity; pastoral issues such as illness, death, or addiction; or moments when students, teachers, and parents are in conflict about a decision by the school, parish, or diocese?
  • How do you care for your spiritual, emotional and physical well-being?

Episcopal schools cannot thrive without skilled and committed men and women who embrace school chaplaincy. Episcopal school chaplains bring a multitude of gifts to a variety of different schools and age groups. An intentional and comprehensive search process is the first step in making a strong match that will serve the chaplain and school community for years to come.