Dear FPCH Church Family:
For the past three years we’ve been in a transitional period at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood (FPCH) — transition on top of transition — and April marked one year since the Pastor Nominating Committee (PNC) began the search process for a new pastor. We want to answer some questions you might have about the process, so far, given that presbyterian polity and the specifics of the search process are unfamiliar to most of us. Moreover, with Covid and staff changes and all that’s happened during this time, it can be hard to remember what happened and when.
CLICK HERE to view the full timeline graphic.
What is the PNC?
The PNC is the Pastor Nominating Committee, which is elected by the congregation. The PNC’s main duty is to nominate a pastor for election by the congregation. The current PNC was elected on March 28, 2021, and the members are Brad Campbell, Jesse Corti, Dawn Finch, Jonathan Kim, Kathi Martin, Phillip Olive, Blake Russell, and Ayako Utsumi.
What is a presbytery?
There are four governing councils in the Presbyterian Church (USA), or the PC(USA) denomination, all of them composed of elders: the session, presbytery, synod, and general assembly. FPCH, for example, has a session of elders, and we belong, along with a number of other churches, to the Presbytery of the Pacific. The Presbytery of the Pacific and several other presbyteries then belong to the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii, and the General Assembly is the governing council for the entire denomination.
Note that even though the congregation isn’t one of these governing councils, the congregation does have a role in governance. It votes on six things, and that includes electing the PNC (as noted above), and it also includes voting on the candidate the PNC ultimately nominates. There are also committees such as the PNC that operate mostly independently from the session. Still, it’s the session that’s normally responsible for the governance of the congregation from within.
The presbytery, the next governing council, is also involved in governance from outside the congregation, and it has some oversight over the session and the congregation, especially in the process of calling a pastor. Our denomination’s procedures for filling pastoral vacancies are laid out in the Book of Order, and it states that all steps must be taken “with the guidance and permission of the presbytery.” This means, for example, that a church has to have permission from its presbytery before forming a Pastor Nominating Committee (PNC), and it also means the presbytery has to approve the candidate the PNC selects in order for the nomination to go to the congregation.
Why is the pastor search process taking so long?
Several things have delayed FPCH’s pastor search process, but keep in mind that this is typically a fairly long process in our denomination, the PC(USA). Some other presbyterian denominations, as well as some presbyteries within our own denomination, have made changes in the process to speed things up, but we’ve had to operate under a number of constraints. For example, after Pastor Dan left in 2019, we had to first hire a transitional pastor and then conduct a mission study of our congregation before we could form a PNC.
Transitional Pastor Tim Eichler began his time at FPCH in September 2019, a little over three months after former Pastor Dan Baumgartner left. The session had already been in contact with the presbytery about the search process, and we were all hopeful that we could form a PNC in early 2020. In October of 2019 the session formed a committee to recommend a slate of candidates for the PNC to the congregation. This committee, called the Pastor Nominating Committee Nominating Committee (PNC-NC) started work right away and began taking recommendations from the congregation. Early in 2020, though, the presbytery informed us that we would be required to do a much more extensive mission study prior to forming a PNC. The mission study is an assessment of the congregation — of the congregation’s needs, etc. — and its purpose is to identify areas for change or growth so that the congregation can address problems before a new pastor is called. Then, in March 2020, the church closed because of the Covid pandemic, and we held no in-person meetings for the next year. The PNC-NC was ready with its slate of candidates, but it wasn’t until March 2021 that we were permitted to elect the committee, nearly two years after Pastor Dan’s departure. Since then, the PNC has been working diligently, meeting most Sundays.
What does the pastor search process look like?
The first step of the process, once the PNC was formed, was to write and get approval of a Ministry Information Form (MIF). The MIF gives information about our church and about the position and what we’re looking for in a pastor, and once approved it’s posted on the PC(USA)’s pastor search website. This allows prospective pastors to read about our position and to apply. Since the MIF was approved and the position posted in June 2021, the PNC has been receiving and reviewing applications that come through the website, and we’ve also been reaching out to people in our networks for referrals. We’ve reached out to past FPCH pastors, for example, as well as to people within the Fellowship Community — the network of evangelical churches within the PC(USA) that our church belongs to. We’ve also reached out to people within denominations that closely align with our beliefs, such as ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). Recently PNC member Brad Campbell, along with elder Joel Russell and deacon Rebecca Russell, attended the Fellowship Community’s national gathering in Washington, D.C., in order to make connections and to strengthen our ties with the organization. The PNC has also explored the possibility of using a search firm, and we’ve consulted with one firm.
Once we receive applications or some indication of interest, we review candidates carefully and prayerfully. Typically, if we move forward with an applicant, we’ll start by sending them a list of supplemental questions that we request written answers to. The standard applications through the PC(USA) site already have answers to several questions (e.g., “What areas of growth have you identified in yourself?”), but we follow these up with questions about their theological commitments, about their faith journey, etc. If we still believe the applicant is someone God might be calling to be our next pastor, we follow up with a preliminary interview, we contact their references, etc., and finally we would bring the candidate and the candidate’s spouse in for an extensive interview with the PNC and a visit to our campus. During this process we also watch lots and lots of sermons. Most churches now have their worship services online, so it’s usually quite easy to watch sermons online. We would also have some members of the committee see the candidate preach in person, either at the candidate’s church or at what is called a “neutral pulpit” — a nearby church that isn’t our church or theirs.
Once the PNC in prayer does believe we’ve found the person God is calling to be our next pastor, we will first need to get approval from the presbytery, then FPCH’s session will need to call a congregational meeting, and the PNC will present the candidate before the congregation for a vote. In accord with our polity, the candidate would then be installed as our pastor and would become a member of the Presbytery of the Pacific, if he or she isn’t already a member (rather than a member of FPCH).
What are you looking for in a pastor?
We hope to have someone who can lead our church for a long time, who can help shepherd our congregation but also help us to reach out and minister to our community. We’re also mindful of the importance of finding someone who is in line with FPCH theologically. FPCH is an evangelical church that has long emphasized the authority of scripture and the need for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and in 2013 our session voted to officially join the Fellowship Community, a network of evangelical churches within the PC(USA). More recently, January 2021, our session adopted the Fellowship Community’s “Essential Tenets” as a theological and ethical standard for all leaders at FPCH.
Additionally, the PNC believes the person God calls to serve as the next pastor of the First Presbyterian of Hollywood will be someone who…
- loves God and has experienced His saving grace, has a deep and personal relationship with Jesus Christ, is theologically sophisticated and doctrinally sound, understands and embraces the tenets of our Reformed confessions and our evangelical heritage, and who regularly studies scripture and is superb at communicating it through preaching.
- is interested in, knowledgeable about, and engaged with the larger culture and community, has a heart for and a desire to connect with people of all backgrounds and circumstances, and who is good at building trust and at forming and strengthening relationships.
- is mature, humble, and self-reflective, is sensitive to the Holy Spirit and displays the fruits of the Spirit in his or her life and ministry, is able to lead and mentor others, and who recognizes his or her need for God and for counsel and accountability.
- has the skills and experience to lead the staff, session, and congregation effectively, can help develop and prioritize goals, thinks several steps ahead and can identify what needs to be done, and who can deal forthrightly, astutely, flexibly, and compassionately with conflict and other challenges that arise.
Can I recommend someone?
Certainly! If you know of someone you think might be interested in and suitable for the position, please let one of us know, and the committee will give the recommendation due consideration. We’ve been reaching out to people in our networks for referrals, and we’re always happy to have more names. Please understand, though, that due to confidentiality issues we will not be able to give you updates about your recommendation.
Also, if you know of someone you think might be able to help us — someone who might have names to refer to us — please let us know this as well.
Please contact any of the PNC members below or email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
How else can we help?
We have heard from many of you that you’re praying for us, and we know some of you are praying every day. We thank you for your prayers, and we ask you to continue praying and putting your faith in God. We are praying too, and we are trusting God in this process. And we know “that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14).
Your Pastor Nominating Committee,
Brad Campbell, Jesse Corti, Dawn Finch, Jonathan Kim, Kathi Martin, Phillip Olive, Blake Russell, and Ayako Utsumi.