The nine members of the Pastoral Nominating Committee (PNC) – Iberedem Ekure, Christopher Flint, Eric Hilton, Urvashit Hutt, Ben Maddox, Lara Mullarkey, Su Yon Pak, Duane Wall, and Jennifer Webb – convened for the first time on February 3, 2019. Until then, many of us knew each other only in passing, each representing a different slice of our vibrant and multi-layered church. We would go on to meet almost weekly, working together in a shared commitment to the continued growth, strength, and relevance of First Church.
The PNC began our 15-month discernment process by establishing a set of Guiding Principles. These included actively seeking the input of all committee members, maintaining confidentiality, presenting unified statements, and honoring the diversity of opinions on the committee. Each of our meetings began and ended in prayer. We rotated responsibility for providing an opening Bible verse, with each member sharing their voice and spiritual insights. Such practices not only bound us together as a group, they served as a constant reminder of God’s primacy in our work, reinforcing that this was not a job search, but a process of communal spiritual discernment.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) provides PNCs with a detailed manual of protocols for the call process. This booklet, along with the steadfast guidance of the Rev. Laura Jervis (our sterling liaison to the New York Presbytery), guided our steps. Our first task was the completion of a Mission Information Form (MIF), a multi-page document that required prioritizing a list of competencies for the next Pastor/Head of Staff as well as describing our church and vision for the future. Drawing heavily on the recently completed Mission Review Study, along with a series of interviews with staff and congregants, we completed the MIF in late spring. It was approved by Session and posted both to the First Church website and the Church Leadership Connection website (an electronic matching system hosted by PC(USA)) by early June.
The PNC spent the summer working diligently not only to publicize the position but to broaden and diversify our candidate pool. These efforts included listing our search in nine publications, contacting 28 prominent institutions, reaching out to numerous denominational committees and caucuses, and having direct conversations with a variety of friends of First Church. (A full list of outreach efforts is available on the Equal Employment Opportunity in Ministry Report submitted to the Commission on Ministry.)
Our pulpit clearly had wide appeal and interest both within and beyond our denomination. By September we had well over 100 candidates, with more coming in each week. Working in groups of three, we screened Pastoral Information Forms (PIFs) and resumes, focusing primarily on qualifications such as work experience and educational background. This screening process narrowed the candidate list to approximately 50. The full committee then reviewed these names, closely examining credentials and listening to sermons online. By mid-November, we had narrowed the field to 15, conducting phone interviews with each. In mid-December, the most promising eight participated in in-depth video interviews. The consistently high caliber of these eight candidates confirmed the stellar reputation and appeal of this congregation and position.
After a short break for the holidays, we reconvened in January with the difficult task of identifying finalists, ultimately selecting four candidates to visit “in situ.” The remainder of January into February was spent visiting these four pastors in their home congregations. Several of these visits required extensive travel, meaning the PNC not only spent time attending a service, but also had meals with the candidates, toured their churches, and often met their families. Finalists were then invited to preach at neutral pulpits in the New York area in March. However, due to the COVID-19 crisis, finalists led the PNC in video worship services instead, followed by an additional round of interviews.
Throughout these final stages, the PNC deliberated, consulted, and discussed. We focused on the current state of the church, our visions for the future, as well as the new and changing context brought on by COVID-19. In late April, after much prayer and conversation, we extended an invitation to the Rev. Dr. Greg Stovell, Pastor and Head of Staff at First Presbyterian Church in West Chester, Pennsylvania. A week later we proudly presented our candidate to the Presbytery’s Commission on Ministry (COM), where the candidate, process, and terms were resoundingly approved.
Over the course of this process, the PNC has interviewed Dr. Stovell a total of 6 times (once on the phone, twice in person, and three times via ZOOM). We have spoken to references both offered and found. We have listened to dozens of his sermons and poured through his writings. From the beginning, we admired his preaching. Through this process, we also grew increasingly impressed with his skills in other areas such as stewardship, technology, and administration. We recognized theological common ground as well as overlapping outreach and service commitments. On a more profound and personal level, Dr. Stovell spoke to members of this PNC spiritually. Every interaction with him felt steady and grounded, every conversation anchored in deep spirituality and buoyed by hope and resilience.
After over 150 candidates, 15 months of meetings, plus countless hours of prayer, conversation, and reflection, it is with great honor and enthusiasm that the Pastor Nominating Committee announces the Rev. Dr. Greg Stovell as the next Pastor and Head of Staff of First Presbyterian in the City of New York on this 17th day of May, 2020.
In your service,
Ben Maddox & Lara Mullarkey
Co-Chairs of the Pastor Nominating Committee