Sunday, March 13, 2016

Welcomed, not Feared

The rector of the local Episcopal Church has been here nearly 20 years, much longer than the average tenure for a minister at one location. None of us are looking forward to his retirement in four to seven years, when we will have to suffer through the hiring process: the minister departs, the Diocese appoints an interim priest, and the parish forms a search committee which will screen candidates who will be presented to the Vestry and congregation.

The entire process takes a year--if the parish is lucky--and a decline in membership nearly always occurs during the search.

I asked the minister after the service today, why does it have to be so stressful? In the private sector CEO retirements seem much better planned. The successor is identified well before the CEO leaves, knowledge and authority are transferred in an orderly fashion, and there may not even be a need for an interim leader. There's much less disruption in corporations that know of key departures ahead of time.

(Tweeted by Sean Lucas)
But the church is not a business, he replied. A new-rector search is an opportunity for the congregation to redefine itself. Other goals and other ways of doing things may be proposed without hurting the now-departed priest's feelings.

That's a point that I hadn't thought of. We happen to like this rector, but now I'm remembering other churches who were happy to see their minister leave.

The church is more like a marriage than a business, he said. One doesn't look for a new spouse while the current one is alive (!). In that light having an interim minister is crucial, because the interregnum (inter-rectorum?) is a period necessary for mourning the old and preparing for the new.

The church is one of society's oldest and hidebound institutions, and it's easy to forget that its roots lie in radical transformation that should be welcomed, not feared.

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