Where have all the Rectors gone? With due regard for the ‘50’s folk song, they are, “long time passing;” “long time ago.” This was the conclusion reached by a number of clergy from three dioceses meeting in the Heartland last week. Many of our group were bi-vocational, part-time, or non-stipendiary; many had never been a rector. (For our friends not familiar with Episcopal terms, a “rector” is commonly understood to be full-time, fully compensated priest in charge of a self supporting congregation – a “parish.” A congregation not able to totally fund their expenses including a full-time priest is generally called a “mission” and the term “vicar” is used in place of “rector.”
As one older priest lamented, “we used to have a lot of rectors in our diocese but now -- not so many.”
Above “family size” are “pastoral size” congregations with an ASA between 50 and 150. The three dioceses have 33 (27 %) churches this size with several of them being very fragile. Some are joined with family size congregations to be served in cluster ministries, or are yoked with another congregation to cut costs. Many are forced to provide only minimum compensation and then call older clergy to avoid having to pay for family level medical insurance.
Not a bright picture, 92% of the congregations in these three dioceses are not able to call a rector or can only obtain the services of a rector on a minimum or reduced cost basis. We have always hoped that with the right leadership (priest and bishop) and hard work by the membership, these congregations could grow. So what has happened under a half a dozen dedicated bishops and scores of committed clergy? Not one of these congregations has moved up a category in the past 10 years; several have moved down. At best our strategies are a holding action and not a posture for meaningful growth.
One question raised during free time at the conference asked, “Why do we need three dioceses, three bishops, and three staffs to superintend these 113 out of 124 small/tiny congregations?” Others offered: “Nothing done the last 10 years by the Diocese has worked and yet these faithful are survivors.” “Keep the decisions about resources at the local level where the people know best how to use them.” “One diocese would be more logical.”
Of course, these three dioceses do have about a half-dozen “program size” (ASA 150-350) and a half-dozen resource size (ASA above 350) congregations. Some of congregations in these categories have moved down in this past decade and others will do so in the coming decade; none have moved up. Again, do we need three dioceses to superintend these dozen places? Obviously the current system is broken, or more kindly, outdated. “Agreed!” many shouted.
After all this heavy talk, we charged our glasses and toasted Rectors, past, present, and future.