Most congregants want a new Rector as soon as possible and furthermore they want the person to be just like or very opposite the one leaving. “What will we do without you?” Or, “We’ll never find anyone we like as well!” Or, if they were not happy with the rector, then you might hear, “Thank God.” In any case, focusing on getting someone new in place is not the starting point. First parish members need to resolve their feelings of loss, grief, anger, relief, guilt and panic about the future.
Neil Simon wrote a play titled “The Second Time Around” which showcases the difficulty of starting a new relationship before recovering or resolving a prior commitment. Still, congregations practice denial by saying, “we’re an exception to the rule.” So, some congregations say goodbye to the departing rector on one Sunday and welcome the new rector within weeks; a recipe for failure. Some quickly choose to promote an Assistant because “the show must go on and we actually like this person better anyway.”
Friends, never start looking for a new Rector until the former one is well gone and the grief work effected. Equally true – even though there are a few places where promoting an Assistant worked, for the most part promoting an Assistant to Rector turns the person into an unintentional interim which is problematic.
Smaller congregations or those with budget problems often choose to buy “supple clergy” for worship and pastoral duties, try to bank some dollars, and turn over the interim process work to the diocese. The truth is few dioceses have the time or the expertise to actually take on these duties and do them well, not to mention the always present conflict of interest. The first, the very first, task is to see if the parish can obtain the services of a trained and credentialed interim rector or at least a trained interim consultant or experienced interim clergy team. Don’t be stampeded into starting the business of naming committees and setting agendas too soon.
The time will come when a congregation is ready to begin determining what skills will be needed in the new rector if the parish mission and goals are to be accomplished. Soon enough, months not weeks later, the congregation, working through the vestry or a special search committee, will seek and interview candidates. Once I asked a vestry this question: “Assuming you needed the services of a Cardiologist and your applicants were the following: a Neurologist, an Urologist, a Dentist, a recent Medical School graduate, and an EMT with great references – who would you hire?” You guessed it. More than half of the vestry named someone from the list. The remaining few got it right - “None of the above!” But it happens all the time! Search Committees present candidates who fail to meet the needs of the congregation because these candidates are the only ones who showed an interest, or they are the only candidates the parish thinks it can afford. Just as disastrous, dioceses often try to push clergy that need to move or are newly ordained and need a place; again clearly a conflict of interest. The right person is out there but you may need to say “none of the above” a time or two.
Sound ominous? In fact a well done transition process is an exciting spiritual journey and educational endeavor for the whole congregation. The best advice is to take your time and do it right!