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Archive for the ‘Calling a New Rector’ Category

English: Shield of the US Episcopal Church, co...

English: Shield of the US Episcopal Church, colors from http://www.episcopalchurch.org/imageshop_11785_ENG_HTM.htm. The shield was adopted in 1940. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our long period in the wilderness is ending!

The Wardens and Vestry announced today the call of The Rev Jeff Frost of Redding to be our new Rector.

This is good news!

I have had the good fortune to work with Jeff Frost as the liaison between the Diocese of California Executive Council and the Diocese of Northern California  on the issues of church vitality and growth.  He has been a good partner in this process.

We welcome Jeff to St. Timothy’s and know that God must surely love us unconditionally to send him to our flock.

 

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The Wardens held a town meeting between services yesterday, May 6th, to update the congregation on the restarting of the rector search process after the candidate called chose another congregation.  There were many questions:

  • Why did this happen?
  • Why after 16 candidates and six months of screening, weeding and interviewing only one candidate was “a good fit”?
  • How are we doing as a congregation?

This last question was on everyone’s mind but few had been able to put it in words nearly so well.  The answer reflected the mood of the crowd accurately.  We are doing OK.  Our pledge levels are down a little as we expected.  We are continuing to get a steady, albeit small, stream of newcomers our church shopping.  We are in reasonably good financial shape but still must close a $120,000 revenue gap by year end to avoid dipping into reserves.

What about Kathy?  What about Kurt?  That was the next set of questions referring to our Interim Rector Kathy Trapani, and Associate Priest Kurt Levensaler.  In announcing the failure of the call process a week earlier The Rectors Warden Shelton Ensley said that Kathy had agreed to stay on as Interim Rector.  The reaction was clearly positive to that news, but in the intervening week there was a modest buzz of chatter as people talked in the crowd.  The chatter reflected a sentiment that is shared by many.

“We wish we could just call Kathy on a permanent basis and be done with this process.”

The church rules on these things have evolved for hundred of years and the tradition is a new rector gets a clean slate with the opportunity to build his or her own team.  This was simple in the days of small parish churches where the rector may actually have been the only employed person.  As churches grew it got more complicated but the tradition of church planting in the 1940’s through 1960’s meant that the turnover created candidates for mission church plants and kept the growth process growing.

Today is a different realty but the church rules still have not changed to reflect this new reality.  In some ways it is not different for any of the rest of us as the economy pressures both spouses to work if they can.  Underwater housing prices make relocation difficult at best.  And just as our national economic growth is slow to flat the church has faced a long slow period of declining membership, pledging and participation limiting congregational resources.

But the rules of calling a new rector are seemingly set in stone.  If Kathy, for example, wanted to use this opportunity of the re-opening of the rector’s position to apply for the job she must resign as interim rector and priest before she can apply.  So she finds herself today in one of those rock versus hard place situations.  She had expected, as all of us did, that the call process would be answered with a YES and a new rector would now have been named.  Kathy as interim rector would have resigned to allow a period in between her departure and the new rector’s arrival as the church rules suggest.  Imagine  the frustration at having prepared yourself to depart only to find your torment might continue for another six to twelve months as another round of applications and interviews works its way to a conclusion.

The congregation faces the same rock and hard place situation.  The wardens told us, quite accurately, that we need to do this process right even if that means doing it over.  We agree with that.  Nothing is worse than a bad outcome where a candidate is called who does not “fit” and we end up in a divorce proceeding rather than a happy marriage.   They also tell us rightly that time is an ally not an enemy because it gives us a period of transition to grieve the departure of Steven and prepare for the arrival of a new rector hopefully full of confidence that in this interim period we have discerned who we are as a faith community, what we feel called to be in doing God’s work, and whom is the best “fit” to lead us where God wants us to go.

OK—we get all of that—we do!

But that brings me back to the chatter in the back of the parish hall on Sunday.

Well, if Kathy was prepared to leave expecting the call process to be finished, are we holding her back from what God is calling her to do next?  Is this fair to ask?  And the wardens did say to us that nothing precludes either Kathy or Kurt from pursuing other opportunities themselves.

Another conversation said—well, maybe God is sending us a message we are too thick headed to get!  Maybe that message is the call process ended without a call because the candidate with the best “fit” is already here.  Yes but what about those dang church rules?

Ah, the rules!  That is not for us to decide said the person fomenting this mischief.  That is between Kathy and God!  If Kathy feels God is calling her to apply to be Rector then He has given her another opportunity to decide that by restarting this call process.  She was prepared to leave us if the call process worked as expected.  Now she must decide if she is prepared to leave us in order to to tell us, consistent with those dang rules, that she does NOT want to leave us.  And if she leaves us we have an opportunity to select her return to us with open arms.  I know, some rules are crazy.

No guarantees for either side in this choice except this:

If Kathy leaves us to be a candidate for rector and she is not chosen then she knows and we know that God did not mean for this to happen—but neither Kathy nor the parish will wonder whether we gave up on each other too soon. Because we trust that God is with us and has already made a decision about who our next rector will be, this scenario is the surest way to discern the difference between a fantasy about what might have been from God’s intention about what could be if we exercise our free will prudently on both sides—but both sides must be willing to give it all away.

If Kathy leaves us to be a candidate and she does not choose us or she is called to another place then she knows and we know that God has a plan for her elsewhere that is more important for His work in the vineyard than this.   While that would be a painful choice for both sides it would be a true and pure and perfect manifestation of God’s will and we would accept it knowing that we must keep searching until we discern the person He has chosen for us.

If Kathy continues as interim rector and the new call process succeeds she will leave us and we will love her all the more for her fidelity and patience with us when we needed her to be ‘our rock’ in this uncertain process. This is the path we are on today as we pray each Sunday for the search committee and the call process to help us discern God’s will in our midst.

But as we do pray for the search process let’s quit blaming those dang church rules for limiting our choices.  The rules force both the candidates and the parish to be  deliberate, to make choices, to be intentional not wishy-washy, to be willing to risk something new, to be willing to give it all away by leaving a current congregation and going to another—or leave this congregation and put it all in God’s hands for the opportunity to stay years longer rather than months longer if that is His will.

But both the parish and the interim rector must be willing to ‘give it all away’ in order to discern what God was calling us to do next—–no guarantees—-just faith, pure and perfect faith.

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The wardens at St. Timothy’s appeared at each of the three services today to announce that a call had been made to a candidate to be Rector but that the candidate had chosen to purse an alternative opportunity.

They also told us that having reconsidered the other two finalists in the year and one-half long search process, the Vestry concluded that a better course of action was to begin the search process anew.

POW!  ZAP!  PUNCH!

Few who began this journey what seems now like years ago could image this outcome, but there it was.  Jilted at the altar!

The buzz at coffee hour was a combination of reactions:

  • How could this happen after such a long tortured process?
  • We should have expected this after the candidate said when the call was offered that there were other options.
  • What was wrong with the search process that we ended up with this outcome?

I remembered in one conversation a few weeks ago with a person visiting us for the first time that the visitor was surprised that we were in the search process.  ” The place does not feel like it—it’s so . . . normal.”

There was also quiet rejoicing that Kathy Trapani, our Interim Rector, and rock during this transition process would be with us for a while longer.  Better to have a long inter-regnum than a tearful goodbye was the common view.

So what should we make of this?

  • God was not happy with the choice the Vestry made so He said no—and so it was.
  • God was not happy with candidate’s indecision so he said no because He was protecting us from a false start
  • God knows what is ahead for St. Timothy’s and thinks we need more time working in the vineyard to discern it.

Sill absorbing this news I do not know the answer to why this happened, but I know this:

  • God loves us unconditionally and has sent us Kathy Trapani to be our interim Rector until He decides who the new Rector will be—and He leaves us in her caring, capable hands for a while longer.  This is a place we are happy to be!
  • God loves us unconditionally and He has something bigger, better and more consequential in store for us and we must be patient until He decides the time is right to reveal it.
  • God loves us unconditionally and the person called was not a good fit for us and so we keep looking until we find the one who will be a caring pastor for our flock as we have prayed for each Sunday.

We give thanks that our Vestry had the courage to do what they think is best for us.

We give thanks to Kathy for sticking with us— and for this we love her all the more!

We give thanks to God for protecting us from harm and holding our hand on this journey of faith!

Be at Peace about this—and get back to work!

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The Good Friday service is a sober, somber, brooding celebration.  The music is heavy, the periods of silence seems everlasting.  I confess that each year I am tempted to skip Good Friday and go straight to the Great Vigil.  But this year I am glad I didn’t.

Kurt asked us in his homily what we are prepared to suffer or even die for.  OK that got my attention.

The telling of the passion story is best taken in sitting there with your eyes closed.  Reading along distracts me from the story by the density of the words so I miss the nuances of the meaning of the reading.

The rhythm of Holy Week is hectic.  At St. Timothy’s this year has come off like clockwork.  Our team of clergy and staff has gone about their work with usual precision.  It may seem like chaos to them but to us in the pews it has been professional, holy, and just as we expected.  We all know that we are nearing the end of our interim period.  We know the Vestry is interviewing finalists and soon God will reveal to us whom he has chosen to be our new rector.  For now we wait, we pray, we will celebrate Easter as we have each year.

But this Good Friday it hit me.

When the doors of the church opened after the reading of the passion and Kathy Trapani came through those doors carrying the Cross—it hit me.  This was it.  This was the last time we would see Kathy carrying the cross for us on our way to Easter, to a new Rector, to a new start as a parish.

Suddenly the sense of passion came alive.  She was stoic.  She was determined.  She walked down that aisle on a mission.  It had to be perfect.  It had to be poignant.  It had to make her invisible to us so that all we saw was that Cross coming to its place of honor.  And so it was.

And there holding up the cross as she put it in its proper place for the last time was the person who has carried us on her back, held our hand, wept with us, laughed with us and sat with us in our times of need.

The tradition at St. Timothy’s has been to rotate the celebrant role among the clergy.  It is a collegial tradition that honors each member of our clergy team and gives them the opportunity to live into their vocation fully.

Maybe it was just the luck of the rotation draw that saw Kathy in the role of celebrant tonight. But in my passion this night I think it was a pure and perfect gift from God—the honor of carrying the Cross. Kathy’s journey from the pews to seminary to her ordination and then call as a member of our clergy team, her dedicated service in our midst comes full circle in the honor of carrying the Cross into the church as she nears the end of her journey as our Interim Rector soon to take her leave.

A pure and perfect gift from God.

I prayed this night that Jesus would fill her up with the satisfaction of knowing that she has done this job so well, so truly, so faithfully that the passion of having to give it up will turn into Easter by what God has planned next on her journey of faith.  But tonight it was Good Friday and the passion of the night will lead us to Easter.  And on Easter we will give thanks for the Risen Lord and also for His pure and perfect gift of a good shepherd.

It was a Good Friday!

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“Almighty God, giver of every good gift; look graciously on your church, and so guide the minds and hearts of those who shall choose a rector for this parish, that we may receive a faithful pastor, who will care for your people and equip us for our ministries; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen”

Those are the words we pray every time we gather around the table at St. Timothy’s.  This prayer for the selection of a rector occurs following the Collect for the Day in the order of proceedings and then we go to the readings appointed for the day as we ‘listen and respond to God’s word.’

As I write this the first Sunday after Epiphany 2012, it is hard to imagine that it has been eighteen months since we learned that Steve Strane, our rector for 22 years was retiring.  Such announcements are always the source of anxiety and trepidation.  The rules of the church are rather inflexible in such matters for good or ill and as we faced the loss of our long time rector, his ‘trusty sidekick’ Kathy Trapani faced a Hobson’s choice of her own.  She could step into the role of Interim Rector and continue to serve our parish family during this interim period and then exit as a new rector was called.  Or she could apply to be Rector to replace Steven but that would require her to resign now in order to be a candidate.  Such a deal!

So what happened?

I believe God does not ask us to shoulder burdens He knows we cannot bear.  God has been with us at each step of this interim process and because of His Grace we have learned more about our faith, our values as a community, and our vision for the future of our faith community than we thought possible.

We learned that as much as we loved Steven Strane and were sorry to see him retire, that he gave us something we hardly recognized in his midst but THE GIFT has helped sustain us in his absence and empower us in the future.  THE GIFT was a style of collegiality and his humble, welcoming, loving manner that made each person feel at home when they walked in the door the first time, and called by name the next time and every time they came to the table.  THE GIFT was the lesson to love one another as Jesus loved us.

We learned that as much as we loved Kathy and would be sorry to see her leave us, we could celebrate each day we were together doing God’s work in the vineyard of St. Timothy’s and giving thanks for the many blessings that our time together has brought.  This turned from a maudlin lament about Kathy’s eventual departure into a joyful celebration at Kathy’s love for us—so intentional—that our interim period has been seamless, healthy, happy and Holy!  God loves us SO MUCH that he sent Kathy to be our guide and scout through the wilderness. We never doubted her steel and competence.  We never felt abandoned or adrift. We never doubted her leadership nor wondered where she was leading us. The trusty sidekick has become our shepherd and while our time in the fold is transitional it is no less joyous and we are no less grateful for this holy time together.

We learned that in God’s great economy if Kathy had not stepped up to be our interim rector we would not have had the opportunity to call Kurt Levensaler to be Associate Priest.  In Kurt God has sent us a breath of fresh air, a voice of new ideas, a new style, a fresh start that is essential to our transition and to our future.  God has given us the great gift of practicing the joyous act of welcoming new clergy that we will face in our near future.  Kurt is our bridge from the joyous place we have been through the joyous wonder of our transitional wilderness to our joyous future with a new rector.

We know God loves us so much that He has given us the Grace of a steady, healthy, optimistic advent in our search process.  That grace and our confidence in the search committee and vestry to tend the process and keep it moving deliberately forward until they discern whom God is calling to be our new rector and reveals that call to them.

We believe and so we have faith in the process, in our transitional clergy and lay leaders.

We believe and so we celebrate the strengths of our community of faith and we believe that God wants us to keep working in our share of his vineyard using the resources, judgment and love for one another that he gave us—its grace, pure and perfect grace that surrounds us and fills us with joy and anticipation.

We believe and so with we give thanks for THE GIFT for even with the passage of time it still reminds us of the unconditional love that lives into Jesus call to us, for modeling for us how to turn that gift into work in the vineyard, and for preparing us for the future.

And then there is this,

In the Gospel reading appointed for this day from Mark 1:4-11:

“John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.  Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.  He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.  I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

We know God is with us in the advent of our search process and at a time of His choosing he will reveal to our search committee the one he has chosen to be our next rector.  In the meanwhile, He has prepared us for his plan for our future by giving us THE GIFT of good shepherds to teach us, to love us and to prepare us for this time ahead.  He has given us the gift of time to reflect and the opportunity to grow, to change and prepare ourselves for the time ahead.

We know that in hearing the news of that call of a new rector we are receiving the Holy Spirit anew–a gift of pure and perfect grace.

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The Rev. Joseph Andrew Lane, Vicar of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in San Rafael, completed a doctor of ministry in congregational development at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois in May 2011. His thesis is entitled:

Canaries in the Coalmine:
The Impact of Creative People on Congregational Development in the Episcopal Church

Here’s the abstract:

“The Episcopal Church is suspended between a very real desire to welcome new members and an equally real sense of anxiety over its decline in membership. Meanwhile, growing numbers of potential worshipers from what Richard Florida has named the Creative Class are standing just outside the door—scientists, engineers, architects, designers, writers, artists and musicians who use their creativity as a key factor in their work in business, education, health care, law and other professions. In terms of congregations, I would include as members of the Creative Class volunteers who employ creativity in their church work, that is, people whose work-a-day vocation is not necessarily creative but whose avocation or, one might say, vocation-in-faith is. This thesis takes a close look at people already in Episcopal churches who exercise their creative gifts in unusual ways—“canaries in the coalmine” who might signal to other members of the Creative Class the hospitality of the Episcopal Church—and it shares the advice they offer to church leaders devoted to congregational development.”

If you’d like to check out the whole thing, click here

What I liked about this paper was Father Lane’s attempt to connect the old church language with the real world language of business and professional people looking for their place in the church.  Yes doing that often involves dealing with buzz words and jargon but when you cut to the chase, the paper calls us back to the beginning of the church and the words Paul himself used to describe it:

2 Corinthians 5:17

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

So don’t be afraid to change a few things that are getting in the way of growing your own congregation.  If someone questions you—tell them to talk to Paul!

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It seems like yesterday.  The reality is that it soon will be one year since we said goodbye to Steve Strane as he retired as Rector at St. Timothy’s after 22 years.

This time has passed quickly.  In part because Kathy Trapani stepped into the role of Interim Rector so seamlessly that the parish did not skip a beat and time marched on as it always does around here in hectic joy.

Our life as a faith community over this past year has been full of all the things we take for granted.  Our corporate worship experience remains solid.  Our shared goals and values are still being lived out daily for a thousand people of faith by a hundred hands working scores of ministries across our unbroken chain of faith.  Through the work of the Search committee we are reminded of our work ahead as the Body of Christ.

The ‘news from back home’ that reaches Steven these days through the grapevine of friends must be pleasing but not surprising.  He would rejoice at our progress and sense of purpose in keeping on with our mission and ministry work.  After all, we are doing this for God not because Steven or Kathy asked us to do it, I can hear him say.  He would celebrate our intentional interactions with the Diocese as living into our values.

He would be beaming with praise for Kathy’s work in this interim period.  She has made the heavy lifting of this uncertain interim period look easy when it is not.  She has kept the trains running on time when we might have coasted waiting for the ‘new rector’ rather than rolling up our sleeves and doing the work that needs to be done.

Steve always knew what we are realizing once again—Kathy is an “All-Star” to use a sport metaphor like those she slips into her sermons.  Let’s face it, it’s tough duty following the ‘old guy’ everyone loves after 22 year.  But the greatest tribute to both Steven and Kathy is that in Steven’s departure we got to know Kathy afresh.  And for all the reasons we loved her then, we love her even more now as our Interim Rector.

We still love the ‘old guy’ we do not miss him because Kathy is with us, holding our hand on this uncertain path and we trust her to take us where God is calling us to go. Steven would take no offense at these words.  He would say, “Amen!” The difference for us is with Steven when did not know when we would have to say goodbye, and with Kathy we do.  So it makes our time together all the more important, all the more intentional, all the more endearing.

I do not mean this post to be melancholy. I mean for it to be joyful.

God must really love us because He has given us two gifts of immense value in Steven and Kathy. 

We rejoice in their time with us.  And from them and through them we have learned to be intentional, to listen to God’s call along our unbroken chain of faith, to act when action is required.  Their greatest gift to us have been their collegiality and the raising up of lay leaders to do the mission and ministry work of the church and in their unconditional faith in us, love for us, and prayers for us we have grown in faith in ourselves and in anticipation for God’s plan ahead for us.

Thank you seems so inadequate for such gifts.  Their work in our midst is the surest evidence of God’s unconditional love for us.

The lessons Steven then and Kathy now have taught us are the future of the church and we are the vanguard of the empowered faithful. We are in training for what God has planned for us next.  Our job is to get ready and stay ready and so we must exercise our minds and hearts by doing God’s prep work in the vineyards.

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