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The search process for calling a Rector at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Danville, California is in the final stages. The Search Committee has completed the assessment of all applicants and the top three candidates have been submitted to the Vestry for their interviews. Below are the key activities of our process since last year:

  • Search Committee charged to bring three finalists to the Vestry by Pentecost. Fifteen town hall meetings were held to discern our parish priorities. The Search Committee met regularly with the Vestry to report progress, used an online parish survey and social media to gather input from our youth
  • On May 13, 2017, the Search Committee recommended three finalists for Vestry consideration. The discernment included praying for all the candidates and listening to the Holy Spirit in reviewing results of field visits with six semi-finalists.
  • During June 2017, the Vestry will interview each of the finalists and listen for God’s call of the shepherd best suited to lead the congregation forward.
  • Thank you Denise Obando! Throughout the process, we collaborated and received very useful guidance and help from the Diocesan Office of Transition Ministry.

For more information, please read the Executive Summary of our Parish Profile. It contains Quick Links to detailed information about our parish.

The Vestry will make a final decision that keeps faith with parish expectations and the long term best interests of the parish to find a new shepherd who knows our name and we want to follow for the journey ahead.  The Search process helped Vestry prepare to interview the three finalists summarizing our search results and materials for each.

  1. The Search Committee gave the Vestry three equally well qualified choices in a new rector.  The three finalists keep faith with parish priorities and values.
  2. The Search Committee sent teams of two or three to visit the six semi-finalists. Reporting back the teams avoided being advocates for candidate visited and instead helped the Search Committee find the ‘best three finalists’ by consensus and prayer.
  3. Our Search used a simple but powerful YES, NO, MAYBE process to assess each applicant’s strengths and fit to build a consensus.  This helped us put aside personal biases, talk about differences and discern how the best interest of the parish was served by each candidate.
  4. Our final three were a clear consensus informed by the Holy Spirit assuring the Vestry that we lived into the parish profile priorities and charge to bring them the three best finalists after praying over twenty three candidates over nine months.

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PARISH VALUES @ WORK. Our rector search reminded us what the congregation said about parish values in our 15 town meetings as a way to ground our assessment of each finalist.  How do we see each finalist living into these parish values?

  1. We want St. Timothy’s to feel like home—the first time and every time.  We value our strong, inclusive sense of community and we want a Rector who embraces those values and loves us for who we are.
  2. We value joyful worship and music experiences. Variety is the spice of life and it separates St. Timothy’s from other parishes with a one size fits all approach to worship and liturgy.  We value diverse inter generational worship experiences and want a rector who respects and celebrates our vibrant, progressive experiences and traditional ones.
  3. St. Timothy’s is passionate about outreach and service to others in need.  With Fruits of the Harvest outreach celebrations and active parish involvement in the causes we support we are living into our baptismal covenant to be the Body of Christ in our community.  We want a rector who empowers this passion of ours.
  4. ST. Cares!  As our parish demographics change we recognize the need to expand lay participation in addressing the pastoral care needs of our families and friends in their times of need.  We value a caring community that looks out for each other and we want every person to feel embraced and held up.
  5. We celebrate the blessings in our lives with inter generational fellowship.  It binds the community together as the Body of Christ, makes everyone feel welcome and at home, and it keeps us connected so we know when others need to be held up in their times of need.

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RECTOR PRIORITIES. In reviewing applicant credentials, the parish told us to look for the following characteristics:

  1. A People Person.  Enthusiastic, progressive person to inspire our faith journey, celebrate our inclusive diversity, loves us for who we are, makes us feel like family and helps us live into our Episcopal faith traditions.
  2. Dynamic, collaborative leader, wise steward and manager with well-rounded experience.
  3. Confident shepherd who empowers our lay passions for pastoral care and outreach to serve others.
  4. Engaging worship and liturgy experiences to celebrate our faith in new and familiar ways and keep us engaged in the broader work of the church through the Diocese of California and the interfaith work of the parish.
  5. Be in Community with Us! Be one of us, be present among us, have compassion for us, look us in the eye, know our names, accept us for who we are and help us live into our faith journey.
  6. Give our Kids a faith foundation to guide their lives.  We want a rector who help us grow ourselves and impart a faith foundation to guide our kids future.  Make this a place we want to hangout!  Where we feel we belong.

I feel the Holy Spirit at work among us!  It’s Glorious!

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St. Timothy’s Cares—welcome home the Light of Christ is always on here. Have you noticed that when you ask someone at St. Timothy why they belong to this faith community there is a common theme often spoken emotionally and from the heart. This theme is simple yet profoundly important to who we are and how we live into our faith.

We strive to make all feel as welcome as the prodigal son who was lost and then found by a father who never stopped loving him. Being the Body of Christ at work at St. Timothy’s drives every ministry program. This is our strategy to live into our faith lesson to respond to the pastoral care needs of our parish family.

Our commitment to being a welcoming parish open to all meant to us just that—all means all.  Through it all we felt the Holy Spirit was guiding us and protecting us with His simple message ‘love others as I have loved you’ and so we did—and so we are one congregation with open arms to all who love God and seek Christ in their lives and we gather around one table where we all find renewal, sustenance and hope.

Powerfully Validating Act of Asking for Help.  Once someone decides to make St. Timothy’s their faith home our challenge is to help them discover the many mission and ministry ways that they can serve God.  The single most powerful thing we can do to speed a family’s incorporation into the fabric of the parish is to ask them to help in God’s work.  One person put it this way and his words are more eloquent than anything I could write:

“My wife and I were “floaters” for several years early in our tenure with St. Timothy’s.  It wasn’t until we were invited to a social gathering by other families with young children that we felt a strong bond with the church and it began to feel like the extended family we view it as today.”

The church connects families balancing the many demands on kids’ schedules with a consistent faith tradition that celebrates the living body of Christ in serving others creating a powerful faith tradition to guide their lives. The church helps others find Christ in their lives, fill a void, renew their spirit or find meaning in their service to others.

Growing the Living Body of Christ

Being in Community. We celebrate the ritual and traditions of our faith, the feast days and celebrations of the church seasons and the spiritual power of our corporate worship when we gather around the table as one family becoming the Body of Christ.  The church must also be responsive the needs of the people in the pews, or not in the pews anymore!  We don’t have to give up on church, but we do have to keep it relevant in our lives and those of our kids in a world of constant distractions.

Church was the center of community life in villages as cities grew.  The church was also the center of family life for a long time.  But in our mobile lives today it is no longer the church buildings that center us.  Instead we need ways to stay connected to each other, stay involved in the ministries causes we care about and our life together as the Body of Christ even though we are not physically in the pews. That is what social networks are doing in our business and personal lives. These social networks like Facebook and Twitter shrink our world by connecting us in person-to-person ways we could scarcely imagine only a few years ago.  The church needs to make more effective use of these tools for being in community as a powerful force for good to arrest the decline in church participation by getting people involved and empowered doing God’s work.

Putting social media to work for the church.  Perhaps the single most powerful thing the Diocese of California could do for church vitality today would be create and nurture growth a social network to empower and connect its members. If we get congregations connected together and then connect many congregations together with our missions and ministries, programs and the institutions of the church we could create an online virtual version of the parish hall.  A virtual combination of an Episcopal Facebook of members combined with an Episcopal Linked-In for the mission and ministry work of the church.

In our virtual parish hall we can hang out, and ‘be at home together’.  We can share ideas, collaborate and participate to do our mission and ministry work, offer our time and talent with those who need them, do Bible study or be part of support groups tailored to our needs.

Imagining the church as a social network of the body of Christ does not diminish the role or purpose of the church. We are merely adapting the technology of our lives to do the work of the church.  Our lives today are full of disruptive technology, mobility, going off to college, moving for a new job, joining the military, getting transferred, retiring, losing a loved one, feeling alone.  Each life event or change modifies the rhythms of our lives and at each life stage we need the love and support of the church and the entire body of Christ to live into God’s plan for us.

We’re learning from our experience that social networks do not isolate us or diminish our personal relationships—quite the opposite—they enrich them, intensify them and share them in ways we scarcely thought possible.  Making the church accessible, empowering and a place to be part of something exciting in the lives of people we care about and those far distant we can help.

I have God with me everywhere—why can’t I take church along too?  Because the church grew from the congregations up, it is tough for us to transfer our communities and familial ties to the greater church as a top down organization.  It follows then that as the congregations and parishes of the church struggle, age, decline and fail so does the larger church. The church as the social place we use to connect to others has been superseded by social media, tweets, TXTs and real-time communications.

Here are real examples of the enabling power of social networking in our mission and ministry:

  • Making Youth Ministry Cool Again. Is your congregation struggling to keep youth ministry exciting enough to attract the kids you want to serve?  Most parishes face this reality.  Traditional approaches to youth ministry have trouble getting a critical mass of kids at each age grouping to have a youth ministry programs that is active, exciting and cool enough to compete with the other options our kids have today.  It does not mean we should quit trying, but it does mean we should try different ways to meet the need.  But many DioCal congregations lack the critical mass of kids and can’t afford the resources to hire a full time youth minister.
  • Episcopal Impact Fund. We learned from experience with action network grants for ministries in the six deaneries of the Diocese that many congregations are supporting the same causes while others go wanting.  We learned that the needs are wider than the squeaky wheel of causes that have vocal advocates.  We learned that the process was too cumbersome, too long and didn’t focus enough on recruiting the faithful to get involved.  Life does not work that way.  There is room at God’s table for many hands, many hearts a fire, and many mouths that need to be fed.  EIF Action network is a good strategy we should perfect to be the online Jobs Board of the Episcopal Church recruiting the faith to good causes and supporting their efforts.
  • Dougherty Valley Mission Collaboration. As part of our 50th anniversary celebration St Timothy’s committed to maintain its unbroken chain of faith begun when God called St Paul’s Walnut Creek through the Bishop to plant a mission congregation down the road in the San Ramon Valley.  We worked collaboratively with St. Clare’s and St. Bartholomew’s Livermore to identify mission and ministry needs of a fast emerging new community in the 25,000 homes being developed in the Dougherty Valley area of SE Contra Costa and Southern Alameda Deaneries.  Changes in the priests at each church put on hold this collaboration, but the need remains among the multi-generational households in this part of DioCal. If we had a social network it would make it easier to spread the word to congregations and the DioCal community and introduce ourselves to the people of the Dougherty Valley.

At Pentecost we will hear the Good News in many voices, many tongue and today we’re are trying to make every day Pentecost for someone seeking Christ in their lives and connect to a faith community that can help them along that journey. We need an Episcopal Social Network that helps us bring out the best in us, that connects us of new ways to serve and empowers us to action rather than telling us to sit down and be quiet.  By putting us to work doing the work of the church, the church is helping us ‘be in community’ doing more to enliven our spiritual lives than all the marketing on Madison Avenue.

We are the Episcopal Church but we need new tools and new ways to discover each other anew and to be connected as the Body of Christ.  The church will grow when joy in the hearts of the faithful grows from one simple act of kindness, faith and renewal multiplied like loaves and fishes thousands of times in the hearts of those we touch in God’s name

Believe!

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Believe and then Watch this YouTube Video

Bishop Marc Andrus and the St. Timothy’s Vestry has approved the updated parish Executive Summary and our parish OTM (Office of Transition Ministry) profile formally launching the application period for new Rector candidates.   The rector search committee prepared an executive summary profile to provide potential candidates a clear understanding of our values and the St. Timothy’s congregation’s sense of what God is calling us to be in His service.

The profile material summarizes the results of the 15 parish engagement meetings. The search committee met regularly with the vestry to report progress, conducted an online parish survey, and used social media to gather youth input.

St. Timothy’s seeks a rector to help us live into spiritual values enunciated through this parish engagement using an appreciative inquiry process. Our selection process seeks to enable the vestry to call a new rector by Pentecost.

St. Timothy’s Parish Values

During the parish engagement process the search committee asked the parish what they value most about our community.

Community: To us St. Timothy’s feels like home. We value our strong, inclusive sense of community where everyone is welcomed and made to feel like family.  We want everyone crossing our doorstep to feel they are welcome and at home in God’s house.

Worship: Our parish values joyful worship and music experiences.  St. Timothy’s currently provides a variety of worship styles. These include intergenerational spiritual experiences to help everyone live into their faith journey.  These worship styles range from the traditional with organ, contemplative with no music, to Taizé with chants and meditation, and family-oriented with lively music and children’s liturgy to provide our children an embracing experience to build an enduring faith foundation.

Outreach:St. Timothy’s has a high level of commitment to outreach and service to those who are in need. The parish encourages active participation in service ministries and outreach to bring us together, help us live into our baptismal covenant and discern what God is calling us to be as the Body of Christ in our wider community.

Pastoral Care: St. Timothy’s cares.  As our parish demographics change we seek to adapt by expanding our lay participation in pastoral care ministries and service to respond to those needs.  We value having a caring community that helps each other and where every member feels embraced and held up in their times of need.

Fellowship: Our parish values intergenerational fellowship.  Just as we celebrate together and serve others in need we want to be a beloved community of faith among our parish family members and the wider church.

Rector Priorities

 In response to what the parish values most about the church, the search committee asked the parish about their top qualities for a new rector.

What We Seek in a New Rector: The parish seeks an enthusiastic, progressive person to inspire our faith journey, celebrate our inclusive diversity, and help us live into our Episcopal faith traditions.  We know from experience that the parish responds most to someone with strong inter-personal skills, i.e. a “people person”.

Leader: St. Timothy’s seeks a dynamic, collaborative leader, a wise steward and manager with a well-rounded and evident experience.

Pastoral: The parish seeks a rector who enjoys pastoral care, and can empower lay passions for pastoral care and outreach to serve others in times of need.

Worship: St. Timothy’s seeks someone who will provide us with engaging sermons and liturgy to celebrate our faith in both new and familiar ways, while keeping us engaged in DioCal and the interfaith work of the church.

Community: St. Timothy’s is seeking a partner to join us in our growth as a welcoming, inclusive and joyful community. The parish needs its rector to have compassion for us, be one of us, know our names, look us in the eye, and accept us as we are, while helping us achieve our collective vision.

Children, Youth and Families:  St. Timothy’s is seeking a partner to assist in creating an environment where our children develop a faith foundation to guide their lives through children, youth and family ministries, Noah’s Ark Preschool, great music and intergenerational fellowship.

Yes We Can! Again!!

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“Healing happens when the conversation changes from a focus on the past to a focus on the future. That’s where we are with God’s help—and that is a good place to be.”

I wrote that closing line in my last blog post here in December 2015—8 months ago.  This week the Vestry names a new search committee to re-launch the process of calling a new Rector for St. Timothy’s.  It has been a long journey through a time of healing, false starts and self-reflection to arrive at this point in time.

We got through the stages of grieving the retirement of our rector, then we survived the failure of our first search process and then saw our hopes soar with the completion of the second process and the call of a new rector.  But two years into that new ministry it was obvious to both the rector and the parish that this was not a match made in heaven.  So we entered a new stage, one we never expected to find ourselves—a discernment process on whether to end our relationship and move on.

We grieved the mutual loss of affection and found a sense of reconciliation even in the process of divorce.  Difficult as it was for all, it felt like the right decision to both the rector and the parish.  There was sadness and grace in our parting.  But it was done lovingly, fairly, candidly and left a holy taste in our mouths that helped heal our broken hearts.

A funny thing happened on the way to healing and preparing for another search process.  We discovered new courage to risk rejection again in order to find love again.

So here we are in mid-August 2016 polishing up our profile and getting ready to start ‘dating’ again.  We wish there was something like “Episcopal Match.com” that would offer a proven method to find compatibility.  But alas we must do it the old fashioned way.

So this post is fair warning that I am dusting off this blog and will be posting more frequently to document St. Timothy’s Danville, CA search to call a new rector.

Pray for us!

We have already kissed a lot of frogs on our discernment journey to find wedded bliss.  We need a Prince or a Princess to come along the next stage of our journey.

We have a secret weapon in our search—true faith that God loves us unconditionally.  And the sure knowledge that God does not give us burdens we cannot bear—-He has held us up so far as we’ve wandered in the wilderness in our search for the promised land.

Healing is Hard Work!

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As I write this December 29, 2015 six months has passed since my last post about our failed rector search process that resulted in the resignation of the chosen candidate after less than two years. Healing in a congregation after a false start takes time. More time than anyone wants. But the last thing anyone wants is to repeat the same mistake.

So what’s happened?

  • The Diocese implemented a structured interim placement and selection process with leadership support from Bishop Marc.
  • The parish called an Interim Rector to help guide us through the search and selection process.
  • The congregation supported the decision to end the relationship with the rector but is grieving.

Tough love is still tough even when you do the right thing for all sides of the relationship. We see the impacts in lower attendance, the loss of long time members who drift away or give up waiting for things to get better.

We face all the usual and customary steps of grieving from shock to anger to acceptance to an openness and even anticipation of a new beginning. I’d say that at this writing we are at acceptance.

The upcoming Vestry election process culminating at the annual meeting in January 2016 seems to be shaping up at a turning point for the congregation. The vestry knows it is expected to start a new search process. The four places around the Vestry table offer an opportunity for fresh faces, new ideas and an opportunity to serve for anyone willing to stand for election. This is a year when it might be healthy to have more candidates than open seats to be filled.

Healing happens when the conversation changes from a focus on the past to a focus on the future. That seems to be where we are with God’s help—and that is a good place to be.

This is a short story of what happened at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Danville, California when the relationship between the rector and the parish could not be saved by a deliberative process of reconciliation and discernment. After a relatively short tenure with a growing sense of dis-ease came an open, candid, healthy and holy process of reconciliation and discernment. The end of that process brought consensus but the answer was not the one either St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church or the rector wanted. The decision to resign as Rector was his but the process completed made clear that there was little support for an alternative outcome.

What happened?

The views expressed by the rector’s supporters centered on the following:

  1. He is an experienced, seasoned; personable Rector who believed he was called to St. Timothy’s to help the parish ‘change’ so it could grow again after a long period of declining membership and changing demographics.
  2. But what he found after his arrival was a resistance to change and a lack of support for the changes he did make.
  3. The reasons for that disconnect were ascribed to the failure of the interim process before he was called to enable the parish to make the break from the last rector in order to prepare the way for the next. Huh?

When you probed these three commonly held views the rationale for this mismatch between the Rector and the Parish boiled down to a failure of the search and selection process and how the interim period was managed. That failure, according to this point of view, began by naming Associate Rector as Interim Rector. Doing so, the theory goes, prevented the parish from making a clean break from the past making it more difficult to focus on what the parish discerned God was calling it to be and do in His service for the future.

What can we learn from this experience?

In my view none of the issues the rector faced at St. Timothy’s had anything to do with the congregation clinging the retired rector or wishing that we had been able to call the Interim to stay on as permanent rector despite the church rule prohibiting such a call. By the time the new rector arrived at St. Timothy’s the former rector had been gone for two years. I think the parish grieved his retirement after 22 years but the passage of time made us realize that the parish could go forward without him because its strengths came from God not from the rector. The Associate’s contribution as interim rector sustained us and enabled us to withstand the long search process and the failure of the first process. In deciding to accept the call as interim rector she decided not to be part of that search process. She was our bridge to the future. Her willingness to love us enough to let us go because she felt we could thrive in the arms of another rector endeared us to her all the more in her time left with us.

Lessons from a Failed Rector Search Process

I believe the first search process failure was compounded by the way the search process unfolded when it was learned that the consensus candidate was involved in another search process and did not want to make a decision on accepting a call to St. Timothy’s until the outcome of the other search process reached its conclusion. The Vestry felt strongly enough about his candidacy that they agreed to wait for the competing process to be completed —a decision that took several months longer than expected—instead of forcing the candidate to ‘fish or cut bait’—will you accept a call to St. Timothy’s or not?

By waiting, the Vestry faced several unintended consequences that are useful insight for all search processes:

  1. The parish lost control of the search process. By waiting for someone else to act we put the fate of the parish in the hands of someone else. If we forced the preferred candidate to make a choice and he said no we had to start over—and the vestry did not feel that other candidates measured up to their preferred choice. But forcing his hand forced the candidate to decide if he wanted to risk NOT being selected at the other parish. Waiting it out, in hindsight, was imprudent. It told us that the process was too long already costing us the best candidates.
  2. The consensus candidate was not part of the consensus. By asking the Vestry to wait for the other process the candidate was telling St. Timothy’s he was not convinced this was the right call for him. In hindsight, the wiser course for the Vestry would have been to force the decision and NOT WAIT. You either love us or you don’t! Which is it?
  3. The candidate pool dried up! By waiting it became clear to others that St. Timothy’s had found the person they wanted so candidates looked elsewhere. It may also be true that a small candidate pool tells us something about our competitiveness or the cost of moving to the San Francisco Bay area from lower cost states that we must address, or other factors.
  4. The search process failed and had to be restarted. None of this failed first search process had anything to do with the rector but it cast doubt on the entire process and left the parish feeling unfulfilled. The second search process resulted in a smaller candidate pool and a rushed process as the parish frustration grew at the long time it was taking and lead to a sense of relief more than joy at the end of the process. This sense of frustration forced the rector to bear an unfair burden in the sense that his calling was seen as a second-best outcome for the parish.

Those critical voices that became more prominent and outspoken during the reconciliation and discernment process framed their criticisms around the following factors that led them to the conclusion that calling the rector to St. Timothy’s was a mismatch and largely prevailed in building a consensus that he should leave. Those factors included:

  1. Too Many Surprises, Too Little Communication. The rector’s style of communication was to keep his own counsel and then to announce changes he had already decided to make. This happened early on with changes to the Vestry process, a new commission structure, and a dilution of the role of the rector’s warden. Over time the same thing happened with changes in the service order, music and other worship and liturgy elements. At first there was just grumbling—‘why didn’t we know about this first?’ Then there was second-guessing ‘why are we doing this?’ Then there was concern about motivation made worse by the call of a new associate priest making ‘rookie mistakes’ that irritated more than illuminated why things were being changed.
  2. Going through the Motions. As the rector settled in and his routine was clearer, there developed a sense among the congregation that he was ‘going through the motions’ rather than engaging in pastoral care and other areas important to the parish. Interpreted as aloofness at first it was not until later that the parish learned he was dealing with his own problem with depression. I remember my reaction on hearing that news. Were we making his condition worse by piling on the pressure to address these parish concerns? Could we do something constructive to support him through this journey rather than grumble about things that, by comparison, seem trivial?
  3. Among Us but not One with Us. I remember the point in time when I realized that there was a low probability of reconciliation. It was a feeling of clarity and discernment. It happened in the midst of one of the parish workshops when one of the parish members had the courage to stand up and say what was on almost every heart in the parish hall that day—this isn’t working and airing our issues in this process is leading us to the discernible conclusion that it isn’t likely to get better. It was not a mean-spirited statement and there was no animus in the words or sentiment. It was healthy, it was candid, it was confessional. And because it was all of those things—it was holy coming from the heart of the congregation. The rector was among us but neither he nor we felt we were one with each other.

Why write this?

These views are my personal feelings and I do not pretend to speak for the parish, the Vestry, the Rector or anyone else. This blog has become a source of information on Episcopal Church selection processes, profiles and the issues of church vitality. I started this blog when I began my term on the Executive Council of the Diocese of California before the rector’s retirement at St. Timothy’s. I continued it during the search process. I stop writing in it in 2012 when a new rector was called feeling that its usefulness had ended.

When the rector announced his resignation,  I offered the aging contents of this blog’s chronicle of the first search process to the wardens and vestry for whatever value it may be to them. I went to the blog admin page and was surprised to discover that even after lying fallow for three years it still receives an average of about 100 hits per month from people ‘googling’ church vitality, Episcopal Church selection process for calling a new rector or similar phrases.

I offer this post as a candid observation of how our search and selection process at St. Timothy’s unfolded for whatever lessons can be learned from documenting our experience.