The Dirty Job of Interim Rector

Have you seen that TV program about the dirtiest jobs in the country?  The poor guy gets handed some really tough and dangerous tasks. He sees all the ‘parts’ that go into the messy job of making sausage.

That might be a useful way to describe the ‘dirty job’ we have asked Kathy Trapani to take on as our Interim Rector. Think about it, this is a temp job since as the Interim Kathy cannot be a candidate for Rector.  And when the new Rector is selected the tradition is that she will leave.  Both of those things suck!

But those are the rules and traditions tested over time and designed to give a new Rector a fresh start with a team of his or her choosing.   It makes sense intellectually but it limits our options and forces the interim rector to do the job during this transition period while at the same time trying to discern what his or her next job might be.

The pace of this transition seems glacial at the beginning.  Then all the work building consensus around a parish profile and job description, advertising the job and screening candidates before finally narrowing the crop to the final few comes full circle in a ‘call’ that marks a finite end to the process.

So process anxiety aside what does an Interim Rector do?

  1. FILL THE VACUUM LEFT BY THE DEPARTING RECTOR. This is tough because the Interim is never going to be as loved as the retiring ‘old guy’ and many parish faithful grieve the departure.  But there is a vacuum and someone must fill it or the parish is left adrift.  So as the Interim Rector, Kathy must be visible and obvious about being ‘in charge’ so we feel that the parish is in good hands.  She must move into the old guy’s office, rearrange the furniture, change a few visible things to show she’s in charge but above all—abhor vacuums!
  2. WE’VE ALWAYS DONE IT THAT WAY.  The Interim Rector will be called on to make decisions and all of them involve the risk of irritating someone who wants things to remain the same—even though they are not the same.  Change upsets us even when we know the reason, so there are many opportunities for an Interim to irritate us.  But change is necessary and healthy and Kathy must not be afraid to take out a sacred cow or two along the journey, if needed.
  3. WHO’S IN CHARGE HERE ANYWAY? Another thing that happens in the interim is the departure of the former rector is seen as ‘open season’ for programs, ministries and well intentioned individuals to take it upon themselves to make changes.  This is the corollary to the interim rector changing things because it brings a line of protesters to the interim Rector’s office demanding to know ‘what are you going to do about that?’  What usually follows is fussing, negotiating and compromise with a good chance of hurt feelings.  Stuff happens!
  4. CHAMPION SELECTION PROCESS TRANSPARENCY AND FORWARD MOVEMENT. Since the Interim is not a candidate for rector, he or she can be a neutral in helping the parish resolve process or other issues that slow down the process.  Keeping the process transparent and the parish well and evenly informed is essential to build confidence in the final selection.  So the interim rector must be honest and deliberate about calling out issues that seem to be getting in the way or need to be resolved to make the call process work successfully.  Blow the whistle on problems and call time out to get the Vestry and parish to address them.  Play referee but stay out of the process substance. The interim rector can’t be seen as taking sides for candidates or inserting herself in the selections consideration, but Kathy still has a duty to look out for the best interests of the parish overall—and that best interest is served by a fair, consistent and transparent process. 
  5. KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE MISSION WORK OF THE CHURCH. The interim process typically takes 18-24 months.  That is enough time to complete the grieving process over the departure of the old guy and anticipate the arrival of the new rector.  If everyone in the parish is wrapped up in the discernment and selection process it is both good and bad.  Hey!!! Who is doing the work of the church while the rest of us are campaigning for our favorite rector candidate?  That is the job of the interim rector through leadership and preaching, through example and encouragement and occasionally with a good stern talking to from the pulpit—to remind us that our job is to serve God and the mission work of the church.

We have in Kathy Trapani a woman of extraordinary skill, training and experience.  A person who loves St Timothy’s as much as the old guy—what was his name, again?  Oh yea.

Kathy has been in training for this job of interim rector since day one.  It is the fate of associate rectors across the church.  To be a rector you must go be a rector somewhere else.  Meanwhile, associates do the real front lines work of the church and so has Kathy.

Our job is to love her as much as we respect her for her work.  Just as she must fill the vacuums we must empower her to make decisions and change things if they need changed knowing that we have confidence in her judgment as the shepherd of this unruly flock.

One day the new rector shows up on the doorstep demanding the keys.  And then we will haul out the dunk tank and celebrate Kathy’s ministry among us while we “install” the new rector with the same baptismal re-enactment that we used to send off the old guy—what was his name again?

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