I predict that our parish, just beginning the search process for calling a new rector, will quickly be frustrated by what seems like glacial progress along that goal. That frustration will be compounded because some of the most important work of the search committee will be done in private in order to protect the confidentiality of candidates and the integrity of the process itself.
That is why one of the critical elements of the search committee’s strategy as it begins its work is to find ways to engage and involve the parish in the search process in meaningful and appropriate ways. Most think that this process can be done quickly just like filling any other job—you write a job description, post it, screen the many resumes you receive, narrow the field to the best fit finalists, interview them and make a selection.
Think again. The call of an Episcopal Rector is both a spiritual and very political act. The process is designed to allow time for the congregation to reflect on who it is, where it has come from, and what it seeks in calling a new rector.
Here at St. Timothy’s we have had the good fortune to be blessed with a series of good shepherds. That is the good news. But the corollary is we also do not know how bad it can be if you make a mistake and call a person to be rector who is not a good fit or does not ‘wear well’ over time.
So, count your blessings—St. Timothy’s has been twice blessed by God, first in helping us find and call the best person at the best time in our parish life. And more importantly, because the call process involved God by taking time to listen, discern our needs and be open to new ideas God presented to us—-we also avoided making mistakes.
The result was a 22 year ‘run’ for Steven Strane as our rector, shepherd, confessor, guide and friend. And that will be a tough act to follow. But remember, it started with a bold and audacious act of faith by the Vestry and search committee back in 1988 to call a young priest who had never been a rector to lead a growing faith community that had been happy with the rector just leaving.
It worked because God was with us and we took the time to do the search process right—listening to the congregation, being true to ourselves about our strengths and needs, and listening to God as He presented possibilities and opened our eyes calling someone at the end of that journey probably quite different than what the congregation imagined at the start of the process.
So the TOUGHEST part of the selection committee’s job is NOT calling a new Rector it is leading the congregation in a self-study process of discerning who we are, what we believe and a candid assessment of our parish strengths and needs to open our eyes and ears to the possibilities God will present to us.
In short, before the search committee can do its selection work it must do its discernment work—and it must involve us, include us, force us to be honest with ourselves and condition our hearts, minds, eyes and ears to be open to God’s plan for us.
The search committee met with the Vestry to receive its charge so now it is open for business. The Vestry has adopted three broad goals resulting from the 20/20 Vision process to guide our parish future:
- Be a welcoming faith community open to all
- Invest in our kid’s faith foundation
- Live into the Mission work of the church.
These goals writ large speak to what St. Timothy’s has been about since our parish was founded in 1953 as part of an unbroken chain of faith that saw God call on the Bishop of California to send his obedient priest, Rev Wilfred Hodgkin, Rector of St Paul’s Walnut Creek, to plant a mission congregation in the San Ramon Valley. Thirty days later St Timothy’s mission was formed—a pure and perfect example of God’s unconditional love and grace at work.
The job of the search committee is both simple and hard at one and the same time. It is simple because all the search committee must do is listen to what God is calling St. Timothy’s to be for the future and then be open to the new possibilities he presents for their consideration. It is agonizingly hard because the search committee must find ways—over and over again—to carry us along with the process feeling involved, consulted, engaged and committed—and open to new possibilities God presents trusting that God’s love and grace are with us every step of the way.