Our New Rector and our Unbroken Chain of Faith

Those who feel called to be rector at St. Timothy’s should expect to play a leadership role in the mission and ministry work of the church beyond our parish boundaries.  I know this can be said for any parish priest.  But the challenges on the horizon for the diocese of California and the role that St. Timothy’s plays in our faith family will be different in profound ways for our new rector.

As one of the largest and most vibrant congregations in the Diocese today, St. Timothy’s is at the heart of the fast changing East Bay.  We cannot escape the inevitable role we can reasonably be expected to play in the Diocesan future.  The new rector will be up to his or her eyeballs in change.  It will not be a role for the faint at heart but I believe God has already chosen the person He believes will do His best work in our midst.  Our job is to discern and discover that person.  And the job of our new rector is to listen to God’s call to us and lead us there.

It is possible that ten years from now as we see the sun set on our 20/20 Vision planning horizon that St. Timothy’s will be one of only 10-12 large, viable congregations in the Diocese of California instead of the 84 parishes we have today.  There will almost surely be a long tail of smaller congregations but the mission and ministry work of the church will likely be lead by these large corporate parish congregations in collaboration with the Diocese of California’s area ministry strategy.

I say this for several reasons:

Demographics. I discussed the implications of Census 2010 results on the demographic changes taking place in our Diocese and closer to home in our parish service area. These changes are as wonderful and enriching as they are profoundly different than our past. They include certain realities affecting our parish and the entire Diocese including:

  1. The Population is Aging with the retirement of boomer upon us
  2. There are fewer kids under 18 than ever before
  3. The ethnic and cultural make-up of our East Bay service are is changing rapidly
  4. The Diocese of California is growing in the East Bay not the inner cities

Congregation Vitality.  The Diocese must focus on congregational vitality as a high priority to do the mission and ministry work of the church.  Church vitality will require hard choices and bold leadership.  Bishop Marc is busy today addressing the key church vitality issues including:

  1. Face the problems of declining congregations honestly with grace-filled transitions.
  2. Collaborate to support the greatest needs and best growth opportunities in the Diocese.
  3. Position the Diocese to provide the core capacity and programs needed by area ministry and collaboration across congregations.

Equipping this ‘Beloved Community’ with the tools and prayerful support to be the Body of Christ for the faithful, the unchurched and underserved in our midst and around the world is the vision of our DioCal future.  This means living into our faith values, being an inclusive, welcoming church open to all.  It means confronting poverty, racism, discrimination and standing up for justice consistent with the goals adopted by the Diocesan convention.  Our cultural and ethnic diversity is a core strength of the Diocese of California which we celebrate even as it forces us to confront change, learn to live outside our comfort zones, and pray together for God’s help in leading us together to a shared future as the Body of Christ in our Diocese.

The recession and demographic changes over the past ten years accelerate this process of change.  A growing share of the parishes in the Diocese struggle financially because of these changes and the impact means finding ways to share clergy, share program, share facilities.  The financial resources of the church at both the parish level and Diocesan level will likely to go down before they go back up.  The Diocese has subsidized a number of parishes and congregations but for the foreseeable future will lack the resources to keep doing so.

Out of this process of change are the seeds of new beginnings.  New clergy bring new ideas to the Diocese from experiences around the nation and around the world.  The closing on one church and sale of property offers seed corn to invest to build a new congregation.  The collaborative effort of parishes working together to build youth ministry programs, elder service programs, services to the poor and outreach to the needy engage the people of the Diocese and every parish in the mission and ministry work of the church first hand.

A new form of stewardship is taking shape—but its lessons are as old as the church itself.  It is born of first-hand experience in doing the mission and ministry work of the church. It is roll up your sleeves and help someone in need.  It lives the Gospel lessons of where your heart is, there will your treasure be.  Getting people involved is the heart of our stewardship future.  Getting us committed to a cause greater than ourselves is the essence of outreach, evangelism, and living into our faith.

St. Timothy’s 50th Anniversary goal is to continue its unbroken chain of faith by planting a mission congregation at a time and place of God’s choosing. Whether our new collaboration with St. Clare’s and St. Bartholomew’s to explore the ministry needs of the Dougherty Valley—or the potential to work with the Diocese and the congregations in the Antioch-Brentwood area of the East Bay to live into the new area ministry strategy of the Diocese are what God is calling us to do is unclear.  But they are opportunities to do God’s work in holy and healthy and useful ways.  Our new rector will be called to lead us to listen to God’s call.

So what does this mean for the Rector Search Process?

  1. Find us a rector who can help us be open to God’s call.  We need a person with vision and aspirations for our future.  Someone who will challenge us and force us from our complacency.
  2. Find us a rector who will love us unconditionally.  We are a rowdy bunch, set in our ways and if we must change, we need a rector who loves us so much that we will follow his or her lead because we know God has chosen that person to be our shepherd and guide.
  3. Find us a rector who will help us be all God wants us to be.  We’ve done good work here at St. Timothy’s over the past 58 years and that is worth celebrating.  But our best years are the 58 ahead of us.  What is God calling us to do and be not just in 2020 but in 2053?
  4. Find us a rector who believes in our unbroken chain of faith!  One month after Bishop Shires wrote Rev Hodgkin at St. Paul’s Walnut Creek saying, “Wilfred, we want a mission congregation in the San Ramon Valley—make it so,” St. Timothy’s was founded as a mission with a vicar holding home church—ONE MONTH!  If that is not divine intervention then I don’t know what is. That unbroken chain of faith is alive today in each one of us at St. Timothy’s and it is our promise to God to keep alive doing the mission and ministry work of the church.  The new rector must feel this call and help us live into it.

God does not give us burdens He knows we cannot carry.  He challenges us with adversity because through struggle comes insight and ingenuity that puts that freewill he gave us to good work. We have all struggled in the economic wilderness and now we have a menu of choices being set before us that can enrich our lives, renew our spirit and enable us to live into our unbroken chain of faith in ways we have yet to understand.

Find us a rector who believes in us, who prays for us, who is one of us and can lead us to do things we could scarcely imagine doing—-and there we will find Grace.

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