Rector Search Process Starts Over

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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