A Word from Our Interim Rector: Rev. Gerald "Jay" Collins
I am sharing with you an article entitled “Good Transitions.” It is from the Episcopal Church’s Vestry Papers. I believe the contents of the article will be useful as we begin to move forward on a journey that leads to the call of your next rector.
I hope we will use the article as a platform from which we begin to understand the value of and need for interim ministry. The ministry is not a placeholder until a new person accepts a call to TCO from the Vestry. It is, however, a necessary component of ministry designed to lead a faith community toward a successful change in pastoral leadership and lay participation. Enjoy the read and let’s prepare to move forward in faith.
Israeli anthropologist Yuval Noah Harari proposes that our success as a species arose from our ability to create and respond to change. Neanderthals didn’t adapt very well, and they were left behind as the world changed.
Change is often threatening. The church appoints committees and commissions to propose new liturgies. Many of us have seen a new Prayer Book, a new Hymnal and new Bible translations in our lifetimes, yet we often cling anxiously to the old familiar hymns and words. A deacon friend of mine cautions that the seven last words of the church are, “We have always done it that way.”
Transitions can be fraught with anxiety and the fear of losing what we love and expect, of what makes us comfortable and lifts our souls to God. But, a system that cannot or will not embrace change, like the Neanderthals, is dead or dying. A system that sees possibility and opportunity in times of change is open to new life and new hope.
I think especially of the transitions that occur when parish clergy leave. Both the congregation losing its priest and the priest who is moving on are often fearful of letting go. I have seen this in the parishes where I have served as the interim rector, and I offer the following suggestions for the times when clergy leadership changes.
5 Ways Congregations in Transition Can Prepare for the Future
1. Trust that God is on the journey with you and that God has something new in store for you.
Don’t forget to say your prayers and to listen to God and to each other. Continuing to pray purposely and intentionally during an interim period embodies the conviction that you are living out God’s word and that you are a part of God’s mission.
2. Be adventurous.
Try something new and remember that it is only a trial. Have a plan to assess the outcome and be swift to revert to form if the new effort fails. At one parish, as the prayer list grew longer and longer, no one was able to make the hard decision to stop reading through all the names at every service. The interim clergy leader tried variations to make the intercessions briefer and less tedious and also led discussions on intercessory prayer.
While one family left because their soldier son’s name was not read each week, the endeavor got people thinking and talking about the purpose of prayer. They began listening to the weekly intercessions rather than tuning out when the long list of names began.
3. Changes in the worship space are upsetting to folks who have always sat in the same pew.
Move the furniture very slowly, and only if it is necessary. Before you make a change, explain what you are doing and why. In one church, a new priest tossed out the stained and frayed cushion that held the altar book, only to learn that it had been made from the vestments of the beloved founding rector. While he was repentant, the damage was done.
4. Be a cheerleader and supporter.
Identify and praise the strengths of the parish.
5. You are not there to strengthen a foundation upon which something worthwhile will happen someday.
You are there to lead the congregation in mission now. The parish is living and growing. One of the most attractive things to priests seeking a new cure is a new project begun during the interim. Such an endeavor shows that the parish claims and supports its mission and is open to new opportunities.
Small projects can have large impacts. A parish that focused mostly on social justice outside its walls developed an art show to celebrate the talents of the congregation. The fellowship and appreciation that evolved strengthened the parish considerably. Transitions can be important times of joy and camaraderie, of remembrance and gratitude, and of spiritual growth. Have fun. God is with you.
May the God of our loving, liberating, Lord Jesus Christ shower and empower you with the Power of Pentecost. Pax Christi.