My Episcopal church is fading before my eyes. Several months ago, (because I usually arrive late for services) I would find myself wedged into the last few seats in the back of the church. Then, a few months ago, I began to find plenty of seats, even for a latecomer. Now, there is row after row of empty pews as I walk in. The service is short, in large part because the offering is taken and communion distributed in record time. My church is emptying out.
We are in the interim between the unexpected departure of our rector and the hiring of a new one. The departure of the last rector was messy, and in short order the other two priests on staff left, as well. Now we rely on an interim (or “transitional”) priest and the vague hope that people will patiently wait for a new leader to arrive. That hope is poorly rooted in fact.
The lengthy interim seems to be a popular tactic in some denominations. The theory, as I understand it, is that a longer interim period allows for more deliberation. During that period of deliberation, a church can complete a “self-assessment” of its needs, and then spend months examining those needs and how they might be met by the new hire. Also, with more time between pastors (as this theory has it), the liturgical habits of the old minister can be washed away, so that the new one can establish her own.
I’m not a fan of this theory.