(Huff Po) Mark Osler–Is a lengthy interim between head parish ministers really a good idea?

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.

Read it all.


Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, Episcopal Church (TEC), Ethics / Moral Theology, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Theology, Theology

4 comments on “(Huff Po) Mark Osler–Is a lengthy interim between head parish ministers really a good idea?

  1. Jeff Walton says:

    Osler certainly paints a bleak picture of sudden decline in his own parish. One of the justifications for a long interim period between rectors was that the interim priest could function as a “sacrificial lamb” that everyone could be upset with, then following his/her time of leadership, the new rector would be received well.

    It has been the experience of many in TEC that quickly moving from one rector to the next is a jarring process. Like Osler, I can see that an overly long caretaker phase can be equally problematic, with the church harmed by a cold lack of inertia rather than harmed by the heat of disagreement and conflict.

  2. MichaelA says:

    I understand his point, but I am rather surprised at the details. He says that in the space of “a few months” his church went from “I find myself wedged into the last few seats in the back of the church” to almost every pew being empty.

    I can understand a church being practically full, and I can understand a church being almost empty. But moving from one to the other in a few months? Does anyone know more about this particular congregation?

  3. Jeff Walton says:

    He mentioned that the previous rector’s departure was “very messy” — this can have a significant negative impact on a congregation.

    The nearby St. Stephen’s in Edina has dropped from an ASA of 500 to 300 in 2013. They have a “transition priest” right now, so I suspect this is the congregation Osler is writing about.

    I have a friend whose father was on staff as an assistant at St. Stephen’s for many years. He retired a few years ago and is now at the ACNA congregation in Hopkins, Church of the Cross.

  4. MichaelA says:

    Okay, good point. And I note he says also that they had two other priests who left at the same time as the “messy” departure of the rector. But if its really 500 to 300 then sure, that is not good, but his description of the decline seems overly dramatic…

    Anyway, I am glad to hear that your friend’s father has found a home at Church of the Cross. They seem to have a remarkable story, founded as an independent Anglican congregation in 2002 and now part of ACNA and still going strong. May the Lord bless their ministry.