Dear Colleagues in Ministry,
Bishop Barry is away in the Holy Land, serving as Chair of the AFEDJ board, and he asked me to write this aurora message today.
While much of our attention is focused on the bishop search and the larger transition that we are all experiencing together as a diocese, I want to draw your focus to the arc of clergy transitions in this diocese over the past five years. I arrived four years ago, and see from my 'insider/outsider' perspective that we are currently experiencing a tectonic shift in our clergy culture in this diocese. We have had a huge influx of new priests and deacons to this diocese: deacons and priests newly ordained, called, or assigned to congregations.
18 out of 43 deacons are new to our diocese in the past five years.
We have had 15 vocational deacons ordained in this diocese, plus three more who have moved here, enriching the diocese with new ministries and leadership. We have a total of 43 deacons who are licensed and/or canonically resident, which means that almost half of our current deacons are new in the past five years. Combined with the fact that two-thirds of our congregations have also called a new priest, we are experiencing a vast shift in our diocesan clergy culture.
42 out of 69 of our churches have called a new priest
to their congregation in the past five years, either discerning a call to the Priest-in-Charge, who is appointed by the bishop; or discerning and electing a Rector, the election then being approved by the bishop according to canon law.
Let's look at some of the dynamics and how we got here.
As Canon to the Ordinary, I serve as the Transition Officer for the diocese. That means the bishop has assigned me to shepherd congregations of all sizes through their transition in calling a new priest. This process involves three primary groups of lay leaders: the Vestry, Profile Committee, and Applicant Review Committee. These groups work directly with me and our bishop's office staff support - and sometimes additionally with a consultant from the staff, such as the Rev. Betsey Monnot, or other consultants from our diocese such as the Rev. Jeanne Forte.
These transitions last over a year, from the creating of these lay committees through to the election or appointment of the priest. Sometimes our transitions last longer, with the appointment of an interim priest to help the congregation shift from one priest to another, and identify their core mission.
Critical to this discernment is the understanding that the work and life of the church is not on 'pause' when a priest leaves. Our mission as a church rests in our baptismal identity as the body of Christ, and is expressed in how we live out that mission in our particular context, with our unique gifts and graces as a congregation. Some (most!) of the leadership needed for this mission rests within the congregation itself: the laity hold enormous responsibility and gifts that must be identified in the discernment process. Leadership is also rightly held by the clergy leaders: deacons and priests who serve the congregation. Unique then, is the leadership and authority held by the priest called to that congregation as Rector or Priest in Charge. Even as we identity the gifts that our congregation has, our discernment process concurrently identifies the skills, gifts, and experiences that we hope our new priest would hold, and we remain open to the surprise that the Holy Spirit might have for us, too!
In the past five years, from 2013 through today, we have experienced an unprecedented number of transitions in the priestly leadership of our congregations. Here are some numbers that might be interesting to you:
11 Rector elections
3 completed Priest-in-Charge to Rector elections
3 current Interim Rectors, with election to take place in the next 18 months
3 Priest-in-Charge to Rector discernment processes taking place now, in their earliest stages, with completion in the next 18 months
Total: 19 new Rector elections complete or in process
23 Priest-in-Charge call processes
: this includes part time and full time, churches sharing one priest, both parishes and missions, some priests new to the diocese, and some priests relocating from one congregation to another.
Six Assistant Clergy positions new in the past five years:
this includes Assistant Rector positions with full duties, some focused on youth and children's ministries or other specialized areas of focus. All of the positions were new to the congregations. We currently have five full time assistant clergy positions filled (or about to be) in this diocese, with one vacant during an extended discernment around budget and program, with one (and possibly two) additional positions when the congregation is ready.
Add to that the influx of new deacons, and we have a new culture emerging in this diocese.
What does this mean? In part, we can see some trends in the priests who are called to our diocese. Most significant in the life of the diocese, all of our discernment processes have affirmed the role of the diaconate as a full and equal order. That is a non-negotiable; and I assist our churches to understand and articulate that we want priests who are excited to work in partnership with deacons. Our priests are well educated, with life experience, academic degrees, and formation that is diverse and rich. Our congregations are calling younger priests who are under 35 years of age; more women as rectors, and we have an increase in priests who are in their first 'cure' or placement in a congregation.
Now, more than ever in the history of this diocese, we have the opportunity to shape the clergy culture of our church. I see a group of priests
- new to the diocese, established in ministry, and newly retired
- who love Jesus, who live their lives in service to the church and to this diocese, and who are dedicated to the life of a priest: teaching, preaching, being pastorally present, and empowering the ministry of the baptized. I see a vibrant diaconate that is firmly established and ready to raise up a new generation of deacons. I see our laity engaged in healthy, faithful discernment to claim their own baptized ministry and in that context to call priests who are healthy and vibrant, who express clearly their love of God and the power of Christ to change lives, and who are excited to be here in this diocese.
What are you doing to engage and shape this new culture? What do you need from the bishop's office that would help in this new adventure we are on together? We have the opportunity to create something new together, as we look to this new horizon: priests, deacons, and laity - baptized, ordained, and called together in this time of transition and renewal. All of this rests in the context of our discernment for a new bishop, and the new ministry that he or she will bring and call forth from us.
My role as your canon is to stay connected, to resource, and provide support for your ministry in this place - to the best of my ability - creating teams to work together and share ministry, and to be faithful stewards of all God has given to us. I love this particular ministry, and pray that we continue to be blessed as we live and serve together in this beautiful diocese.