May 18, 2021

Lessons from a Rector Search

Searching for a new Rector for your parish is a significant undertaking. Searching for a new Rector during a global pandemic amplifies the significance exponentially.

Our previous Rector’s final Sunday was our last in-person gathering for worship in March of 2020. No one knew how long that closure would last; most of us – myself included – assumed we’d be through the worst of the pandemic by last summer. How wrong we were.

Given video conferencing technology, the challenge we faced was not how we, as a Rector Search Committee would meet, but rather how we would define who we were, who we are, and who we hope to become.

At the end of 2020, this caused us great pause. Do we write a Parish Profile from the perspective of 2019? Do we write from the vantage point of being in the midst of a pandemic? How do we discuss our hopes and dreams for the future when they seem inextricably linked to the progress we make as a world in combatting COVID-19?

The challenge of creating a Parish Profile and answering various questionnaires required by the Diocese was intensely meaningful, and continues to be so as we navigate our way through this process and through the pandemic. We are seeing ourselves so differently than we did one year ago. We no longer believe that a “return to normal” is going to happen. Speaking from my own experience, a return to normal would not even be desirable.

We cannot shy away from all that the COVID-19 exposed: huge disparities in our health care system, unfathomable gaps in wealth, racial injustice on multiple fronts, the politicization of science, climate change as a driver for future pandemics, the fact that most churches were in decline already, and much more.

And yet, as we are discovering, opportunities abound. Online worship in tandem with in-person worship is now a reality. We have a congregation that is no longer limited to those who physically attend our services. In the process of creating our Parish Profile, and in anticipation of the questions that we are going to ask the candidates for Rector, we engaged listening sessions with the youth and young adults of the Parish, gaining fresh insight from those who will be our future.

We’re discovering that the creativity that kept us bound together during our time apart will also serve us as we seek and call a new Rector, and then, together, create the next iteration of our Parish with truly open hearts and open minds, and a deep desire to grow.

My invitation to those of you not searching for a new Rector is to go through some form of this process. Perhaps it’s time to reach out to your congregation as if you were creating a new Parish Profile, and seek genuine input, particularly from those whose opinions might have been previously overlooked or discounted. You could involve your online congregation in this process as well. How would you talk to a Rector candidate about the journey that you’ve been on as a faith community over this past year, and how would you describe, in broad terms, your hopes and dreams for the future? I promise that if you do, you will be richer for it.