May 2018
Clergy and Lay Transitions

No Time to Hibernate

“Transition” can mean many things in the context of congregational life. It typically refers to the process of finding new ordained leadership and everything that happens between the former rector’s departure and the arrival of the new clergy leader. This transition period is often a time when congregations choose to stay the course and ‘hibernate,’ remaining in a comfortable stasis while waiting for the search committee to find a new rector. Actually, it’s an ideal time for increased activity, community involvement, and evangelism. During the transition period, a congregation can go back to the basics of who they are and what they are called to do. It can be a time to grow more healthy, faithful and sustainable, to continue to fulfill their calling as the body of Christ in their context and their community.

Take stock, communicate and grow

An interim offers the perfect opportunity to take stock of what works, what does not work and what your congregation might want to try. Having solid, strong and trustworthy lay leadership, is essential. While there may be an interim rector in place, it is important to remember that it is the congregation — not the priest — that is the church. The most important and most valuable gift a congregation can be given at this time is transparency. There must be constant and clear communication from the vestry and search committee to the rest of the congregation at this time. When the congregation knows what is going on, even if details cannot be shared, they have more confidence in their church. More confidence means they’ll feel good talking with friends and co-workers about events and happenings at their church. These conversations build energy and excitement that can lead to inviting others to a church service or event, invitations that inspire community involvement and engagement. Seeing all the good things happening at a church, especially during a search process or transition time, is appealing for newcomers. It’s a good way to make your church a place where people want to be.

When communicating with your congregation during this time, make sure to seek their input as well. Listening to your fellow parishioners and to the community at large, becomes very important. The use of small groups organized by age group, interests, ministry involvement, etc., is a great way to find out what is important to members and why they attend. It is, as well, a tool to help you engage in new and different ways with your local community. The groups are also a way to learn what might need work, what might not be working and what ministries/outreach could be initiated.

Use what you learn to invite candidates—and others—into ministry with you

Critical data you gather from the small groups will inform your search committee as they write the parish profile, OTM (The Office for Transition Ministry) profile and revamp the church website. A transition is the perfect time to update the church’s website. Usually the first impression a person has of your church, the website should be visually appealing and informative, but not overbearing. Candidates looking for jobs will be examining your profile, OTM and website. Knowing and spotlighting the ministries that are important to your congregation improves the chances that you will attract candidates who share your vision of ministry.

The goal of a transition period is to find a new priest to lead the congregation. Remember that this priest is not coming to create your congregation, but to lead it. Your faith community is constantly in creation and experimenting new ways of being the church. Your new rector is not coming to tell you how to evangelize, you are already doing it. This transition provides an important opportunity to proclaim what you believe in and to invite people to be a part of it. Keep your eye on the smaller goals along the way, and remember that a transition is an opportunity to develop and grow the whole church.

Victor Conrado serves as the Associate for Ministries for the Diocese of Chicago. Before being called to serve as Associate for Ministries in the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, Victor served for six years as Assistant Rector for Latino/Hispanic Language Ministries at St. Mark Episcopal Church, Glen Ellyn, IL. Victor was a Roman Catholic Missionary Priest who worked for 11 years in Kenya, Africa. Victor was received into the Episcopal Church in 2011.

Louisa McKellaston is the Assistant for Ministries in the Diocese of Chicago. Louisa works directly with congregations in transition and assists the Director and Associate for Ministries with transition work. Louisa previously served as the youth minister at Church of the Holy Nativity in Clarendon Hills, Illinois and is a two-time Deputy for General Convention.


This article is part of the May 2018 Vestry Papers issue on Clergy and Lay Transitions