January 2010

A warden’s guide: Surviving the process

Do you like me? This is the time to have wardens who like each other. There will be enough stress without personality clashes. I can be all things to all people — well, no, you can’t. Wardens should not serve as members/chairs of the profile or search committees. Your responsibility is to keep the place running during this critical time. It will be a full time job.

Choose wisely. The wardens choose the members of the profile and the search committees. Make sure there is representation from all of the church constituencies. Keep it balanced by age, gender, service attended, newcomers,
old-timers, etc.

Be strategic. You are warden for a reason. You are respected in the parish, you know where the bodies are buried, you should be aware of potential mines. There will be folks who KNOW MORE, KNOW BETTER, KNOW WHO SHOULD BE THE NEXT RECTOR, KNOW THAT THIS IS TAKING TOO LONG and KNOW THAT THIS IS NOT HOW WE DID IT LAST TIME. Bring some of them into the process — a representative from this group should be on the profile committee, not on the search committee.

Communicate. Keep the parish informed about what is going on — even when there is not much to report. You can say the same thing ten times and still people will say they never heard it.

Be a cheerleader! Say thank you to the staff — this is a very stressful time for them. Say thank you to volunteers! Be present — this is time for wardens to be Marthas, not Marys.

Listen. Parishioners need to let you know what their concerns are, how they are feeling. After you listen, say thank you for sharing this information. Don’t make promises.

Use your diocesan resources. Some of us have a tendency to sort of forget that we aren’t the first church to be in this situation…that there may be others who can help. Use that help.

Clean house. This is the time to look critically at your church, get some work done. Is your membership list based in reality? Look at your staff — is it time to make some changes? You can be a true friend to your next rector if you make some tough decisions now so that he or she isn’t faced with the secretary who should have retired several years earlier.

Pray. Pray particularly for patience and a sense of humor.

Think of this time as the longest Advent season you have ever experienced — you are preparing the way for the new rector, for a time of growth and renewal for the church. It is good time, time worth spending.

As of January 1, 2010, Anne Burns finished her term as senior warden at Trinity Church, Princeton, New Jersey. Her remarks, along with Jim Sell’s, were initially prepared for the Consortium of Endowed Parishes.

This article is part of the January 2010 Vestry Papers issue on Transition