Maintaining a healthy work environment and a healthy spiritual home

The Vestry is currently revising our personnel policies and procedures and it is good for the parish to hear about some best practices that make sense and ensure a balanced and healthy relationship between the congregation, the Vestry and our dedicated staff.

First of all, we need to thank our staff team for all the challenges and commitment they have shown over this past two years. An Interim period is challenging for everyone, but particularly the staff team who are either sensing they may be on the way out, or others who are new and may guess their shelf-life may be as short as the interim period itself. Add to all of this uncertainty, the impact of COVID-19, and we are so grateful to everyone on staff who ensured this ship weathered the storm and no-one was lost at sea during the past 18 months of lockdown and recovery.

Anticipating the tradition where the new rector hires his or her own team, everyone currently on staff is coming from a servant leadership position, where each staff member is seeking the common good and willing to serve the new rector (assuming Fr. Eric wants to continue to have this present configuration) so he can ease into a new team, once he finds his feet and understands the future needs of the parish. We have several very dedicated and skilled part-time positions – Communications Associate, Marisa Curcio and my Administrative Assistant, Paul Diefenbach and they are willing to stay on through the Fall to keep everything going until more permanent positions are approved and funded. Dan Kline, as Associate Rector and Andy Kotylo as Music Director have more detailed contracts and benefits where pension, continuing education allowances and time to renew and professionally nurture, are simply expected from the Diocese and the National Church. Fr. Eric will also be entitled to two weeks a year for continuing education, four weeks’ vacation and a sabbatical every seven years -all of which are designed to help the next rector stay physically and spiritually healthy. It will be important to plan a regular day or two off (in lieu of weekends), even though it is sometimes difficult to do that as parish emergencies happen. But Fr. Eric has a family and will have to find ways to balance work and play, family and congregational commitments and the parish needs to be cognizant of the workload in a parish of this scale. After two years here, where I was initially on my own for the first 6 months before Dan came and days off simply did not happen, it was easy to get run down and sick. My first summer was challenging and without a planned vacation in 2019, I simply worked myself into the ground and no wonder shingles got me in 2020!

One of the ways this balance and expectation can be enhanced is through Mutual Ministry Review. The Vestry and Rector clearly lays out in writing what is expected, what goals they are agreeing to work on together over the course of a year, or five years. Everyone on staff now has a job description and annual review and it is much easier to find work balance when you know what everyone is expecting you to do. Even the Rector needs this clarification and structure, and it means we don’t all get too far down the road and get in trouble. Usually, Mutual Ministry Review happens with an independent consultant who facilitates the dialogue, and this conversation can been really helpful to all parties when you feel your concerns are being heard. The Vestry does not evaluate a Rector in the way most of us think of work supervision. This is a MUTUAL review.  It is very difficult to rally evaluate oneself or a Vestry when clear goals, roles and expectations are not clearly laid out. This has been something that marked the success of the interim period and we can celebrate the things we have done and acknowledge the things left undone or are still aspirational. This helps prepare the way for building trust and celebrating shared vision and values.

Feedback is important to a Rector, especially in the first couple of years. There is a joke about ministry. In your first year as a rector, you can do no wrong. In the second year, you can do nothing right! By the third year, if you haven’t left or been asked to resign, the Rector has worked out a healthy balance of how she or he can share ministry and get feedback. Without a clear plan, it is easy for individuals to direct criticism and opposition to a particular direction their priest or vestry feels we need to take. I know St Paul’s well enough to say we have an abundance of leadership…. both a blessing and challenge in having so many brilliant and experienced people around who have opinions about everything! Yet, it is easy to misdirect feedback and criticism and we will see how long it takes before the new rector learns how the culture at St Paul’s (sometimes not too kind to its clergy) is something that encourages open and transparent feedback or not. This is really needed through the canonical channels of Vestry and Rector’s Warden), or, needing independent outside consultants to deal with conflict issues (and we still have residual issues from the past that certainly have surfaced in my time) or balancing feedback to the congregation (no-one likes to be preached at!) Forgive me for those times where the better and wiser side of me was overshadowed by that clergy propensity that also needs to be kept in check. There are times when the Rector will need to have those “Come to Jesus”conversations with the congregation and the staff but hopefully, Mutual Ministry Review, a balanced personal and professional life and the Grace and Fellowship of the Holy Spirit will ensure a long and healthy pastorate, a happy and dedicated staff team and a congregation on fire for ministry in all its wonders.

My first Rector, Rev. Norman Barr, while standing in the graveyard of Derriaghy, just outside Belfast, would remind me that parish families had been buried here for generations and it was the clergy who were often the ones passing through. For most of us clergy, there is a temptation to create a congregation in our own image, but I remember Norman’s wise words as I too begin to see the close of my time with you as your priest. I have loved and respected the great traditions of this church and hope I am leaving it better than I found it. There are some wonderful moments and challenging losses and blows we have all lived through. Encouraging staff to take time off, go on vacation with their loved ones, plan continuing education and come back to us, renewed and refreshed, knowing parish life is unpredictable and weekends off are limited to maybe 6 or 8 a year (if you are lucky). Weekends are often sacrificed by our families also because of what we do in churches, so how will Eric and Shyla and their family have the time they need and deserve, without too many complaints from people who want personal chaplains? How will you affirm and challenge him, learn to deal directly rather than triangulate or gossip behind his back? Gossip is such an admission of failure – we indulge in it, and it is an admission of our own powerlessness, rather than having a direct conversation with the person or body we are a part of. These shadow forms of communication make us spiritually and physically ill and when we get worn down or worn out, we say and do things we can later regret. Christ calls each one of us to new and abundant life and to see in each other the image and love of God is healing and affirming. When a church community begins to live out and practice their own health, it is a beautiful thing and people automatically want to be a part of it. This is the aspirational vision of the realm of God that we are here to explore, to build and to enjoy.