What is an Interim Rector?

Ruth Desiderio, Rector’s Warden

The dog days of summer are upon us and last week’s scorching temperatures were enough to sap the energy of even the hardiest among us.  And yet, St. Paul’s is abuzz with activity. Any visitor to the church campus during this season of Rummage-tide can witness the annual transformation of the Parish Hall into a marketplace of donated treasures.  Those who have braved the heat on any given Sunday morning will have had the privilege of hearing Canon Albert preach.  While Canon Albert’s preaching is certainly a visible sign of his presence among us, it is important for us all to understand the general, though not so visible, role of an Interim Rector for a parish in transition and Albert’s partnership with the vestry.

The Role of an Interim Rector

Generally, the  interim rector, working with the vestry, provides the leadership necessary to maintain stability during the interim period. He or she brings a “non-anxious presence” to an uncertain, grieving, or conflicted congregation. A key task is to help the congregation complete its disengagement from previous leadership as it begins the self-study related to the search process. The interim rector must come to the parish in transition with an understanding that decisions need to be made in consultation with the vestry. He or she should demonstrate patience and flexibility, and above all, a robust sense of humor. See Visible Signs of an Effective Interim Rector for more insight into this important role.

The Role of the Interim Rector at St. Paul’s

With a clear understanding of the general role of an interim rector, your vestry prayerfully discerned the current strengths and needs of St. Paul’s. The strengths are many and include –but are not limited to — our diversity, service, history, music, stewardship, and education. The vestry then prioritized the needs during this interim period in the following three areas:

Communication and Administration: supporting the administrative needs of current programming; encouraging effective communication between staff members, lay leaders, and the parish; and supporting the development of a 21st century digital presence for St. Paul’s.

Welcoming New Members and Connecting Current Members: supporting lay leadership in creating a new system for welcoming visitors and new members into the church during this transition period, as well as strengthening our connections with one another.

Youth Engagement: Recent transitions have created a gap in leadership to grow and sustain a youth program to complement our strong church school enrollment.  Our children, youth and family programming requires ongoing clergy engagement and support.

Your vestry subsequently — and again, prayerfully — discerned that Canon Albert should be called to partner with us as we prepare to call our  next rector. Canon Albert and the vestry are working in very close collaboration to look at every aspect of St. Paul’s life with a fresh eye. He and I (as your rector’s warden) are in frequent — if not daily —  communication and are working in full partnership. I am delighted at the energy with which Canon Albert and your lay leadership are tackling the intricate work of evaluating “how St. Paul’s rolls”. Examples of some of the not-so-visible work that is occurring includes the following:  a small subcommittee is reviewing and revising the parish bylaws; the vestry’s coordinating committee is exploring options for engaging an associate rector by October; building usage and efficiency is being evaluated, and plans to break ground on capital campaign projects are falling into place.

There is so much work to be done and it is a labor of love for those of us who are charged with preparing not only for the calling of our permanent rector, but for the future of St. Paul’s in the years to come.

Next week: The role of the diocesan search consultant and next steps in the process.

Visible signs of an effective interim rector:

  • Being a big booster of the work of the Parish Profile/Self-Study Committee. Without the widest participation of the congregation in the initial process, mistakes are more likely to happen.
  • Encouraging lay leadership — it is, after all, their church, not the rector’s.
  • Offering the congregation a new model of ministry that is different from the past, without denigrating that past. The new rector will be yet a third model, so the interim rector is the way for him/her to live within his/her predilections.
  • Teaching — reintroducing the congregation to what it means to be an Episcopalian, a Christian, a part of a spiritual community. There is no better time to go back to the basics, no matter how strong the adult Christian education program has been.
  • Strengthening the relationship between the parish and the bishop and diocesan staff. An interim period is prime time for renewing relationships and a strong interim rector can broker a healthful spirit.
  • Doing all in his/her power to create a solid financial ground upon which a new rector can build institutional health. This may include a retrenching of some programs, so the new rector can build afresh.
  • Being responsive to the Discernment (Search) Committee, but not nosy. He/she can answer questions of procedure, process and church etiquette, but their work is not the business of the interim rector.
  • Working closely with the rector’s warden and the vestry
  • Reflecting the understanding that the interim period is about re-creation of the life and spirit of the congregation.
  • Honoring the fundamentals of ministry: stewardship, worship, adult and children’s education, evangelism, outreach and pastoral care.

Adapted from Interim rectorship: Shalts and Shalt Nots by Jim Sell