As members of Grace Church, you have some interesting times ahead of you. During the coming year or so, you’ll begin the search process for a new rector. That’s a daunting proposition, especially given that Dysfunctional Bob managed to settle in for 30 years. So, here is some advice for you, worth exactly what you paid for it.
To begin, it’s important to approach the future without bias. A great many of you think Bob Malm’s wonderful, but if you are able to take a step back from the superficial charm, Bob really has not been a great rector. Whether it’s his costly decision to buy a personal residence, the ludicrously generous compensation package he jammed through the vestry, his interfering with the operation of the vestry, his lack of interest in the administrative side of his job, his sense of entitlement, or his stupid decision to drag the church into litigation, all have been profoundly damaging to the church over time. Yet few within the church recognize this, and it’s going to be hard for parishioners to gain perspective.
It’s also true that the church is damaged goods. Real leaders left the parish long ago, and behavior that you all consider normative is profoundly unhealthy. This includes the belief, seen on many fronts within the church, that if you don’t get your way, or you don’t like something, it’s appropriate to bully others. Both the choir and the altar guild have repeatedly shown this behavior, and the way people talk to and about each other is just ugly. The mere fact that folks at the church think it’s okay to urge others to commit suicide reveals just how toxic Grace has become. And Bob Malm’s courtroom perjury is so over the top that outsiders likely can’t even comprehend how troubled the church really is, let alone believe that a priest behaves like this.
With that in mind, it’s very important that your next priest not be a narcissist. Self-absorbed, with a sense of superiority and entitlement, narcissists often exhibit great charm. They are often very articulate, and great actors, adept at saying just the right thing at the right time. They also invariably lack real empathy for others, and believe that that the ends justify the means.
The problem is that such behavior is profoundly toxic and counter to Christianity.
Instead, your next rector needs to be someone whose primary goal is servant leadership, someone who is focused on healing, reconciliation, health and wholeness.
Churches being what they are, you’ll be tempted to fall for the so-called shiny new penny—the man or woman who visits the nave and says in a seemingly sincere voice. “This…is a holy place.” That person will deliver a great sermon and come with legions of admirers.
Unfortunately, those also can be hallmarks of a narcissist. So your job will be find the rector who’s articulate, friendly, but also compassionate and service oriented. The right candidate may not be the rock star that the narcissist seems to be, but instead will be solid, steady, hard-working, and loving.
There also will be a tendency to want to draw on those already known to the parish. This would be a mistake. Thus, following Bob’s retirement, folks will be quick to suggest pulling in David Crosby and others in close orbit. But David, of “Bobby Malm, You’re Amazing,” fame is nothing if not a Bob Malm fanboy. As such, drawing on David and similar sorts as supply clergy all but guarantees that you’ll get a heavy dose of what I’ll term “Bob Malm light.” That is the very last thing you need right now.
A final observation: Things have reached the point that if you flub the selection of the next rector, Grace Church will be gone within the next five years. You simply cannot get it wrong. So take your time, pull in lots of data points, and set aside the petty bullying and bickering. And consider actually praying and attempting to listen, versus propounding your own views.
You have a long, hard row in front of you.