One of the things that looms large for Grace Church is the need for an interim rector. But do folks at the parish understand what interim ministry is, and what it does? More importantly does the diocese understand the importance of interim ministry? The answers are not clear, but one thing is certain: A successful interim ministry is essential for Grace Church’s future.
So what is interim ministry?
Interim ministry grew out of studies by the Alban Institute after years of failed calls and an effort to understand what was happening and why. What they discovered is that there is a natural developmental process that occurs and it can be facilitated and it can be blocked or undermined, accidentally or deliberately.
Not everyone who does interim ministry is trained or has a clue what an interim should be doing. Here are the stages.
- Coming to terms with history
- Clarifying identity
- Raising up new leadership
- Developing denominational linkages
- Welcoming a new rector
When a call results in a new rector leaving within 2-3 years, it’s almost always a sign of a failed interim process. Yet for all the change DioVA has experienced in recent years, including the property recovery litigation, the diocese has a very mixed record in this department. For example, the rebuilding of The Falls Church seemingly has gone well, despite the need for the continuing congregation to again learn what it means to be a church. The Church of the Epiphany Herndon got off to a very bumpy start, but has done well under the current rector. St. Thomas’ McLean, which had a clergy disciplinary case a few years ago, was a bloody disaster marked by a clueless diocese that refused to provide meaningful pastoral care to the parish during the transition, redeemed only by the arrival of the current rector, who by all accounts is wonderful and very healing. In the case of St. Thomas,’ there was no real interim ministry, and the damage was lasting.
In the case of Grace, Bob’s legacy is a very troubled parish, with a lot of work to do. Sadly, very few within the parish recognize the extent of the issues, or in many cases, that there’s any issue at all. Thus, it will take a courageous interim to surface these issues, and to create a safe environment to work towards resolution and healing.
To make matters worse, it is not clear that the diocese recognizes the problems at Grace. As I’ve said before, the diocese has an unparalleled ability to mess up even the best situation, and it can be both remarkably clueless and amoral. So there’s a real possibility that the diocese will not recognize the issues at hand until it’s too late. And frankly, the diocese should have recognized long ago the problems at Grace, but it either didn’t, or ignored the problems. But then, this is the diocese that had an ACNA clergy person on the staff at Mayo House, so no suprises there.
So, what can parishioners do to ensure success? My suggestion is to learn as much as possible about the interim process, what it involves, and what the outcomes are supposed to be. And if the diocese blows you off — as it may well do — you need to insist. There simply is no room for failure.
Similarly, you need parishioners to understand the issue, understand why it’s important, and why the church is headed for very difficult times if the interim period fails. Vestry members and other leaders need to take ownership of these issues, and to help members understand that the parish has no future if members are going to behave as they have during Bob’s time with the parish. There is no excuse for bullying other parishioners, ever. And the vestry needs to resume its rightful role—the notion that the rector appoints the executive committee and otherwise interferes with the functioning of the vestry is bad for the rector, bad for the parish, and bad for church members.
A good starting point is the online resources available from the national church, with one example available here in PDF.
For those interested, here is a diagram of the process: