There seem to be a lot of clergy "in transition" these days.
That's not so unusual this time of year. Clergy - especially those with children - often make their move in the late Spring / early Summer. Good for the kiddies to start the new school year.
In this economy, clergy are often looking at dismal financial forecasts and making their move before the new program year begins.
Other clergy have "taken this congregation about as far as I can take them" and are actively looking for newer, fresher Vineyards of the Lord to live out their ordained vocation of leadership.
What I'm hearing is that there are far fewer positions of rector available. More and more, the positions come with the title "Priest-in-charge".
It's an interesting term.
Wiki has this entry:
"A priest in charge or priest-in-charge is a priest in charge of a parish who does not receive the temporalities of the parish. That is, he or she is not legally responsible for the churches and glebe, simply holds a licence rather than freehold and is not appointed by advowson. The appointment of priests in charge rather than incumbents (one who does receive the temporalities) is sometimes done when parish reorganisation is taking place or to give the bishop greater control over the deployment of clergy.Very Church of England. That being said, one should always look for the power dynamic behind the flowery language. You get a hint of it in the words "to give the bishop greater control over the deployment of clergy."
Legally, priests in charge are temporary curates, as they have only spiritual responsibilities. Even though they lead the ministry in their parishes, their legal status is little different from assistant curates. However, the term priest in charge has come to be used because the term curate often refers to an assistant curate, who is not in charge of a parish. The stipend of a priest in charge is often the equivalent to that of an incumbent, and so they are sometimes referred to as having incumbent status.
Incumbents include vicars and rectors.
In the Church of Ireland, priests in charge are referred to as bishop's curates."
Yes, well there it is, then, isn't it?
To that end, the Church of Ireland's term "Bishop's Curate" seems more honest. Indeed, if a priest is newly ordained - say, in the first five years of ordination - this can actually be a very satisfactory arrangement.
The Diocese of Connecticut has an interesting description:
The priest- in-charge fulfills the duties regularly given the rector by the canons of the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Connecticut, and prepares the parish to enter the search process.This is the way I have understood the title in its practical application in The Episcopal Church. In this particular description, the role sounds like a healthy balance of power.
During this preparation period the priest-in-charge works with the office of the Canon to the Ordinary. Under certain circumstances, the priest-in-charge may be called to be the rector, the bishop consenting, the vestry electing. If, however, the parish enters the search process, the priest-in-charge works with the diocesan team, including the bishop, canon for transition ministry and search consultant and is not eligible to be rector.
It's a way for the priest to serve as the interim clergy person with the option for both the priest and the congregation to consider if this might be a vocation for them both.
Sort of "rent with option to own".
Indeed, my predecessor at St. Paul's was first called there as "Priest-in-charge" then became rector after he lost the election as Bishop Suffragan in this diocese. I was also "Priest-in-charge" at House of Prayer in Newark for 18 months. I went on to become Canon Missioner to The Oasis.
Lately, however, I've been noticing that congregations have gone through an interim period, with an interim clergy in place and then, instead of calling a rector, they call another person to be "priest-in-charge" - usually for a three year contract.
This is not unusual for a congregation that can not afford a full time priest to work in a full time position.
Indeed, as I read the canons of The Episcopal Church, it's really the only way to call a priest to a part time position. Unless a congregation can afford a full compensation package - depending on the diocese, that's now anywhere from between $65 to $90,000 annually, when you add pension, health insurance, travel, housing, etc. - they can't afford the canonical status of 'rector'.
Which is an interesting situation, I think: that the status of "rector" is linked directly to the financial status of the congregation. Hmmm . . . my hermeneutic of suspicion is suddenly functioning at an even higher level.
Something tells me that this is not exactly what Jesus had in mind.
I also understand this situation when a priest comes to a congregation as Priest-in-charge with the possibility of becoming Rector after two or three years. It can become a 'prolonged engagement' - sort of an ecclesiastical version of living together without the benefit of marriage (which used to be known as 'living in sin') - but with the imprimatur of the church.
What I don't understand is the trend to complete the interim phase which culminates in the calling of a full time Priest-in-charge.
The fact that many of these full time Priest-in-charge are also women gives me considerable pause.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. I have noted that if the clergy person is a "newbie" this can be a very mutually satisfying "apprentice" period for everyone involved.
On the other hand, the congregation may be one which has been locked in an extended period of conflict. The stories about "clergy killer congregations" and "congregational killer clergy" are legendary.
If you haven't read Lloyd Rediger's book Clergy Killers: Guidance for Pastors and Congregations Under Attack, here's an excellent, balanced review of the book from Speed B. Leas for the Alban Institute.
The appointment of the Priest-in-charge by the bishop in a troubled congregation can be a very smart move.
Similarly, a Priest-in-charge can provide just the confidence-boost a financially and/or spiritually challenged congregation needs for a three year period to get them 'up to speed' and back on the road to health and wholeness.
I'm not concerned about any of that.
I'm concerned about the seeming plethora of otherwise healthy congregations going through an interim period, through the rigorous self-study, profile writing and clergy search process, only to call not a full-time rector but a full time "Priest in charge".
That causes my left eyebrow to raise in suspicion.
For one thing, according to the canons, a full time rector has life-tenured status. This is important because the church, in her wisdom, recognizes that when one preaches the gospel, one is bound to make some people uncomfortable.
This is known as a good thing. The rector ought not be fired simply for making someone uncomfortable because s/he preached the gospel of Jesus Christ who was crucified "once, for all" for the same thing. Thank you, Jesus.
Should the rector break canon or civil law, of course s/he deserves to be fired. But, s/he shouldn't have job security threatened for reasons of style or whim or passing fancy.
The issue really has to do with a transfer of power. Rectors, canonically, have lots of power. Vicars and Priests-in-charge don't. That's because Vicars and Priests-in-charge are not the rector of the church. The bishop is.
Vicars and Priests-in-charge do not have "temporalities of the parish" - including life tenure.
As has been pointed out to me, the more Vicars and Priests-in-charge, the more power is invested in the bishop's office.
Is your left eyebrow starting to raise in suspicion?
I'm not sure what this trend means. I only know that my clergy colleagues are noting that there is an increasing disintegration of the bishop's role as "chief pastor" to the pastors of the flock as more and more power shifts to the office of the bishop.
Title IV - Ecclesiastical Discipline - changes in Canon Law started that process. Essentially, if a priest is charged with "conduct unbecoming" or even a serious canonical or civil offense, the priest is deemed "guilty until proven innocent" - no matter how specious the charges.
The bishop, de facto, ceases to be a pastor to the priest. Arrangements are made for the priest to seek outside counsel and support, but the pastoral relationship with the bishop is seriously strained until the matter is settled.
There was an article in the NY Times yesterday entitled, "Taking a break from the Lord's work."
The opening two paragraphs read:
The findings have surfaced with ominous regularity over the last few years, and with little notice: Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could.No mention is made of this particular trend of "Priest-in-charge", but, from what I'm hearing from my colleagues, it's one of the contributing factors. More and more clergy are feeling more and more isolated and dis-empowered.
Public health experts who have led the studies caution that there is no simple explanation of why so many members of a profession once associated with rosy-cheeked longevity have become so unhealthy and unhappy.
Oh, some will argue that clergy have had too much power - and have abused what power they have. I can't argue with the later argument. As a people, we seem to be losing confidence in those in offices that were once considered bastions of integrity and trust: police, doctors, "the government".
The church and her ordained have not escaped either accurate charges of abuse of power or the ensuing loss of confidence and trust of her people.
I'm not arguing that. I'm also not suggesting that there is anything necessarily nefarious in the shift from rector to "Priest-in-charge".
I'm just raising my left eyebrow in suspicion.