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Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Priest-in-charge

I've been noticing an interesting trend in the church of late.

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.

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."
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."

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.

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.
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.

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.

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.
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.

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.

26 comments:

REH said...

I have always found the use of terminology, and the differing interpretations of same, interesting. In my diocese, the term "priest-in-charge" usually refers to the rector of a mission (financially dependent to some extent on the diocese), as opposed to a financially independent parish, who has a rector. The transitional position you are referring to in your post we usually refer to as interim rector.

Denise Yarbrough said...

Amen, sister. I'm noticing the Priest-in-Charge thing too, and while it certainly has its uses, the additional power it gives the bishop to micro-manage clergy deployment is cause for the raised eyebrow! We've even seen "interim Priest-in-charge" which completely confuses me!!

Fr Craig said...

Around my diocese, it appears that 'priest in charge' is usually a retired priest taking services and pastoral care for a parish that cannot afford a full-time rector...

Muthah+ said...

I believe that the pNc is really just one more way that those who do not appreciate the checks and balances and the need in our democratic polity for equality among the orders get around having to deal with that equality.

In other words, it is the haves in society making it impossible for the have nots to have a say in the running of the community.
We are seeing this break down in our US constitution in the breakdown of the judicial branch and we are seeing it in the Church by the break down of the position of rector.

I have always loved the equality that was written into our C&C but what they have done to Title IV has made it almost impossilbe to be anything but an ass licker to the bishop. There is no respect between bishops and clergy because they are on equal footing anymore.

As one who never cared for the Anglo-Catholic adoration of the episcopacy, I have become outraged over the past 15 years of how the RC standard of adoration of the episcopacy has unbalanced the leadership of the three orders.

If this era of the Emerging Church is going to be anything for the future, the position of rector is going to have be re established and the organization of the clergy is going to have to be more intentional than it has been over the past 15 years.

word veri: ambioni

Andy said...

Perhaps 815 is taking a que from 1600 in an effort to consolidate control and ensure conformity. A thought perhaps

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Someone pointed out to me another difference between "Interim" and "PIC". In this diocese, anyway, the bishop gives the parish 3-5 names of possible Interim clergy. The parish then chooses, the bishop approves, the parish hires. The interim works for the parish, but the bishop remains rector. With a PIC, the bishop makes the selection and s/he works for the bishop as part of the "transition team."

It's a slight nuance of power, but the Interim actually gives the congregation a little more - perhaps the illusion - of control.

I learned long ago that the whole Bishop = Father in God is a set up for real dysfunctional behavior.

Funny how some can praise the whole "self-differentiated self" as a healthy model and then consolidate power in their office.

Mary Jo Campbell said...

Glebe is such a fine word! I had to ask Kathryn Piccard (partner) what it meant. Does the Vicar of Dibley have a glebe? The ABC??? Perhaps we would all be better off tending to them. Think of the food and exercise not to mention the regular reminders of the quirks nature can manifest upon us.
I will now go off and tend to my small garden in Charlestown and ponder cabbages and glebes.

Malcolm+ said...

Ironically, even the title "Priest in Charge" implies far more authority than actually accruse. The priest in charge isn't really in charge of much - and by custom if not canon, has very little authority to change anything. I never liked the title, both for its inaccuracy and for its rhetorical perpetuation of an unber-heirarchical ecclesiology.

When I began at the place where I currently hang my biretta, the title the bishop and I both preferred was "interim priest." Circumstances (and the bishop's letter appointing me) actually gave me some broad scope for assisting the parish to assess its viability and potential and to consider things strategic.

While we do not have a canon against an interim appointee becoming the incumbent, we do have a strong custom against it. Thus I did not apply for the appointment when it was eventually posted, nor when a representative of the search committee specifically asked me to. Again, circumstances (and possibly the Holy Spirit) brought matters to a conclusion with my appointment following an unsuccessful search process.

Even so, I personally avoid the language of either incumbent (as per canon) or rector (as per custom), an my business card simply says "priest."

I note your observation regarding the sex of priests in charge as compared to rectors / incumbents. Up here in Canada, we have noted a similar discrepancy between stipendiary and non-stipendiary clergy, with both women and Aboriginal folk more likely to be non-stipendiary. Indeed, I think I may have been the only white male non-retired non-stipendiary in the diocese. Sometimes justice issues arise unintended - though that doesn't make them any less justice issues.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

MJ - I think "gleeb" is a wonderful word, too. Sounds like a great TV program on Fox, doesn't it? There's "Glee" and there could be "Gleeb" - the story of a country parson. Makes me giggle.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Malcolm - I think there are ENORMOUS justice issues involved here. And, you're right: The irony is that a "PIC" is actually "in charge" of very little.

Caminante said...

As one of those priests-in-partnership (not in charge), my eyebrows are less raised in suspicion because I am living out this reality. I was a rector of a congregation for 14+ years before coming to the current place. For all practical purposes, I am doing what I did before just with the occasional knowledge that I don't have an open term... yet.

The congregation felt burned by the previous rector's sudden leaving, and worn out from the conflict. They did not want to go through the whole nine-yard discernment process to end up with someone who might not be the right fit. They were not ready for the commitment that a rector takes.

By the same token, I have been so burned in the conventional search process that I realised the only way I was going to get a foot in the door was as a priest-in-partnership, that is, as the candidate the bishop put forward because in this case, the bishop knows the congregation and the candidates and has a better overview of the situation. By no means am I a toady of the bishop. That is not why I ended up where I am. I trust I am where I am because of the Spirit and the match of needs and gifts.

It has worked well for both of us. The vestry is more than ready to call me to be rector but I have told them we have one more year for the process, a year that frankly I want to clarify things before they are set in stone.

Sure, I feel as though I have gone from being a full professor with tenure to an associate professor without tenure and I am not as used to having six month check-ins with a diocesan consultant (someone I chose with whom I worked 17 years ago and is as solid as can be) and the vestry but these check-in periods have been useful to engage the congregation in discerning its future.

Also, I chose to come to the congregation as 80% so that I could continue my outside work without guilt. It also meant, yes, that they could afford me.

In Vermont, the gender differentiation is not quite as stark (male-female ration of rector/priest in partnership). Maybe that is because practically all of our positions now are part-time.

So just a word from the field from one who is living this odd reality.

wv: probco: probation period company

Bruce said...

The other complicating factor in all this is frequently financial. A familiar scenario is the departure of a rector; discussion with the diocese as to next steps; an intentional interim is not needed; realization that money is tight. Light bulb moment: how about a less than full-time “priest in charge?” Add to that the suggestion of a contract with a time limit and you’ve got either an arranged marriage or something akin to an escort service. I’ve seen too many parishes limp by with a locum tenens who is supplementing either a pension or a secular job. What was intended as a cushion becomes status quo. The people suffer from lack of permanent pastoral leadership; the clergy have one less deployment possibility. I’d say two eye-brows, not one, might then be raised.

Anonymous said...

In Western Massachusetts we often see PiC for new relationships -- sometimes even after a search process -- where all parties can opt out after some initially agreed period. It is functionally equivalent to rector in terms of responsibility and authority, but is easier to dissolve the relationship and does not involve change in canonical residency. The latter point has been useful to some priests who wanted to remain resident elsewhere for various reasons not having anything to do with whether they like WMass. (Or sometimes because they wanted *not* to be eligible for various diocesan tasks!)

It has sometimes been used for longer term interims, to confer greater authority -- but with a contracted period of service.

Here, missions have *vicars*, not rectors or priests-in-charge. We (I am one) function like rectors but can be removed by the bishop unilaterally.

Now if you want something inventive, we sometimes have "Priest in Residence", which has been used for someone who is serving in absence of a Rector/Vicar but who is eligible to become the next clergy leader.

While I suppose some bishops and deployment officers might use these alternatives to micromanage, that has not been my experience. Many are called directly to Rector. These other arrangements have definite utility for all concerned (IMO).

Eliot Moss, Vicar, St John's, Ashfield, Mass. (C3 WMass)

the parson said...

Well, missing from the conversation thus far is the old Latin term which has morphed, I believe it is true to say, into "priest-in-charge". That term is "locum tenens" or "[one who] holds the place".

It is my experience that the term "priest-in-charge" often changes definitions from diocese to diocese. Here in VA under Bp. Lee, the term meant two very different things: 1) one called by the Vestry in conjunction with the Bishop to serve in a church in change, perhaps finishing a building project, perhaps dealing with misconduct, perhaps simply in distress, but in each of these cases the congregation enjoyed church status and canonically had the right (on paper) to call a rector; 2) a priest called by the Vestry in conjunction with the Bishop which is not full time but also not formally a "mission" -- such a church is not permitted to call a rector until a full time salary can be paid. Of the latter, there are a number here in VA which at one point in history reached church status but even despite decline have resisted a return to "mission" status -- they get "priests-in-charge". In both of the cases outlined above, persons called/appointed to be "priests-in-charge" have the right to be elected rectors when the questionable conditions change. Prior to retirement, it was my privilege to serve here in VA as a priest-in-charge, a vicar and a rector and I must say that I did not experience any real differences in treatment at the level of the diocese, and frankly, did not experience any differences at the level of the parish either. I suppose in theory the bishop could have "unappointed" me, either as vicar or as priest-in-charge more easily than as rector if it came to that, but I never faced even a hint of episcopal displeasure -- quite the contrary, the diocesan staff was always both gracious and supportive, and while I did not purposely set out to rock any boats, neither was I a shrinking violet. It may have helped my time here that I came with a history of being a rector of some years standing and simply continued to behave that way regardless of title.

I've lived long enough to know that a lot of these dynamics can and do depend on who is the bishop and what are the bishop's needs/proclivities for exercising power and control. The good ones never, ever step in until their hands are forced, either by a request from the priest or from the church. Frankly, they have more than enough on their hands without having to micromanage individual congregations!

At least that is my take.

Jim Hammond
retired, Warrenton, VA

the parson said...

Well, missing from the conversation thus far is the old Latin term which has morphed, I believe it is true to say, into "priest-in-charge". That term is "locum tenens" or "[one who] holds the place".

It is my experience that the term "priest-in-charge" often changes definitions from diocese to diocese. Here in VA under Bp. Lee, the term meant two very different things: 1) one called by the Vestry in conjunction with the Bishop to serve in a church in change, perhaps finishing a building project, perhaps dealing with misconduct, perhaps simply in distress, but in each of these cases the congregation enjoyed church status and canonically had the right (on paper) to call a rector; 2) a priest called by the Vestry in conjunction with the Bishop which is not full time but also not formally a "mission" -- such a church is not permitted to call a rector until a full time salary can be paid. Of the latter, there are a number here in VA which at one point in history reached church status but even despite decline have resisted a return to "mission" status -- they get "priests-in-charge". In both of the cases outlined above, persons called/appointed to be "priests-in-charge" have the right to be elected rectors when the questionable conditions change. Prior to retirement, it was my privilege to serve here in VA as a priest-in-charge, a vicar and a rector and I must say that I did not experience any real differences in treatment at the level of the diocese, and frankly, did not experience any differences at the level of the parish either. I suppose in theory the bishop could have "unappointed" me, either as vicar or as priest-in-charge more easily than as rector if it came to that, but I never faced even a hint of episcopal displeasure -- quite the contrary, the diocesan staff was always both gracious and supportive, and while I did not purposely set out to rock any boats, neither was I a shrinking violet. It may have helped my time here that I came with a history of being a rector of some years standing and simply continued to behave that way regardless of title.

I've lived long enough to know that a lot of these dynamics can and do depend on who is the bishop and what are the bishop's needs/proclivities for exercising power and control. The good ones never, ever step in until their hands are forced, either by a request from the priest or from the church. Frankly, they have more than enough on their hands without having to micromanage individual congregations!

At least that is my take.

Jim Hammond
retired, Warrenton, VA

Bill said...

Someone said it right, it’s all about power. This is very much akin to corporate America where the trend is to out-source rather than hire full time permanent employees. The control which used to reside in the Parish is transferred to the Bishop (aka rector until a permanent rector is hired).
In Newark, this particular institution (PIC, Priest in Charge) seems to be the “love child) of the Canon to the Ordinary (aka a lawyer). I heard him wax poetic on the pluses of the new institution. I didn’t hear any negatives, but he was preaching the company line.
I think like anything else in this world it can be used for good and not so good. It can help a parish resolve some issues by giving them time but it can also leave the leadership of the parish impotent and without any real power. So, in the words of the ancients, “Caveat Emptor”

Rev Debbie said...

Back when I was in the Diocese of Massachusetts, a PIC was appointed by the Archdeacon and approved by the Vestry to serve as a temporary quasi-rector for a 3 year period. At the 2-1/2 year point, if Vestry and PIC are in agreement, the PIC can be elected as the rector. PICs were usually used: 1) at the end of a long rectorate, 2) after there was sexual or financial abuse by the previous rector, or 3) the parish (usually one that is financially challenged) needs some stability for a while before it can discern whether or not they are able to search/call a new rector.

Considering the highly dysfunctional parish I served in MA a few years ago, being PIC (as opposed to being an interim) gave me some canonical clout to address some serious parish management and staffing problems and deferred maintenance items. Over time, I managed to get new/competent Vestry members elected and hire a new music director. Eventually the parish became healthy and attracted many new members (though not enough to afford to hire me as a full-time rector).

Lately I notice more and more the trend for parishes in transition to use long-term supply priests, as opposed to either interims or PICs. In this way, the parish saves money, as it is not obligated to pay such regular compensation items as health insurance, pension, and vacation. Consequently, the parish is not getting the benefit of having a trained interim minister to help the parish truly transition and be prepared for accepting new clergy leadership. Unfortunately, the next rector becomes the unintentional interim.

I speak from painful first-hand experience. At my last parish, I followed a rector who was there for 34 years until his death. As the next rector, I became the unintentional interim and fought many battles with the Vestry, as I tried to get the parish to move forward. Instead, after six years and a cabal by the Vestry, I wound up resigning.

Now I am the long-term supply priest at a very small parish that has been on the brink of closing for a long time. Being their supply priest gives them stability and a chance to grow, while freeing me up to look for a new position.

Sadly, I have been searching for 18 months. My resignation seems to be a strike against me. And the bad economy is causing search committees to seek young, local-grown talent that seems to be a "sure bet" to grow the parish and attract families with young children.

At this point in time, I am considering applying for part-time interim or PIC positions or for a parish administrator job or going back to secular work. I need to find some sort of full-time work before my savings run out.

+David C. Anderson said...

I was in Holy Orders in TEC for 36 years, and during that time I noticed what seemed to be a continual erosion of power from parish vestries, and from parish rectors, to the diocesan office and the bishop.

This is not a liberal/conservative issue, but an issue of church polity, and if true, as I believe it has proven to be, is a huge power shift, and accounts for much of the grass roots injustice (liberal or conservative you can fill in the blank on the item) that congregations and clergy experience.

I am not sure that the shift in polity can be undone, but at least the laity can leave, although they may leave things they donated behind (current litigation noted) whereas for the clergy to leave, it involves a significant career disruption.

Those who have been in Holy Orders more recently may not notice the erosion, but during my years as a clergyman in TEC in five dioceses, I believed I could see and experience it.

+dca

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you all for your comments and the stories of your experiences. I think the thing is that we need a wider forum for these stories to be told - and heard - by laity and deacons and the episcopacy.

+David is right - it's not a 'left or right' problem. Any one on any side of the theological fence can be hurt by this trend. Debbie's story is one I keep hearing - especially women but also "newbie" priests who are just thrilled to be getting more than "supply" work in order to pay their bills.

I'm thinking a few more bishops need to practice a little more "servant leadership".

David and John said...

Something else to consider: Congregations who do not want a full-time Rector position. I know my church is unique, but we would not want a Rector (and the financial obligations that come along with that) even if we had the funds to provide for one. Our feelings are that if we had enough money laying around to fund that, then we are evidently not spending enough on mission and ministry.

In my church, the members of the congregation are the “ministers”. Laypersons are the ones who visit the sick, take the Holy Eucharist to the shut-ins, and other such things that most parishes leave up to the priest. We do have a priest, a wonderful person who is quite active in the life of our church, but who is retired. He celebrates the Mass on Sundays, and helps out with other things, but is not a fully salaried “Rector”.

While I realize that we are unique in this aspect, we were also designed to operate this way. We are a five year old congregation that was founded upon the “shared ministry” model…not the traditional “top-down” model. It works for us, but would be hard to do in an established parish.

A “PIC” can be a very good thing, but certainly not in all situations. A full-time Rector is an absolute necessity for congregations of a certain size.

The days of a parish with a full time Rector are coming to a close for all but the large sized parishes. There was a time when a parish of around 100 Communicants could afford a full time Rector, but these days it is no longer financially feasible. The parishes I know whose attendance averages less than 150 a week and have a full time Rector are spending the vast majority of their income to support the office of the Rector. Is this the most responsible way to allocate our resources?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

J&D - you raise some very important points and ask very important questions. I LOVE what you say about letting the priest be the sacramental agent in and of the church and EVERYONE doing mission and ministry.

That's not going to be such great news to some of my clergy friends but it is, for me, a healthy model - one I hope we see more of in the future.

Mama Tish said...

My husband, also a priest, is on a 5 yr. p-i-c contract in SW Virginia. His 2 yr. review came up, and he was basically asked to leave. If his review were good, he would have become rector and could have stayed until 2/20015, when he would have had to retire because of age (72 yrs.) He had never had an evaluation since arriving as Interim Rector (from outside the diocese) in 9/2006. So, after no negative feedback in almost 4 yrs., he is looking for a new Interim Rector position at a similar salary. In one of two positions he has at least had a response for, there are 6-8 other applicants (yikes!). To make a long story longer, we bought our retirement house here in the diocese, praying we'd be here until his 2015 retirement. I am on disability and cannot move every 1-3 yrs. as an Interim's spouse- the physical and emotional stress is too much for me. So, he'll be moving again and I'll stay alone in our retirement house; living alone is very hard for me because of my limitations. So, after thinking p-i-c charge was a pretty good deal for us, I too, have totally changed my opinion. Now, it is obvious the diocesan boilerplate contract for p-i-c may not have been worded well; kicking someone out after 4 yrs. without any ministerial evaluation and really no negative feedback surely is not fair or ethical.

Malcolm+ said...

Part of the question is whether the demographic sexual and racial discrepancy between rectors and priests in charge or between stipendiaries and non-stipendiaries is deliberate or an unintended consequence. Either way it is a justice issue, but a different kind of justice issue.

One of the other issues here is the frequent failure of the Church to deal with dysfunctional parishes that have a long history of repeatedly eating their clergy.

I once served a parish which had existed in it's current configuration for 25 years at the point I left. I was the fifth incumbent, and did not move to another clergy job. he day after I left, none of the five previous incumbents was working in a church job - and only one had left by a "usual" route (my predecessor had retired).

* The first incumbent left parish ministry and was working as a social worker.
* The second had left for an urban parish, from which he left the Anglican Church and had founded an independent "charismatic" church.
* The third, a man in his late 50s, was un(der)employed and living with his parents.
* Number four had retired.
* I worked at secular work for a year, went back to parish work too soon, suffered a breakdown and relinquished the exercise of my orders for 14 years.

None of those, on their own, meant anything in particular. Taken together, they should have raised alarm bells. The sixth incumbent, FWIW, went on long term disability, and the parish hasn't been able to afford an full time priest since, until recently entering into a larger configuration. But heaven forfend that anyone should actually point any of this out, or that anyone should actually confront a continual problem.

The flip side of this (and I hate to agree with the commentor over at Virtue Online) is that the Church also does a lousy job of dealing with clergy that are ineffective or malign.

But I rather suspect that, more often than not, it is simply episcopal fecklessness that allows small problems to become huge, combined with decision-making taken without any real awareness of power dynamics.

Joie said...

So much swirling around here. I am both a priest-in-charge in one parish and a rector in another. The role is pretty much the same in each place and, truly, neither can really afford me at part-time and that's WITHOUT benefits, minimum stipend, housing, continuing education, (and I saw someone on HoBD commented that we should make sure to have a personal account to take parishioners to lunch on occasion -- really? Not in my world).

I agree with the person who wrote that we are seeing the end of the full-time priest with the exception of large parishes. At 33 and five years into ordination, I have already seen enough that, if things don't change I am pondering going BACK to grad school to find options in the secular world that still allow me to follow Jesus while earning my income and also allow me to function sacramentally and pastorally as a part-time priest whether sole clergy or as an assistant in a medium-sized parish.

One thing concerns me, however. I already have the rigorous training and education that can only come (I believe) by residential seminary training, CPE, and field work in a parish. I do worry about how we will train and educate clergy in a world of mostly non-stipendiary and/or part-time options. As it stands, most people in the pews are seriously illiterate biblically and theologically. I do not believe we can expect to be able to take a reasonably well-educated person for our time, give them regional training, and expect that they have the resources to begin parish ministry. Without the reasonable expectation of some amount of stability in one's vocation, I doubt men and women will be willing to devote the necessary time to their education.

Alice C. Linsley said...

I suppose that with many conservatives exiting TEC, there are going to be fewer viable congregations. This might be a factor.

When I was an ECUSA "priest", depending where I was serving, I was called chaplain, vicar, priest-in-charge and rector. As long as they didn't call me "Hey, you!" I was content.

The Vagabond Priest said...

Joie makes a strong point, and I too believe we are seeing the change of tide. I call it a "sea change" in how we "do" church. The emerging church is not a series of techniques that will revitalize our congregations, but a new wave that will re-vision how we function as a parish.

I agree entirely that a seminary-trained clergy is indispensable to a people's growing to spiritual literacy. We cannot have disciples without having teachers who are tasked with the responsibility to teach, read, learn, know. Anything less than real critical thinking and deep engagement with our faith is asking for the $2.99 Denny's Meal and expecting Julia Child to return from the dead and serve you eggs with hollandaise.

I wonder sometimes about the Catholic model I've seen here in which small, "underperforming" parishes are closed and the congregations merged. Indeed, when I was a Priest in Charge, I would have advocated that parish merging with the parish down the road, making a part-time PiC and a part time assistant into one position. What I did do was serve half-time as a hospital chaplain. It was tough work: especially having undergone extra, advanced training so I could make less money and benefits than my peers. (Small wonder I accepted the full time position from the hospital when offered.)

I also wonder about the Jewish model of "synagogue dues", though I grant I don't fully understand them at this time. It seems that synagogue dues are necessary for a person to be fully engaged in the rights of membership of a synagogue. Why have we made our stewardship optional? I know no one wants to see a "pay to pray" culture, but it's naive to expect that we can invest in our faith for free. If I can find the cash for yoga or for sushi night, I'm sure I can find the cash to invest in my eternal life. Demand that of me.

In a recent fight I had, I accused a person (who I know and love well) of treating her spirituality as a "friend with benefits" (I used the more vulgar term). I complained that, as a priest, I felt that her asking me to perform her wedding and baptize her baby was like she was asking me to make bacon and eggs for her and her friend when they happened to stay over. But unless she takes the responsibility to demand a relationship from her buddy, there might not be any eggs to be had when she wants them.