The Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut

Leadership Gathering reviews, discusses, changes in parish clergy leadership and transition

Leadership Gathering reviews, discusses, changes in parish clergy leadership and transition

Members of the four leadership groups in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut (ECCT) -- Commission on Ministry, Trustees of Donations & Bequests; Mission Council; and Standing Committee -- met Saturday, September 9 at The Commons in Meriden for their regular quarterly gathering.

The groups pray, discuss, and deliberate together in the morning on a common topic or theme and following lunch, convene separately for as long as needed.

The joint morning session on September 9 was titled, "Responsive Leadership for Today's Church." It began with Morning Prayer, followed by an introduction and brief remarks from each of the six Region Missionaries.

Bishop Ian T. Douglas then reviewed and reflected on ECCT's current working understanding of a parish: "A community of theological imagination, fed by Word and sacrament, forming disciples and apostles in God's mission, connected to the wider Body of Christ."

The Rev. Lee Ann Tolzmann, Canon for Mission Leadership, provided statistics on clergy leadership in parishes. It showed, among other findings, a decrease in available full-time rectorships; shorter average tenure at churches by rectors; and an increase in married clergy couples, which is a factor in decreased clergy mobility. The result of current trends mean that fewer priests are available for part-time as well as full time parish leadership.

Pathways for clergy leadership transition

Canon Tolzmann reviewed changes in the paths that parishes take during a transition in clergy leadership, which she calls "Transition Pathways." The changes follow nearly two years of conversation and review of faithful options for parishes in today’s context.

She began by noting that canons of The Episcopal Church recognize only "rector" and "priest-in-charge." Rectors are called by parishes; priests-in-charge are appointed by the bishop and in ECCT this is done in consultation with the lay leadership of the parish.

As a result, ECCT is retiring the title (but not the work) of "interim rector."

There will be four “pathways,” or, four types of priests-in-charge:

  1. Interim PIC: Same work on specific transition tasks as previously named "interim rector;" may not be called as rector by the parish;
  2. Provisional PIC: Similar to how ECCT has been using the general position title of "priest-in-charge." Two- to five-year position to address specific circumstances; may be called as rector by the parish;

The following two options are available for churches that can afford less than half time. After following one path, they have the option of switching to the other.

  1. Missional PIC: Less than half-time, one-year contract (may be renewable); chosen by parishes that want to explore a missional approach and do the specified work required of the parish associated with that choice;
  2. Conditional PIC: Less than half-time, one-year contract (may be renewable); chosen by parishes that wish to continue with no changes. The word “conditional” acknowledges that the continued existence of the parish may be conditional, and the congregation may need to explore its legacy.

(The above is a provided as a general overview only. For a full description of these please see this document prepared by Canon for Mission Leadership the Rev. Lee Ann Tolzmann.)

Speaking from her experience in ECCT Canon Tolzmann admitted that it’s very difficult to find part-time clergy. She suggested that parishes, particularly those struggling with finances, could collaborate to share clergy as a way forward for both priests and parishes. “It’s not necessary to merge,” she said, “just work together to share clergy, so clergy can afford the job.”

Afterwards, Council members shared their feelings regarding the changes in clergy availability and the new pathways, and discussed changes needed to accommodate increasingly part-time and bi-vocational (or multi-vocational) priests, the impact of the conversation on larger multi-staff parishes, and more.

The four leadership groups then met separately to discuss how the work of their groups could adapt to the changing realities, then shared that with the full group

"It’s hard for us who are historically privileged," said Bishop Douglas of the changes we face. "And the Episcopal Church in Connecticut is one of the most privileged in the history of Anglicanism. The majority of clergy historically and around the world don’t serve just one parish. We’re suffering from the legacy of privilege [in Connecticut]. That’s an exciting idea ... if we can believe there's new life on the other side."

The next Leadership Gathering will be held at The Commons in Meriden on December 9, 2017.