Transitions in Parishes

Today’s church is not the church most of us grew up with.

Churches have traditionally measured “success” by inward-looking factors, such as the size of the congregation, Sunday School attendance, or the endowment. Parishes have understandably focused their attention and efforts on improving these measures, thereby maintaining the congregation as an institution. But traditional measures don’t give us a meaningful picture of success. Almost all parishes today have declining membership, but those that adapt to changing circumstances will still have amazing worship and outreach. Sunday school attendance has dropped almost everywhere, but new ways to educate young people will emerge. The real measure of success is what it has always been: whether we are fulfilling our role as carriers of God’s mission of salvation.

In 2020, The Episcopal Church in Connecticut published a document called Transition is the New Normal written by the Reverend Lee Ann Tolzmann. Transition describes the current environment for Episcopal churches in Connecticut, explains a new transition process and outlines its expectations for how parishes with part-time priests-in-charge, will operate in this new environment, which the ECCT calls the “new missional age.”

Where Things Are Now:

  • The Episcopal church has experienced a profound demographic change over the last fifty years.
  • As a result, our understanding of what it means to be the church is changing, as it must because the environment has changed. This has happened many times over the last two thousand years.
  • Most churches in the ECCT have a part-time priest-in-charge. Only 38% of churches in the Diocese have a full-time rector.
  • There is a severe clergy shortage. Due to this growing shortage, parishes are going to need to share clergy.
  • The role of lay people has expanded, even as the number of active church members has declined.
  • The clergy transition process has been simplified and shortened.
  • The ECCT has found that part-time priests simply do not have enough time to do all that is needed. As the Church continues to deal with the unraveling of the twentieth-century model and the accompanying grief, the work of fostering theological imagination and forming disciples and apostles is absolutely essential, and part-time clergy often have no time to engage it.

Beginning in 2020, part-time clergy in ECCT are not to lead worship in their parishes every Sunday. As new Letters of Agreement are negotiated, the number of Sunday per month that the priest is present will be specified in the Letter of Agreement; and the parish must identify at least two parishioners to be trained to be licensed Worship Leaders to lead Morning Prayer. All parishes should also have a team of Eucharistic Visitors.

Part-time priests must be present no more than three Sundays per month.

  • ¼ time = Priest is present one Sunday per month minimum
  • ½ time = Priest is present two Sundays per month minimum
  • ¾ time = Priest is present three Sundays per month minimum