As you may know, St. Brendan’s is in the early stages of searching for a new priest-in-charge. In the Episcopal Church, parishes identify and hire priests through a multi-phase search process. However, this is about more than finding a warm body to fill a job position -- it is about seeking the right person who is called to lead our parish.
The search process can sometimes be slow, but it is better to be deliberate and prayerful than hasty. St. Brendan’s started down this road when Rev. Scott Russell, our rector, accepted a new call in the spring of 2016. Following his departure, Rev. Ted Babcock served as our part-time interim priest for about a year and Rev. Regis Smolko succeeded him as our part-time priest-in-charge. St. Brendan’s next priest will also be part-time.
The search process has three phases: planning, searching, and choosing. One goal of the planning phase is to make sure that the church is a positive and healthy environment. This does not mean that churches must be perfect and have no challenges when they are searching for a priest. That would be unrealistic and unreasonable. Rather, it means that churches should be aware of their challenges and have plans in place about any concerns they may have.
A church that does not know what issues it faces, or refuses to acknowledge those issues, will have a challenging time finding a priest who can help them meet and overcome those concerns. This past spring St. Brendan’s used Appreciative Inquiry, a method of intense self-study, to help us look at our strengths and challenges, reaffirm our mission in our current context, and determine how we can fulfill our mission while moving forward (you can learn more about Appreciative Inquiry in this blog post).
Another goal of the planning phase is for the church to come to a consensus on who we are, where we are going, and what kind of leadership we are looking for. This includes creating a written parish profile, which St. Brendan’s is working on at the moment. According to the Episcopal Church, the profile is “an instrument that provides important information concerning a parish, including information about the parish's services and programs, budget, parish life and goals, and previous clergy” (https://www.episcopalchurch.org/library/glossary/parish-profile). The parish profile describes where we have been, where we are today, and where we think God is calling us. It will be used to help match our parish with potentially interested clergy and to provide these clergy with more information about St. Brendan’s.
This past summer, the vestry put together a seven-member parish profile committee, including two vestry liaisons. This committee was tasked with writing a parish profile in preparation for searching for a new priest. The committee has recently completed a parish survey and will use this information, along with in-person discussions, to guide their creation of the profile. The committee will use the previous profile, from 2013, as a starting point but will update all the sections, add new categories as needed, and create a fresh look for the document.
View St. Brendan's 2013 Parish Profile here.
While the parish profile is a way to market St. Brendan’s, it is important to be honest and realistic when creating this document. If the profile paints an unrealistic picture, it will not help guide us to priests who would be a good fit. Additionally, this document does not exist in a vacuum. Clergy are part of a fairly small community and will frequently contact other clergy members to inquire about St. Brendan’s to determine if the image presented in the profile is accurate.
The second phase of the search process is seeking candidates who might feel called to serve St. Brendan’s. At the start of this stage, the vestry will appoint a search committee containing a diverse selection of parishioners. At least one person will be a vestry member to serve as a liaison with the vestry. Unlike many other churches, the Episcopal Church has a national Office for Transition Ministry (OTM) to help individual parishes and clergy with searches. The OTM allows dioceses nationwide to list the positions available within their parishes and maintains information on clergy who are open to new calls. With the diocese’s help, the OTM will use key variables about St. Brendan’s and what we are looking for in a new priest, as described in our parish profile, to help match us with potential clergy. Our diocesan transition officer, Rev. Jay Geisler, will also help us network with other priests who may be looking for a new call themselves or know of others who are. (This is also something that the individual members of St. Brendan’s can help with too. If you know any priests outside of our church, you can let them know that we are looking for a new priest-in-charge.)
The third and final phase of the search process is the actual choosing of our next priest. Names of any clergy who respond to our posting will be sent to our search committee by the diocese. The committee will then review the applicants and contact those who look promising. Following the interviews (which are usually by phone or skype at this stage), the search committee will narrow down the group to a list of about three to five finalists. The applicants will be invited to interview with the search committee in person and possibly attend a worship service in non-clergy clothes to get an unscripted feel for St. Brendan’s. At this point, the diocese will also run background checks on the finalists and reach out to the applicants’ current or former bishops to identify any potential red flags. St. Brendan’s bishop, the Rt. Rev. Dorsey McConnell, can also reject a candidate at this point, but that only happens in very rare circumstances.
Once the search committee selects its preferred candidate, the vestry meets the top choice and holds its own extensive interview. It is then up to the vestry to decide whether to extend an offer to the priest. The final choice also must receive the approval of the bishop. Often priests are engaged in several search processes at once and may have to make a decision before hearing back from all the parishes to which they had applied. Once a priest has accepted our call and the paperwork has been completed, then we celebrate!
These last two phases of the search process, from searching to hiring, can take several months and the transition from one priest to the next can be long and filled with uncertainty and apprehension. But it is also a hopeful time as we plan for our future.
Here is a prayer adapted from the “Prayer for Search Processes” to help guide us as we move through this search (I found this prayer referenced by several churches, but was unable to find the original source, though the first portion of the prayer does come from the “Prayer for the Election of a Bishop or other Minister” from the Book of Common Prayer):
Grace and peace,
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A member of St. Brendan's since 2014, I enjoy being a part of this welcoming and giving community of faith. However, I am not a theologian, biblical scholar, or official spokesperson for The Episcopal Church. If you read anything on this blog that is inaccurate or contrary to the teachings of The Episcopal Church, please consider it my error and let me know! If you have any questions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.