The new Vestry met last Thursday night with the Rev. Canon Michael Hunn, Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of North Carolina, and Catherine Massey, Deputy Transition Officer for the Diocese. The purpose of this two-hour meeting was to learn about the search process for a new Rector and the more immediate search for an Interim Rector. At the beginning of the meeting, I asked each member of the Vestry to put on the table every question they had heard from members of the congregation. By the end of the meeting, Canon Hunn and Ms. Massey had answered all of our questions and given us a great deal of information.
In addition to information, they also gave us confidence that we are not alone in this. I think we were all impressed by the professionalism that they bring to this process, having assisted over 90 parishes across the diocese in rector searches in the last nine years. In former times, we might have been faced with having to retain the professional services of a search firm with attendant fees. Now this service is provided to us by the Diocese, at no additional cost. As I said to them after the meeting, we know that we are in God’s hands, but it is good to know that God has real professionals on the ground to help us.
I think the single most important message I can relay to the congregation from this meeting is how different this entire process is from an academic or corporate search. This is a Spiritual Process, not a hiring process. We seek God’s will for our congregation. We are not hiring an employee, but calling a Priest, Pastor, and Spiritual Leader.
So what were the questions that the Vestry asked on your behalf? (I shall try to organize these questions in a logical sequence rather than in the random order in which they were asked, and I shall add questions that weren’t asked but which were addressed in discussion.)
this new construction. How does this impact the search?
canonical authority for the parish?
Rector, but are we neglecting doing the serious work of preparing for the coming transition?
P. What happens to our associate priests whom we love and care about?
Below, I shall try to summarize the discussion in terms of answers to the above questions.
A. Next Steps
Below is a summary of the entire process, which Canon Hunn gave the Vestry. We are essentially at stage 3 in a 19-step process. For those of you who served on a search committee thirty years ago or who have served on committees in other parishes, you will note a number of changes in process, not the least of which is the assistance provided by the Diocese and the national church.
(The Vestry has decided to empanel a Search Committee of 6 to 10 persons; the advice from Canon Hunn is that at least 3 members of the Vestry be on the Search Committee including someone in their last term on the Vestry (for history), and someone new to the Vestry to be with the new Rector for the next two years). More about the Search Committee later.)
B. Why do we need an Interim Rector?
Many of you have asked this question. The Vestry is convinced that interim leadership is required in order to give the parish sufficient time to do the hard work to prepare for a search of this magnitude. It is increasingly common in the Episcopal Church to have an interim, especially when replacing a long-serving Rector. We need a period of transition to help the congregation envision a new future, vision and direction. During this period, the Vestry will appoint a Transition Committee, which will be charged with preparing an Episcopal Church Office of Transition Ministry (OTM) Portfolio to be approved by the Vestry.
Early in the interim period (mid-October through Advent) we will hold a series of congregational meetings, facilitated by Canon Hunn, in which we will discern who we are as a parish, exploring our history and heritage and any issues of concern that need to be resolved in order to move freely into the future. At least one of these meetings would be in the evening. These congregational discussions will feed material to the construction of the COTC portfolio on the OTM website, which will be seen and read by any and all persons who might consider being a candidate for our position. (The OTM has been described as the national church’s dating service for clergy and parishes. This is where the internet has totally transformed the search process.)
This is the point in the process where the entire parish has an active role. We need to describe ourselves and our vision for the future. How well we do this will have a lot to do with who hears a call to be our next Rector.
C. How long should the Interim Rector serve?
D. How is the Interim Rector selected?
The Interim Rector will be our spiritual leader during this period. He or she may not be a candidate to be our Rector nor have any role in the search process. The Vestry serves as the search committee for the Interim. This summer the Diocese will provide to the Vestry a short list of priests who have served successfully in interim capacities. The Vestry will interview two or more candidates, who will come to Chapel Hill, preach a sermon, and celebrate the Eucharist with the Vestry, after which the Vestry will make a selection. We anticipate that the Interim Rector will begin in October and serve for approximately a year or until a new Rector is selected.
E. When does the actual search for a new Rector officially begin?
Drawing from the congregational meetings in the fall of 2015 and the OTM portfolio, the Vestry will approve a position description for the new Rector. The most important step for the Vestry to this point will be the approval of the Rector Search Committee.
The active hiring season for priests in the Episcopal Church is in the spring months of March, April, and May. Assuming it takes most of the fall through Advent to complete the OTM portfolio, the Search Committee would not begin to receive applications until early in the new year, with an application deadline around Easter. I think the Search Committee will most likely be interviewing candidates and their spouses in Chapel Hill in late spring and/or early summer, with the goal of making a call by June or July. There will be a significant time commitment for members of this committee, however quite different from searches in the past where committee members travelled to other churches in small teams to interview candidates and see and hear them on their own turf. The internet has turned this process upside down. More about this below.
F. How is the Search Committee Selected?
My next task is to choose a Search Committee chair and to take that name to the Vestry for approval. I anticipate doing that very shortly. Sometime in the fall, I will issue a call to all members of the congregation asking for expressions of interest in serving on the Search Committee. The Search Committee chair and I will prepare a proposed slate of members for this committee for Vestry approval, no later than the October Vestry meeting. Canon Hunn recommends that we empanel a committee of six to ten persons, including three members of the Vestry, with one person in their last Vestry term and one person in their first term. He has given us some good advice about the kind of people we should have on the Search Committee.
G. How confidential is the search itself?
Our search will be both transparent and confidential. For transparency, both the Vestry and the Search Committee will make regular reports to the congregation on the status of the search with the exception of two matters that will be held in strictest confidence: the names of the persons under consideration (or those not under consideration), in other words, no names; and second, the demographics of the search. We will not release the numbers of candidates or the numbers of people by category (race, gender, or any other defining characteristic.)
H. What is the role of the Bishop (and the Diocese) in the search process?
Canon Hunn made it clear that the choice of our new Rector lies with the Search Committee and the Vestry, with the approval of the Bishop. Initially, the Search Committee will get the names of all individuals who apply for the position. He said that in this age of the internet, with potential candidates able to educate themselves on the community and the parish, there is a greater degree of self-elimination today than in prior years, resulting in smaller but higher quality applicant pools. The Search Committee will reduce the initial number to about 12 semi-finalist candidates. At this point, OTM will conduct a “pre-flight check” by contacting each candidate’s Bishop and Canon to the Ordinary. Meanwhile, the Search Committee will also be doing reference checks on these candidates. The candidates on this “semi-short” list would be invited to come to Chapel Hill with spouses for meetings with the Search Committee, a tour of the community and our facilities, and an opportunity to preach and celebrate the Eucharist with the Search Committee. (These visits would be for the Search Committee only, and they replace the former practice of travel by panels of the Search Committee to the home sites of candidates.)
Once the list has been reduced to three candidates, a second and more intense background check will take place. At this point, the Diocese uses Secure Search to complete a thorough background check. Bishop Curry will interview any candidates from outside our Diocese and approve a final list of three for the Search Committee.
The final stage of the process for the Search Committee will be to meet with the entire Vestry in a joint meeting, to summarize the process, and to recommend one candidate to the Vestry. The Vestry will have the opportunity to spend two days of interviews with the candidate before approving that candidate for the position. (The Vestry could, of course, reject the candidate and ask for another.)
I. What is the role of the congregation in the search process?
The major role of the congregation is active participation in the congregational meetings in the fall of 2015, as we seek to define who we are as a parish for those whom God may call to be our Rector. We should all pray for potential candidates, for the Search Committee, the Vestry, and the Bishop, that God’s will is done in this search.
J. Does the Interim Rector have any role in the search process?
No. The Interim Rector’s role is to be a shepherd to this flock for the transition period.
K. Will Canon Hunn meet with the congregation to discuss the process?
Yes. He will facilitate the congregational meetings in October and November, 2015. Canon Hunn will preach at the 10:00 service on Sunday, June 14, and discuss the entire search process at a special adult forum following that service. That will be the first opportunity for members of the congregation to ask questions directly to him about the search for a new Rector or about the interim transition.
M. Does our construction debt load deter good candidates?
Some concern was expressed that some candidates might see our construction debt as a deterring factor, that they would see development and stewardship as a major part of their responsibility as Rector. Others countered that the new buildings themselves bring tremendous excitement to this parish, opening up amazing new possibilities for ministry and outreach. My own personal opinion is that the positives greatly outweigh the negatives here. I don’t think there is a parish priest in this country who doesn’t realize that stewardship is part of his or her call.
N. During the interim, who is the canonical authority? Who will name the next Senior Warden?
The Interim Rector is the canonical authority and would appoint the next Senior Warden.
O. It is good that we are taking time as a congregation to celebrate the 30-year tenure of our Rector, but are we neglecting doing the serious work of preparing for the coming transition?
No, the celebration period is a critical part of the transition. It is the first stage of taking stock of our tradition and heritage. It is important that we celebrate Stephen’s thirty-year pastoral ministry, not only because he deserves it, but because a future Rector will look to see how we treated our current Rector. We must remember that this is a time of separation for Stephen and Betsy from us as well as for us from them. As in all separations, there is sadness as well as joy. We have a pastoral responsibility to our pastor in this situation.
We are called to love one another. That is what the Gospel tells us to do. That is who we are as a people.
P. What happens to our associate priests, whom we love and care about?
This is also a difficult time for Vicky, Tammy, and David. The good news is that they will continue in their roles with the Interim Rector. It is not true, as some have feared, that they must turn in their resignations on the new Rector’s first day. It is, of course, true that the Rector has absolute authority to determine his or her staff, and I have encouraged all of our clergy to be in prayerful discernment and conversation with Canon Hunn about what God is calling each of them to do in their respective ministries. Here, I believe that we must all have faith that God is working his purpose out in their lives as well as ours.
I apologize for the length of this message, but I have attempted to answer every question I have heard from members of the church on this important topic. If I haven’t answered your specific question, rest assured there will be ample opportunity in the future to answer your questions.
Soli Deo Gloria.
James Moeser, Senior Warden