Frequently Asked Questions about the Priest-in-Charge Model
What is the difference between a priest-in-charge and an interim rector?
Their authority is the same, with either and interim rector or a priest-in-charge, assuming the full authority of rector. One difference is that the priest-in-charge is a priest who is well-known to or already employed by the parish, while an interim rector is a priest who is trained in interim ministry and chosen from outside the parish with the approval of the Bishop Diocesan and selected by the vestry. Another difference is that an interim rector is temporary and may not be called as permanent rector, while a priest-in-charge is in discernment for just such a call. Finally, an interim rector is employed only until a new rector has been called, whereas a priest-in-charge is in discernment for a specific period (in our case, 24 months), to determine whether a call will be made to remain as rector.
What is the difference between a priest-in-charge and a rector?
Generally, the term of a rector is indefinite, but for a priest-in-charge it is typically fixed (in our case, 24 months). The fixed term of the priest-in-charge also includes very specific milestones. Otherwise, the church canons (governing rules) give rectors and priests-in-charge exactly the same rights and responsibilities.
I’ve never heard of a search being done this way. Is St. Peter’s taking a risk with a non-standard approach to transition ministry?
The vestry has done a lot of soul searching and discernment about the very particular time in which we find ourselves. We also received a great deal of advice and counsel from the Bishop Diocesan, the Right Reverend Samuel Rodman. We believe that we are actually minimizing risk, rather than increasing it. In addition, there are some extremely successful examples of this process working well in nearby dioceses, including Upper South Carolina (St. Peter’s, Greenville; St. John’s, Columbia) and Washington, D.C. (St. Alban’s). In Arkansas, Christ Church, Little Rock, with the agreement of their bishop, called their associate rector to be priest-in-charge in May 2017.
Isn’t it against the canons to call an associate rector for a leadership role after the resignation of a rector?
No. Neither the national nor diocesan canons and constitutions prohibit a congregation from calling any qualified candidate, as long as the Bishop grants consent. By the way, another old legend, also not true, is that staff members must offer their resignations to a newly appointed rector.
Why did the vestry choose this path for the congregation, instead of a traditional search?
Several factors brought the vestry to consensus about this approach to transition ministry.
- First, the opportunity for uninterrupted clergy leadership. Calling Fr. Jacob as rector is not a foregone conclusion under this transition model. It would be the result of a rigorous, mutual discernment process between him, the vestry, and the congregation. Meanwhile, St. Peter’s doesn’t have to put on hold its aspirations for ministry in center city Charlotte.
- Second, a realistic look at the availability of skilled interim rectors with track records of success in congregations our size. The Diocese advised us that we might not find an interim rector before January 2019. In addition, five other congregations in the Charlotte metropolitan area are currently conducting or just completing searches.
- Third, the general good health of the congregation, the physical plant, the staff, and the programs. Annual fund contributions, while still not where we wish they were, continue an upward trend. The church buildings are in good shape now but will need serious attention in the next five-to-ten years. And our core programs – especially formation, outreach, social justice and music – are flourishing.
- Finally, in May, the vestry launched a strategic visioning process which we would like to see continue, rather than be interrupted by a traditional search.
What other steps did the Vestry take to make this decision?
- Shortly after Fr. Ollie announced his resignation, the vestry met with Bishop Rodman and the Canon for Transition and Pastoral Ministry, Catherine Massey. The Bishop and Canon Massey outlined various options open to the Vestry and asked members to determine a path forward, after focusing on Fr. Ollie’s leave-taking on June 24th.
- Subsequently, the vestry has met frequently to identify desired characteristics of clergy leadership during the transition. We have met for more than 18 hours to discern the best transition path. We have had an open dialogue with Bishop Rodman and Canon Massey. We have prayed, researched, and discussed methods for transition ministry. All of us on the vestry have strongly felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in our deliberations.
- Based on this broad assessment, which included Fr. Jacob’s success during two other transition periods and the vestry’s overall confidence in his abilities and vision for the parish, we unanimously asked Bishop Rodman for permission to call Fr. Jacob as Priest-in-Charge and to enter into an agreement for a 24-month Priest-in-Charge process. He was the only candidate we considered.
Bishop Rodman was very involved in developing the priest-in-charge model for St. Peter’s. He supports our path.
Will there be a search process for a new Rector?
There will not be a traditional search process, but we will be in discernment for 24 months as to whether we call Fr. Jacob to be our permanent rector. We will complete a parish visioning process, Office of Transition Ministry Portfolio (similar to a parish profile), and other transition processes as we would in a traditional search. This work will lead to our decision about an ultimate call. Much like a traditional search process, the vestry will be in close working contact with the Bishop and his designees during Fr. Jacob’s tenure.
Don’t we miss out on doing a national search for the best talent?
Yes. But we believe Fr. Jacob has shown that he is such a talent, as we’ve seen when he led our congregation during Fr. Ollie’s sabbatical. We have seen his strength as a preacher and homilist; his collaborative leadership style with other clergy, staff, and lay leadership; and his ability to execute the liturgy. We believe he is an excellent match for us, given his love of our liturgy, his previous experience as a youth minister, and his commitment to music, outreach and social justice—all important ministry areas for St. Peter’s. We also considered the tight job market, and the fact that a number of other Charlotte-area congregations are competing in roughly the same talent pool at the same time.
If the Vestry has made this choice, does this mean the congregation doesn’t get a voice?
Quite the contrary. When we say “rigorous, mutual discernment process,” we mean it. We don’t see this approach as a shortcut, but rather as an opportunity to devote the time and energy to discerning the best path forward for our beloved St. Peter’s, while still moving forward with our ministries. Specifically, with assistance from Canon Massey and Bishop Rodman, we will organize discernment groups and use the Appreciative Inquiry model for our mutual discernment process. And we believe that the strategic visioning process that will ramp up in the fall and involve the whole congregation will feed into and enrich the mutual discernment process. The Vestry will provide the congregation with regular updates.
What is the “Appreciative Inquiry” model?
Appreciative Inquiry is a model that seeks to engage stakeholders in self-determined, positive change. It seeks to search for the best in people, their organizations, and the strengths-filled, opportunity-rich world around them. The Canons who are assisting us in our transition are well-versed in Appreciative Inquiry. More information about the model is available at https://appreciativeinquiry.champlain.edu.
What will the timeline/process look like?
- There will be a mutual expectations exercise between the Vestry and Fr. Jacob during the first three months of the call to explore our expectations and roles, facilitated by the Bishop’s designees.
- The vestry will complete a new Office of Transition Management (OTM) portfolio (similar to a parish profile) based on congregational meetings to gather data. This activity will be facilitated by Canon Massey and the Regional Canon, Rhonda Lee.
- Between months 18 and 24 there will be a final, active discernment process with the Bishop or his designee, vestry, and Fr. Jacob to review where we have been, where we are, and what we have mutually discerned.
What happens if this mutual discernment process results in a decision not to call Fr. Jacob as rector?
The 24-month timeline gives both the parish and Fr. Jacob time to take next steps very deliberately, rather than hastily. At 18 months, if either the vestry or Fr. Jacob discerns that there isn’t a call for Fr. Jacob to be our rector, he would continue to serve as an interim rector (and receive interim rector training) while both he and the vestry begin a transition process. The vestry would organize a standard search, likely based on information gathered during the Appreciative Inquiry and the strategic visioning processes. At the same time, Fr. Jacob would begin his own discernment process for his next career move. St. Peter’s would enjoy uninterrupted clergy leadership.
With Fr. Jacob moving into another role, what will we do about an Associate Rector?
The vestry and Fr. Jacob will begin the process for calling a full-time associate rector. In the meantime, we are blessed with the presence of our assisting priests, the Reverend Sally Johnston and the Reverend Keith Lane. The vestry and Fr. Jacob are committed to ensuring we have full clergy coverage.
If the process ends with the decision not to call Fr. Jacob as rector, could he remain as associate?
No. When we entered into this 24-month priest-in-charge path, he and the vestry made the mutual decision to set him on a path towards being called rector, either at St. Peter’s or at another congregation.
I still have questions and concerns about this process. What should I do?
Start by discussing your reservations with either of the wardens, Bert Miano, Senior Warden, or Maria Long, Junior Warden, or with another member of the vestry. There is plenty of time for everyone to have the chance to share concerns and joys. Bert and Maria were present for all of the meetings and, together with the other vestry members, believe that this approach to transition ministry is the right one for St. Peter’s. We have the backing of Bishop Rodman for this approach. And, most important, we believe that it keeps us moving toward our vision to become a community of bold followers of Jesus, a crowd that effects good change for the world, a place known for radical love and welcome, and a beacon of hope in Center City Charlotte.