January 23, 2015
By Rev. Alan Mead
I read a blog entry on Huffington Post today, written by Mark Osler, relating his current experience in a church with an interim. Mark’s experience is negative and a conclusion he draws is that the transition process in congregations should be shortened considerably. I do notice that the author mentions in passing, and then glosses over, that the forme…r rector left in a “messy” situation and that the two former associate clergy left soon after. Yikes! One interim, skilled or not, working a miracle in that congregation, seems to be a lot to ask. Perhaps this is something that must be the work of the entire congregation and not fall on the shoulders of the interim pastor. This is the kind of blog entry that makes sense on the surface; but when questioned more deeply, is not as simple as the blog entry would imply. My guess, and it’s a blind one, is that after a “messy” departure of all three clergy this congregation didn’t have, or didn’t want to commit the monetary resources necessary to have both a trained interim experienced in these kind of issues and conflicts, plus have new staff/clergy associates to keep the ongoing programatic and worship dynamic going strong in this parish while the interim engages the leadership and congregation in resolving/accepting whatever has happened and may currently be going on.This is a larger debate, whether anyone is completely right or wrong, than many of us would like to admit and, in some adjudicatory and congregational practice there is a scarcity of resources to really address and resolve underlying issues. Further, at least in the Episcopal Church, some dioceses are seeking different models, one of which is to place a priest in charge time certain (2 to 5 years) with the option of the congregation calling the priest as their next settled pastor. While this will work, at least on the surface, and does keep the bishop more in control, I do wonder if any clergy who is not specially trained in resolving conflict and, who wants to be called eventually as the settled pastor, will really do the hard and perhaps unpopular stuff necessary to deal with whatever is there, allowing it to once again go under the surface and lurk beneath, a secret always ready to pounce.Feedback from differing viewpoints is welcomed and encouraged. My own bias is that a trained and competent interim can be the most important asset an adjudicatory or congregation can have. It seems to me that larger issues that are often not answered involve paying for that level of skill and experience and finding resources to keep assisting clergy in multi-staff parishes during time of crisis is the best way forward for all.In my personal experience the transition time can be as creative and productive as any time in a congregation’s history. Discovering and appreciating the life, ministry and history within a congregation is a joy not only for the interim pastor; but for the congregation as well.