Cynthia Hubbard, transition ministry officer for the Dioceses of Massachusetts, recently gave a presentation to our regional deans on trends in parish clergy searches.  In summary, the form of parish searches is changing rapidly.  Her most startling example: only one parish in Massachusetts (out of 183 parishes, with an average of 15 open at any time) is currently conducting a traditional national search for a rector.  All other vacant congregations are conducting some form of a specialized and shortened search or are accepting appointments of interims or Priests-in-Charge.  Different search options in Massachusetts include:

The traditional search – A parish seeking a rector with the guidance of a consultant creates a full profile, advertises the position through the OTM, national church media, and websites.  The search committee starts with a sizable number of candidates and narrows the field to a finalist over the course of many months.  Stable, large parishes, with adequate resources, continue to use this form of search.  Traditional searches can last up to eighteen months.

Short list search  A parish seeking a rector creates a shorter profile, using Appreciative Inquiry methodology and requests a short list (around five names) of candidates to interview.  The search committee skips the steps of advertizing nationally, using the OTM Portfolio matching program, and screening a larger list of names to a few to interview.  The Diocesan Transition Ministry Officer posts the opening on the Diocesan Website for a month to solicit interested clergy.  The vast majority of short list names are from the diocese.  Smaller parishes often ask for a short name search.  Short list searches usually last less than one year. (Editor’s note – My church, Old North, a mission, used this type of search to call me fifteen years ago.)

Priest in Charge A parish seeking a priest in charge receives the name of one candidate at a time, whom they interview and decide to call or not call for a specific period of time, normally three years.  The Diocesan Transition Ministry Officer posts the opening on the Diocesan Website for a month to solicit interested clergy.  After two years the parish and priest in charge enter a mutual discernment process to determine whether to call the priest as rector.  The priest in charge process was initially designed for troubled congregations or for use after very long tenured rectors.  It is becoming more popular with stable congregations.  A priest in charge appointment is often made within a few months. This system has the look and feel of hiring academicians.  A teacher is hired for a couple of years before they can apply for tenure.

Interim  Interim clergy are appointed by the bishop and transition ministry officer to serve in a parish for a year or two while the parish searches for a permanent rector.  Interims are not allowed to be candidates for rector.  Interim ministry requires specific training.  In Massachusetts, interims are required to take the Appreciative Inquiry interim training offered by the Clergy Leadership Institute.

Variations and shades of gray Massachusetts is experimenting with different combinations of search options.  For example, one parish is working with an interim for one year and then will be given a priest in charge.  Many years ago, I served as an interim in a conflicted parish and was converted to a priest in charge and then rector after their initial search failed.

The Diocese of Colorado has posted a Power Point Presentation outlining a similar approach to searches:  Their options are: traditional, abbreviated, bishop appointed rector, and priest in charge.  I do not know whether this shift away from traditional searches is paralleled in other dioceses and welcome your observations.

In Massachusetts, we are trying to discern how this shift impacts clergy’s participation in the search process.  The questions that arise include:

How do clergy get nominated in alternative search processes?

Is the process for submitting names by the bishop and diocesan staff transparent?

If bishops or diocesan staff consistently decline to submit a specific name for consideration, who is responsible for speaking honestly to that clergy person?