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I have had several conversations recently with followers of this blog from around the country that all touched on the same theme: the maddeningly complicated nature of the church’s transition ministry process.

A priest in Province 2 called to ask whether there was a simple way to determine what parish positions are actually open and receiving names.  He complained that many that are listed as receiving names on the OTM have already closed to new applications.  Did he have to go to every diocesan website to find out what was open, when?

Unfortunately, there is no simple way to track openings.  The neither the OTM nor the Transition Ministry Newsletter are kept up to date by all participating dioceses.  Some individual diocesan websites appear out of date.  In my own diocese, the DioMass.org website lists eleven openings.  Only six are listed on the OTM Portfolio.  One is listed as “receiving names” on one site and “developing self study” on the other.  (BTW, Massachusetts has five rector searches in program or resource size congregations plus a search for a new diocesan. Come join us and get a Red Sox clergy pass to boot.)

A local priest asked to get some help with her OTM Portfolio.  She can’t sort out what goes where in an eight-section document.  As the resident expert, I thought I could handily walk her through the process.  After filling out about half the form, we tried to save our work, only to get an error message indicating that a “province” did not match a “country” and that the error was highlighted in red.  After spending fifteen minutes looking for the error, we chucked the work and started from the beginning, this time saving the data every few minutes.  I can see how clergy get frustrated by the mere process of filling out the OTM form.  Much of my time leading workshops is spent answering mundane technical questions about the form.  Must it be so complicated?

Several clergy have told me that they have sent applications into positions listed as “Receiving Names” on the OTM, only to discover that the position has already been filled.  The OTM Portfolio lists ten classifications for a parish in search: Search Complete, Receiving Names, No Longer Receiving Names, Developing Profile, Beginning Search, Interim in Place, Developing Self-study, Profile Complete, Seeking Interim,  Re-opened.  The Episcopal Digital Network Job Listings cuts through that complexity by asking a simple question, When is the application due?

The Clergy Deployment Office was established by the national church in the 1970s as “a proposed reorganization of Church practices in the deployment of its professional leadership”.  See full text here.  The name of the office has been changed twice, first to the Church Deployment Office, and then to the Office of Transition Ministries.  Each name change denotes added responsibilities and added complexity for the office.  The change from “clergy” to church” represents the addition of lay leadership deployment to the office’s remit.

The change to Office of Transition Ministries reflects a larger expansion of the office’s purview.  The OTM’s 2012-2015 Strategic Plan states: “The Vision/Purpose of the Board and Office for Transition Ministry is to facilitate transitions for effective mission and transformational ministry in the Church.”  The original focus on the deployment of professional leadership has expanded to providing guidance over all elements of a transition from one pastoral leader to another – leave taking, use of interims or priests-in charge, profile development, search processes, congregational development, etc.

The original CDO was “designed to house a modern “data bank” of up-to-date personnel records of all clergy,”.  Its purpose was to help clergy who ” don’t know where to turn” when they want to move.”  This original purpose seems to be lost in the current strategic plan.  The OTM 2012-2015 Strategic Plan mentions the current iteration of the data bank, the OTM Portfolio, only once.  The OTM Portfolio is one of twenty-five bullet points in the ministry section of the document.  Are we losing focus here?

What would happen if we tried to simplify the transition process and the OTM Portfolio? I welcome your comments and will add a few of my own in a future blog.

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