Five transition takeaways from our Diocesan meeting

Father Steve’s departure won’t happen for a couple of months — thank heavens — but Senior Warden Carrie Barbee and I informally commenced the discernment and transition process when we met a couple of weeks ago with Bishop Steven Miller and Diocesan transition officer Peggy Bean.

Carrie and I rushed in from other appointments and fumbled with bags and notebooks as we arrived in the antiques-filled reception room in the All Saints Cathedral complex. Our hearts may have been pumping a bit quicker than usual, as we thought over the many questions we’d brought with us and the concerns we had about getting our discernment process on track.
The offices of the Diocese of Milwaukee, a few blocks from St. Paul's.

The offices of the Diocese of Milwaukee, a few blocks from St. Paul’s.

We found the hour-long meeting that followed quite informative and helpful, noticing that it had restored our breathing rates to normal. So we figured that  fellow St. Paul’s members might appreciate hearing some of the key things we learned. So here are five top takeaways from that meeting.

  • Not in this alone: The Bishop and Peggy were both very reassuring in their offers of support during our process of discernment and transition to a new rector. In Peggy, we have someone who’s very knowledgeable and experienced  about this process. She’s led many other congregations through it, most recently St. Mark’s on the East Side. She’s an experienced specialist in transitions, connected to a network of similar professionals who help facilitate clergy transitions nationwide.  I hope you’ll recognize these qualities for yourself when she visits St. Paul’s later this Summer to facilitate a 9 a.m. discussion on the transition.
  • Good endings lead to good beginnings: Again and again at the meeting, we heard similar advice. “Don’t rush your goodbyes,” they said. “This a time to celebrate what people like most about Father Steve’s ministry and learn from it… Be sure to spend time with him to learn everything he does. Too many congregations miss the opportunity to do that.” From the Bishop, we heard emphatically: “A good ending is essential for a good beginning.” Message noted. And in case you haven’t heard: among the many ways we’ll take up this advice is a fond farewell celebration for Steve and Karen on Thursday evening, August 11th. Save-the-Date for that. (And thanks to Gerry Mainman, Mary Beth Haubrich and Carol Deptolla for leading the planning!) The coffee hours on August 14th are also planned as a special time to share goodbyes with the Teagues.
  • Next steps, minus one:  We’ll be taking some important steps together in the coming months. A few of those include convening discussions through a variety of means (group forums, informal conversations, sticky notes on posters) to clarify our discernment vision, and forming a committee to lead this discernment and forward a recommended candidate for consideration. One component of past searches that we won’t need this time is a printed parish profile document to share with candidates.  A good church website now has everything formerly found in the profile — and more. So the time members of our congregation spent redesigning this website (and renewing it with fresh photos and content) has been time well spent. And just as important will be updates done in the coming months that show the life of St. Paul’s going strong.
  • Benefit from experience: At the meeting, we learned of the existence of a special type of Episcopal clergy: intentional interim ministers who undergo special training to support congregations during transitions. Although some IIMs may spend as much as two years, helping a church communities heal from difficult experiences and prepare for new leadership, others spend shorter periods and work in important but less dramatic ways to pave the way for a smooth, positive transition. That happens through their expertise in appreciative inquiry. It happens through the interim minister’s meeting of the pastoral needs of a congregation, plus the demands of peak worship seasons such as Advent. And it happens through the interim minister’s attention to administrative responsibilities of a church such as ours with its choir and staff. Finally, you may be relieved to learn, the presence of a trained full-time interim minister pretty much guarantees you won’t see the senior or junior warden having to step in to lead a service when local supply priests take ill or have other commitments. We’d heard there were a few close calls during past interim periods when only a lot of scrambling kept this from happening! With Peggy Bean available to tap her network and suggest qualified candidates for consideration, the Vestry approved a motion at its May meeting authorizing the wardens to proceed with the process of finding and hiring an intentional interim minister.
  • The calendar counts: As mentioned above, an experienced interim minister can make a world of difference as the important (and busy) seasons of Advent and Christmas near — and, if needed, during the busy Lenten and Easter seasons that quickly follow. Similar calendar considerations play a role in the discernment process too, making it difficult for those working as rectors or assistant rectors of other churches to consider or announce a move during either Advent and Christmas or Lent and Easter. However quickly it goes or long it takes, the wardens, Vestry and forthcoming discernment committee will be dedicated to finding the future rector who is best suited to leading St. Paul’s where God is calling us.      — Stephen Filmanowicz