A Streamlined Transition Process in the Diocese of Washington

by | Aug 3, 2023

A dynamic of transition is Inherent to the nature of living in our nation’s capital. Political leaders’ terms begin and end. Ideologies change based upon current societal mores. Spiritualties evolve and shift to enable people to cope with the twists and turns that life, sometimes mercilessly, presents. The Diocese of Washington is impacted by similar transitional dynamics as well. Clergy discerning new calls coupled with clergy deaths and retirements, and parishes discerning new missional and visional leadership direction combine to create a landscape of transition that is fraught with both anxiety and curiosity.

Currently, 30 of the 86 parishes in our diocese are in active transition. We, along with dioceses throughout The Episcopal Church, are faced with challenges that have caused us to shift in doing the business of congregational transition. One major reason for this shift is that–due to several factors, but primarily the inability of many parishes in transition to offer reasonable financial compensation packages–the pool of priests is becoming increasingly shallow. Seminarians and recently ordained priests are not necessarily discerning a calling to parish ministry and instead are opting for the financial security of positions in chaplaincy, higher-education, and not-for-profit organizations.

A new model of transition has been developed and is being piloted in the diocese to address our current reality. The model seeks to simplify, streamline, and shorten the overall transition process by clearly defining roles and responsibilities, initially focusing upon the identity of the parish (rather than initially focusing upon the desired traits of the incoming clergy leader), and equipping and empowering the Vestry (rather than establishing a separate Search Committee) to lead the search process. The model incorporates the intentional involvement of diocesan staff and other diocesan teammates to ensure a smooth and expeditious transition experience ranging from 3 to 6 months.

The new model includes 7 steps:

  1. Identifying Supply Clergy
  2. Conducting a Financial Audit and Review
  3. Undertaking a Parish Vitality Assessment
  4. Performing a Website Review
  5. Writing and uploading OTM Narratives
  6. Holding Next Steps Team Meeting(s)
  7. Implementing Next Steps Team Recommendation

Our ever changing landscape of congregational transitions invites us to lean into the hope of Pentecost, having received the Holy Spirit to sustain us with whatever we need to make it through these challenging times. The Holy Spirit has aided us in the past and promises to further aid us in the future.

The Rev. Dr. Robert T. Phillips
Canon for Leadership Development and Congregational Care