Life after Stephen

With the memorable and moving service on Sunday 27th September, and the excellent lunch that followed, we thanked Stephen for his years of ministry here as our parish priest and wished him well for his retirement and whatever future ministry might unfold. And so the parish entered into a vacancy. This article seeks to explain how a vacancy works, and how the next priest is appointed.

Vacancy or interregnum?

We prefer to speak these days about a vacancy rather than an interregnum. The latter term makes a rector sound like a ruler or monarch, whom we have to serve or please, rather than one who is ministering to us and alongside us. We are all seeking to follow Jesus. We all have ministries to exercise through the places where we live, work, and spend our time. The parish priest is there to work with us all, to help us discern together the direction in which God wishes us to go, and to enable and support the ministries of the rest of us. He is much more a facilitator and supporter of others, than the one who does it all with a little help from his supporters.

Parish life during the vacancy

During a vacancy, the life and work of the parish continues as far as possible as it was before. The authority of the parish priest passes to the sequestrators, who are the churchwardens and area dean. Their role is to work with the ministry team, PCC and others to sustain the mission and ministry of the parish during this time. There may be small changes to enable the vacancy to function, or to allow the parish to develop in the way it has been going, but it is not a time for major changes or alterations. In this parish, with the ministry team of clergy and lay ministers, we will only have to call occasionally on others for help with services. But it will mean some extra work for the churchwardens, ministry team and a few others.

How is the new parish priest appointed?

There are several stages in this process.

1. The PCC works to produce a “benefice profile”. This document describes the parish with its vision, hopes and concerns, and also includes factual information about the parish and life in this area. The recent work towards a Parish Mission Action Plan will have assisted this process considerably. The PCC also has to agree what character and skills we are looking for in the next parish priest. In this task they work with the suffragan bishop and archdeacon, who seek to ensure that the parish is clear about what it wants, and reflects the current vision and strategy of the wider diocese and deanery.
2. The PCC has to decide whether to request for the post to be advertised, or for the bishop to suggest possible candidates in turn. The patron though is free to make their own decision about this, and our patron is the diocesan bishop.
3. The PCC also selects two of its members to be the parish representatives on the interview panel.
4. Whether the bishop suggests possible candidates in turn or several candidates are interviewed at the same time, candidates will be invited to look around and to meet the people that they will be working with. There will also be a formal interview with the interview panel, which usually consists of the suffragan bishop or archdeacon, area dean and the two parish representatives. The parish representatives have to agree with the decision before a priest can be nominated to the bishop for appointment.
5. Once the right candidate has been chosen, there will be a period of time for the DBS clearance and other matters before an announcement can be made. This can sometimes take quite a few weeks.
6. The Rectory is usually let during a vacancy on a short term assured tenancy of six months as this provides valuable income for the diocese. Notice will have to be given to the tenants, and any necessary work carried out, before the new priest and their family moves in.
7. Usually about four to six months after the interview which found the right candidate, the new priest will be licensed to the parish and start their ministry here.

How long might the vacancy last?

That is like asking, how long is a piece of string? The length of a vacancy can vary enormously. It depends on how long each of the different stages takes. These days there is no guarantee that we will be able to find the right person quickly. Sometimes posts have to be advertised a couple of times, as well as the bishop making a suggestion or two. The important thing is not to rush the process, but to pray and seek God’s guidance, that we may appoint the person we believe God is calling to work with us here.

Once the appointment is made, the person appointed may also have commitments that they have to fulfil before they can move. There may also be a delay if any work to the Rectory takes time. Again, it is better to gets things right than rush them.

Thanks to Norman Boakes for this explanation.