The Discernment Process in the Diocese of New Jersey Congregations experience transitions in pastoral leadership when their pastor retires, resigns, or dies. This is usually a time uncertainty and anxiety for the members of the congregation. “How do we get another rector or priest-in-charge?” is the question uppermost on people’s minds.The end of a long-term pastorate can be an emotional time for congregations and is usually accompanied by uncertainty about the next steps.We have a caring Bishop and Diocesan Staff ready to partner with congregations in their transitions whenever it occurs. We will meet with you to outline the process that will lead to the beginning of your next pastorate.
Your Rector or Priest-in-Charge is Leaving
Before the self-study and discernment processes begin, the process of ending the pastoral relationship must be completed. When the priest notifies the vestry of his or her retirement or resignation, the senior warden calls to inform the Bishop that the retirement or resignation has been received. The vestry then plans and carries out appropriate events to celebrate the departing priest’s ministry.
Your senior warden sets up a meeting between the vestry, bishop, and transition ministry staff to discuss the interim and discernment processes by calling Mary Ann Rhoads at 609.394.5281 ext. 11.
If an Interim Priest is what you need, your wardens will advertise for the position. This is an important transition phase in the life of your church. All interims are trained to provide ongoing pastoral care and to guide you through the developmental processes of the interim period:
1) Evaluating your history
2) Discovering your new identity
3) Instituting leadership changes
4) Renewing denominational linkages
5) Committing to new ministries
In addition, your interim will work with you to ensure that: Congregational records are up to date; the church follows The Manual of Business Methods in Church Affairs; a financial audit is completed; adequate bonding and insurances are established; and a property audit is performed. These tasks must be completed before any names are given to the Discernment Committee. The interim will not be involved in the self-study or discernment processes.
Praying Throughout Your Transition
Immerse yourselves in prayer throughout the self-study and discernment processes for God’s guidance, especially during times of worship. Members also are encouraged to pray daily for all those involved in the process.
The following prayer may be used at vestry, self- study, and discernment committee meetings, as well as at all worship services:
“Almighty God, giver of every good gift: Look graciously on your Church, and so guide the minds of those who shall choose a rector (priest-in-charge) for this parish (congregation), that we may receive a faithful pastor, who will care for your people and equip us for our ministries; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 818)
The Diocese of New Jersey has several trained Transition Consultants to guide you through your self-study and discernment processes. Your consultant will meet with you regularly and is an invaluable part of the process.
When calling a rector, it is important to understand that a “typical” discernment process takes from 12 to 18 months. Responsibility for this lies with your elected vestry and wardens. The process formally begins when the interim priest and your diocesan office give approval for the vestry to proceed with the discernment committee. It is recommended that the Interim Priest be in place for at least two months prior to the discernment committee being formed.
When the decision is to call a priest-in-charge, the discernment process is substantially shorter, perhaps six months. However, a discernment committee and transition consultant are still required.
Once the discernment committee has been commissioned and the process begins, the Senior Warden will contact the Diocesan Anti-Racism Committee to schedule a mandated two-hour training for members of the Vestry and Discernment Committee.
Above all, each committee member should be a person of prayer. The vestry defines the committees’ tasks and develops a budget and guidelines for the work to be completed. At this point the Transition Consultant is called. In general, the discernment process consists of three phases:
In this phase the self-study committee gathers information to create a “snapshot” of your congregation. The gathering of this information will be through surveys and focus groups. The type of information generated will include, the congregation’s current mission, goals for the future, congregational and diocesan history, programs, worship style, housing arrangements, financial information, and demographics. The Transition Consultant has many resources to aid in this process. This information is then used to create two documents:
The Parish Profile
The purpose of the profile is to describe your congregation at this point in your life and ministry, as well as to introduce a potential candidate to your congregation. The result needs to be consistent with your vision as a school for discipleship in the Diocese of New Jersey. Parish profiles serve best as links on your parish’s website, providing some history, as well as pictures and information relevant to the life and witness of the church in the community.
The Office of Transition Ministry Portfolio
This document is prepared from the parish profile, the Congregational Conversation, and all other pertinent information gathered. This information is then circulated by way of online tools on the following Episcopal Church web sites: The Office of Transition Ministry; The Transition Ministry Conference; The Episcopal News Service. These sites are accessible by clergy who are discerning their next call.
Support from the Bishop’s Office
During this second phase, the Transitions Officer will forward to the Transition Consultant and the Discernment Committee, the applications from potential candidates, after they have been reviewed and reference checks have been done by the Transitions Officer. The Transition Consultant presents the applications, and the Discernment Committee contacts the applicants to schedule initial interviews.
Applicants are then interviewed remotely. Applicants successful in the initial interview are advanced in the discernment process. The discernment committee conducts further interviews with applicants, as well as observe them preside and preach. On occasion, when it is convenient, this may be done in person. Applicants may also submit recorded services for review by the discernment committee. The discernment committee then recommends a pre-specified number of candidates to the vestry for their respective interviews and possible selection.
In the third phase, these final candidates are invited to visit your congregation for an in-person interview, as well as for the opportunity to see the church, look at potential housing, and get a feel for the community. After meeting all candidates, the vestry votes and proposes to elect your new Rector or appoint your next Priest-in-Charge. The Senior Warden informs the Bishop’s Office of the Vestry’s intent to elect or appoint the cleric so chosen. The Bishop then issues the call to the new priest. The call is considered official when the warden, elected rector or priest-in-charge, Transitions Officer and the Bishop have all signed the Letter of Agreement and the Oxford Background check is complete.
Welcoming Your New Pastor
After the vestry has completed the calling of your new priest, your senior warden will oversee the process of transition. This will include, helping relocate the priest and his or her family, coordinating with the Bishop’s office for The Celebration of New Ministry three to six months after assuming duties, setting up a process to review the expectations of the vestry and rector or vicar, along with periodic evaluations of the total ministry of the parish and the priest’s role in that ministry, through a Mutual Ministry Review. We’re in this Together.
At our Diocesan House, we pray regularly for each of our churches in a discernment process for a new priest. In addition to prayer support, we help at critical junctures along the way. We are here to serve you! Please call or email us whenever we can be of help.
Congregations in the Diocese of New Jersey in the discernment process for a rector, vicar, or priest-in-charge are required to utilize the services of a trained transition consultant, provided by the Diocese of New Jersey. The Consultant will work closely with the Discernment Committee and Vestry, to support the various stages, and consequent details involved in the transition process from the beginning, to the call of a priest.
Canon Brian Jemmott will provide the names of available consultants for consideration by parish Vestries. Upon selection, a consultant will begin working with the church’s Discernment Process, at the time that Diocesan Staff conducts the Town Hall Meeting with the congregation. Once the Transition Consultant begins working with the congregation, a covenant agreement will be signed by the vestry and transition consultant and reviewed by the Bishop’s Office.