13.4.14

A few unstructured thoughts on transitioning to vicaring

Reflections after reading
The Quantum Leap— From Assistant to Senior Minister, Reflections on Navigating the Jump. 

A Grove Booklet. 

I won't be telling you what to do.
I read that 'there are many unique characteristics to leadership that can only be properly appreciated once in post. In that sense, preparing to become a senior minister is a lot like becoming a parent. You ... learn from your peers who go through the experience before you, and you may read up a certain amount before the big day happens. But ultimately the challenges can only be appreciated once you have made the transition.' The analogy to parenting has just come up in a conversation with a dear friend of mine. With parenting, you bring the whole of yourself to the task and then bear the fruit and the consequences of the ways in which you have parented. In part, you receive the gift of what you have created. Of course, children have independent minds and evolve despite their parents. I think, regarding church, this analogy only works to the extent that it is true that the parent creates the culture in which children can either thrive or .... not.

In all other ways the analogy fails or might even perpetuate the creation of an infantilising culture, one I desperately want to avoid. After all, congregations of unique individuals have stories that have developed independently of any new minister and will have as much to teach the minister about disciple-life in the new context.

It's not MY church!
As the minister, you are moving into a church that belongs primarily to God and perhaps thereafter to that resident congregation and its surrounding community. Only thereafter, surely, can your own sense of leading that community develop. The cuckoo bird is a parent known as a brood parasite because it lays its eggs in the nest of other species. There is a lesson here in that I don't think the new minister can afford to lay its eggs (whether those be worship services from their old context, ministry initiatives, clever ideas, strategy, etc) into the new nest. At least, if the minister does this, they might face a time of nest-competing in that the new ideas, if transplanted unhelpfully into the new context, could be ousted from the nest even before they have grown feathers. I want to be more interested in what God has been doing in the life and people of the new context then arriving with a collection of ideas based in what God has been doing over the past few years in me.

Let's take a bit of time.
Adrian Beavis, (Vicar of St Luke’s Redcliffe Gardens, Earls Court), in his Grove booklet The Quantum Leap— From Assistant to Senior Minister, Reflections on Navigating the Jump, describes how it can take 'three years to adjust to being a vicar.' This would seem a sensible period of time with a good tradition behind it in terms of the disciples' time with Jesus before they were navigating life with with the Spirit. In three years, an Anglican minister can also journey through years A, B and C with the lectionary and perhaps complete the reflective cycle a good couple of times and be more measured and less reactionary in their forward planning as a consequence.

Can we be collaborative and participative? Let's grow an open and transparent culture to facilitate this.
I read that 'One of the main reasons why the jump into senior leadership is such a quantum leap is the increase in both the quantity and quality of decisions and challenges facing a senior minister, in comparison to an assistant minister. There are more decisions to make and those decisions have a qualitatively greater impact and bearing on the life of the church.' Rev'd Adrian goes on to describe, though, how there are 'wise co-leaders to share these decisions with.' Nevertheless, 'the weight of responsibility' comes not from the fact that these are big decisions, but because the senior minister is the one who makes 'the final call.' It is my wise co-leaders in whom I hope to invest, listen and creatively think.

Human hermeneutics for loving people
One of the most impacting aspects of curacy for me was the sheer exposure it afforded to such a huge range of human beings. When your circle is smaller, as it was before curacy, it is hazardous being surrounded by the like-minded i.e. you spend time between family and theological training friends who all in some ways share your view on life. Curacy then introduces you more obviously to the 'other' (Buber). It is through these experiences of the 'other' you realise both your own uniqueness and become more measured as a response to the discovery that not all people think as you do. People are huge books to be explored and fixing anyone with judgements and labels is very unhelpful. A friend of mine who has shared some of her counselling experiences, tells me that group sessions begin by being asked 'Where are you today - what is happening for you, both negative and positive?' I think the journeying daily with people with this kind of a question in mind, for both yourself and the other, prevents you making snap assessments. 'Human hermeneutics' makes the reading of people a flexible and constantly evolving art. It is challenging to experience the shock of that moment in which someone blows away your preconceived ideas about them with something spoken or done. A whole reassessment has to hastily occur. My prayer is that 'human hermeneutics,' as I call it, will cause me to reinterpret and question my own assessments so that I always allow for the possibility of surprise and development in my relationships. The danger of snap assessments is probably more obviously there, in the early days of the new post. Rev'd Adrian describes how, 'One first-time senior minister spoke of his frustration as he was desperate to delegate some significant areas of responsibility... he had no idea of the gifting and capacity of his new team, as he was just getting to know them.'

I am wondering how best to get to know people, whether this should organically happen or whether there should be some very deliberate strategising. In some ways, the strategising conflicts with the ideals that I hold about waiting for the unfolding of relationship, listening to the Spirit, being measured. On the other hand, I suspect a certain amount of pragmatism will be needed.  Rev'd Adrian reassures with his words: 'As a congregation realises that this new minister is serious about ‘equipping the people for works of service’ (Ephesians 4.12), and that decisions on vision, direction and strategy are going to be shared exercises, they will become increasingly comfortable in stepping into areas of genuine leadership and responsibility. Although this process may take some months, drawing others into sharing leadership is the best way of reducing the weight of responsibility. However, as the New Testament and the ordination services remind us, the weight of responsibility will always be something that accompanies the role of senior leadership.'

A teachable spirit
Rev'd Adrian explores one area of church governance that is often new to a first-time incumbent: the financial health of a church. His proposals for strategy here are helpful.

He proposes that vision is essential for financial health: 'Commitment follows vision and money follows commitment...If a new vision emerges that has been patiently and collectively discerned, clearly and
humbly communicated, and has been captured by the congregation, then people will be willing to commit themselves and their resources (including their wallets!) to making it happen.' I guess this is what occupies much of the first two years. I am wondering at one point the absorbing and the listening turns into action and vision-setting for the future. 'A Vision-shaped Budget' makes sense. We all want to know in what ways our money is being spent and how it is being used to build the Kingdom. This necessitates a culture that is transparent and where there is high accountability. I have Christian friend who champions a 'low control, high accountability' culture and this makes sense to me. There has to be a liberating amount of risk-taking, celebrating failure and lessons learnt, accepting humbly where God has closed doors but grown both faith and the capacity to be redirected. I hope to shape a culture where people can think aloud, dream dreams together and step out but also be secure enough in who they are in God and the love of the community to redirect energies when doors seem to be closing. Teaching on giving has to be going on, as well. If everything we do is rooted in faith and the scriptures, we are leading out of an authority that is far more profound than our own, a greater story about which we are both messenger and inhabitor.

Buildings are another area that is often now for management. Rev'd Adrian recommends from bitter experience setting aside 'two or three days to get familiar with the building and any outstanding issues. It is then wise to get together a dedicated group of people, who have expertise (or interest) and time, who can plan long-term for a regular programme of maintenance, repairs and improvements rather than simply responding to the latest crisis.'

Re-fresh!
I have focused here, then, on my two areas of least experience: buildings and finance. This Grove booklet goes on to also explore the importance of peer-coaching and mentoring, prayer and resourcing, self-care and balance in terms of work and life. Having never gone yet on one of those 'space to yourself, silent type retreats,' I am looking to have my opinion about them challenged because I might need to take deliberate time away sometimes. Currently, I re-energise at New Wine Conferences or with friends and family. A certain Eileen describes retreat centres hence: 'Retreat centres are amazing places. People go there and you can offer them plain food, give them menial tasks to do (tell them it's "discipline"), just leave them to their own devices (and call it "space"). And then you charge them a fortune.' I am hoping to discover that this might be something of a myth but I am not prepared to be sent away to one of these places quite yet. In the meantime, I have a caravan parked up somewhere south of the M25. Sometimes I might just go there with a book and a pot-noodle!

Are there any good books that you would recommend a transitioning minister, like myself, should read?

Thanks.

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