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Search Update May 2017

In our effort to keep all members of the congregation up to date on the search process and its progress, we’re communicating in several ways; one of these is this set of frequently asked questions. We hope it’s helpful and we also hope that if you have questions not answered here, you’ll reach out to a member of the vestry (we’re all listed under the Start Here tab on the parish web site).
Stephen Yeazell, Senior Warden syeazell@stjla.org
Emily Abbott, Junior Warden abbott@stjla.org

Q: What’s all this I hear about a search for a new rector; didn’t Bishop Catherine just arrive a couple of years ago?
A: In 2014, after considerable deliberation, the Vestry asked our Diocesan Bishop, Bishop Jon Bruno, to appoint a priest to be in charge of the congregation to allow for further discernment about calling a Rector. While a Vestry may not call an Interim as Rector, they may after a discernment process with the Bishop, call a Priest-in- Charge Under Special Circumstances (the full title) as Rector. Bishop Bruno invited Bishop Roskam to serve in that role, but because she is a bishop, the title was changed to Bishop-in-Charge. Having had a good deal of experience with parishes blessed with diversity and also churches in transition, Bishop Catherine, though retired at the time, felt called to St. James to provide spiritual, pastoral and administrative leadership during the transition from our last permanent rector. We have been blessed with her wise guidance but, after calling a new rector, we must allow her to step down and return to the retirement phase of her life.

Q: So how does a search work?
A: The Episcopal Church mandates—wisely, we believe—that each parish, undergo a process of discernment and thought before seeking applications from or reaching out to interested clergy. That process has several required steps: It begins with parish meetings, sometimes referred to as “Town Halls”, in which all members of the parish are invited to share in looking back on our history, considering our present, and prayerfully visioning together for our future. These all-parish meetings provide the foundation for the work of the vestry and the search committee going forward, which is why it is so important for all voices to be heard. In addition to this material, the parish has to present financial data, a demographic profile, and describe its ministries. Only with this Parish Portfolio (also called a parish profile) can we proceed to seek candidates.

Q: Sounds complicated; so where are we in that process?
A: With the much-appreciated guidance of Canon Eric Law and several all-parish meetings, we have completed four of these steps—a parish history, present assessment, and future vision, as well as a demographic profile. With input and participation from many of you, we are also close to completing a description of our ministries. On May 14, Canon Law engaged each congregation in completing a survey about the qualities we seek in a new rector.

On Pentecost weekend (June 3 and 4), former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold and poet and communicator Barbara Braver will be with us to help make the transition from looking inward on our life together to looking outward with the guidance of the Holy Spirit to begin the work of seeking candidates. Bishop Griswold and Barbara Braver will be conducting a quiet day on Saturday and on Sunday Bishop Griswold will be the preacher.

Q: Can I see what we’ve done so far?
A: Yes; both updates from the Wardens, the Parish History, and the Demographic Profile appear under the Rector Search tab at the top of our web page: https://stjla.org/ And we’ll keep posting additional material as it’s available.

Q: So once the Portfolio is up, how do we actually get candidates?
A: There are several ways. Clergy all over the U.S. have access to a national online data base of open positions, which will be linked to our Search documents; that will attract a number of applications. The Diocesan Office of Transition and the Bishop may also add names for consideration. In addition, we will be seeking from all of you names of clergy candidates whom you think will be a good match, given the parish’s character and vision. A search committee will then screen and interview candidates.

Q: Do all Episcopal churches conduct searches in the same way?
A: No, they do not. The technique of the search can follow several different methodologies. The first, and most popular, is the global/national search where candidates can come from anywhere across the world. The second is a regional search that restricts candidates to a geographical area that we establish (e.g., California, Oregon, Washington and Nevada). The last is the short list where the diocese of Los Angeles gives us a short list of candidates to interview, and we choose our rector from that list. The vestry is in the process of weighing these alternatives, which have different financial costs attached to them.

Q: Will the congregation get to weigh in on its favorite candidate?
A: No—for two reasons, one practical, the other structural.

Practically, experience has shown that we will attract the best candidates only if we can promise the confidentiality during the search process (to test the truth of this proposition, consider how your current employer would feel if it knew that you were actively seeking other positions). In a typical process, a search committee (composed of vestry and others) would identify several finalists, who would then be interviewed by the vestry, which will then after prayerful consideration, “call” the preferred candidate. So a number of members of the congregation will be involved, but it will not involve the entire congregation—until we are ready to greet a new rector.

Structurally, the Episcopal Church entrusts the choice of clergy not to the congregation as a whole (as do some other Protestant churches) or to the bishop alone (as does the Roman Catholic church) but to an elected representative body laity—the vestry. To use a political analogy, the Episcopal Church is a republic, not a democracy, and the vestry are your representatives.

Q: So if I have a candidate I think would be good, how do I nominate her/him?
A: Sooner rather than later, please contact either the Senior or Junior Warden with whatever information you have; we will make sure it gets into the hands of the search committee. But please understand that we cannot, without violating confidentiality, give you progress reports on your nominee.

Q: I would love to be a part of the search process. How do I join the Search Committee?
A: Share your interest with our Junior Warden, Emily Abbott abbott@stjla.org, or the Senior Warden, Steve Yeazell syeazell@stjla.org . The Vestry will consider all candidates, but unfortunately we will not able to let everyone participate. Search Committee members will be selected by the Vestry, based on personal availability (this summer will be a critical time), and how closely the congregant’s desires in a Rector align with the congregation’s desires for a rector representation of diverse communities and ministries as well as skills relevant to the process. All should be aware the Search Committee will be a large commitment both in responsibility and time.

Q: Wouldn’t it be simpler just to ask one of our present clergy whom to hire?
A: It might be simpler, but the Church’s experience is that things go much better if the search process is led and decisions made by laity. Of course clergy can suggest names of strong candidates—and perhaps they have already reached out to people whom they think would be a good fit—but those nominations get no preference in the search process. The closest that current practice comes to that model is that a parish can, if it wishes, ask the diocese for a short list of 4-6 candidates and then choose among them. While your vestry has not made a definitive decision about this matter, at present the sentiment seems to be to cast a wider net. Obviously, if you have views about this matter, feel free to share them with any vestry member, but, under diocesan constitution and parish by laws, your elected vestry has the final decision about this matter.

Q: If I understand things, the parish is not in great financial shape; under those circumstances, how can we hope to attract a good rector?
A: You’re right, that our finances may deter some, but we’re a strong community with an enviable history, many active ministries—and cultural and ethnic diversity that would be the envy of many churches. We believe—a belief confirmed by those with much parish search experience—that a candid description of the parish’s strengths and weaknesses (including our finances) will enable us to call the right person for this moment. As one experienced observer put it, “The right person is out there, and if you are honest and prayerful in telling her or him who you are, that person will hear the call.” And—we also hope that parishioners will help to lift our finances by pledging (for those who are not currently doing so) or increasing their pledges (for those who are).

Q: So how long is this going to take; when might we expect a new rector?
A: That depends on several factors, not all of which are under our control, but we tentatively hope to have called a new rector by the end of calendar 2017. That person may not be in place by then, but we hope to know who she or he might be. Meanwhile, Bishop Catherine has graciously agreed to shepherd us until we have called a new rector, though she is likely to step aside during the period between that call and the actual arrival of our new rector; we have in mind several alternatives for clerical leadership through this short “shoulder period.”

Q: If I have more questions—or comments—whom should I talk to?
A: You’re welcome to speak with any member of the vestry, but you might want to start with the Junior Warden, Emily Abbott abbott@stjla.org, or the Senior Warden, Steve Yeazell syeazell@stjla.org . And you may want to keep an eye on the Rector Search tab on the parish web site https://stjla.org/ ; we’ll post new material as it becomes available.