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Interim Ministry - Key learning points

At end of February 2017 Chelmsford diocese hosted a conference on interim ministry, building on some of the experiences and insights of their SDF funded work since 2014

Representatives from 19 dioceses with a wide range of experience and understanding of interim ministry attended.

What can interim ministry achieve?

An interim priest can help a parish equip itself more effectively for mission and determine what kind of priest is required in the longer term by enabling it to:

  • come to terms with the past, lose old fears and find new hopes, and perhaps discover a fresh identity
  • consider future witness, mission and ministry
  • reassess its resources, needs and priorities
  • see where and how it needs to change, and work through the inevitable transition
  • make plans for the future and prepare for the next chapter of its life

When is interim ministry used?

Making a post interim should be a response to the particular circumstances of the parish

  • When the future is unclear
  • When pastoral reorganisation is contemplated
  • When the past has been difficult

When the future is unclear

An interim can help a parish equip itself for mission and determine what kind of priest is required in the longer term. For example:

  • where a parish has difficulty appointing a minister an interim post can provide the leadership that is missing to help it to adjust to a radically different future
  • where it is not clear that the parish is viable and there is a need to see if it can turn around before pastoral reorganisation is contemplated

When pastoral reorganisation is contemplated

An interim ministry enables parishes to see if they might have a future together and if pastoral reorganisation might be viable. For example:

  • an interim ministry might be helpful when there are plans for pastoral reorganisation in the longer term, but it is not possible to implement them immediately. When waiting for an incumbent in a neighbouring parish or benefice to retire or if representations have been received against a pastoral scheme that nevertheless is supported by the majority of parishioners.

When the past has been difficult

A parish often needs some leadership and a period of self-assessment or healing. In cases where the appointment of the previous incumbent or priest in charge came to an end in difficult or traumatic circumstances, it can be particularly valuable to provide a period for healing and reflection. For example

  • after the death or extended absence of a minister
  • after a very short ministry
  • after a period of conflict within the congregation

Five key interim ministry tasks

An interim minister will help a church

  1. come to terms with its own history Connect with the church’sdeep stories. Churches need to be heard by someone that they can trust.
  2. Discover a new identity – How congregations understand themselves is critical. Churches often see themselves in terms of an incumbent.
  3. Make the transitional [leadership] changes. Change blockers, easing people out of leadership.
  4. Relate to the wider church in a new way
  5. Prepare for the next chapter of church life

Interim or turnaround?

There is a difference in the way priorities are balanced, depending on the severity and urgency of the task.

  • Interim: where there is an issue or a number of issues that need to be addressed before the church might be able to appoint a new minister.
  • Turnaround: Dysfunction in the church has become the norm, and major remedial work needs to be done.

Qualities of an interim minister

  • Can do all the hard messages. Don’t need to be everybody’s friend.
  • An initiator, not a sustainer
  • Able to build trust
  • Conflict management skills
  • Able to listen at a deep level
  • Comfortable in their own skin
  • Able to focus is always -what are we handing on?
    The essential qualities of an interim minister are common to all ministers, but deployed with a particular intensity.

Interim ministers say…

  • Early intervention is always helpful.
  • Take note of the power of ‘while I am here‘. Sense of urgency
  • The presenting issue is not always the issue that needs to be addressed.
  • Get over ‘being nice’. You sometimes need to be blunt and you sometimes need to be hard.
  • You need to be secure in the support from the diocese –has the bishop got my back?
  • There can be a lot of collusion between a parish and a diocese in turning a blind eye to problems.
  • The reality is that IM will be a failure if the changes don’t continue and that’s down to the congregation

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