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Transition manager: bridging the gap

Parish vacancies are times of vulnerability and of great strategic opportunity. Diocese of Bristol Transition Manager George Rendell has oversight of parishes during a vacancy. He assists in the assessment of a parish’s needs, links between the parish and diocesan leadership, and helps prepare for a new incumbent

I get involved when a vacancy is declared first – usually about three months before an incumbent moves on. I meet with the outgoing incumbent and get an idea of the parish, who does what. Outgoing incumbents are often very candid and will tell me directly the areas in which they feel they have not done well, where there are problems and areas for development.

My work is directed by a Transistion Managing Group, chaired by the archdeacon and including those responsible for human resources, property and the bishop’s chaplain.

Accompanying a parish through a vacancy follows a set process. There is a grid that structures the work of all the key people involved: human resources, the area dean, the bishop and designated officer. We follow the same process for parishes of very different needs, opportunities and strengths. The framework is broad enough to accommodate many kinds of needs. The major steps are:

  • Intial meeting with the PCC
  • Review the parish
  • Communicate the bishop’s decision
  • Help recruitment preparations
  • Assist induction

Initial meeting with the PCC

The archdeacon and I will first meet with the PCC of the church in vacancy to talk through the situation, explain the processes and to set expectations.

Review the parish

My first major task is a parish review – reporting an overview of the church’s situation and opportunities to the bishop. To do this I will speak individually with between 12 and 30 church members.

I often meet people in their own homes, but there is a variety of other ways I can learn from the church members. I attend Sunday services; a good opportunity may be to join a parish lunch and spend a little time talking about the future; sometimes church wardens have arranged inclusive meetings with post-it note type exercises on a board so that everyone gets a say.

I write a report which I first share with church wardens in order to weed out any obvious misunderstandings or errors on my part. I then share it with the PCC and talk it through with them. The report will highlight areas of opportunity and of weaknesses.

Once the PCC has agreed the report, I take it to the bishop. The bishop’s senior team discusses the report and uses it as a basis for making a decision about recruitment.

Communicate outcomes

If the decision is to go ahead and recruit an incumbent, I report that to the PCC and prepare for the next stage.

Sometimes it is neccesary to seize the opportunity to take significant decisions. One church was split down the middle on the issues of women in the priesthood. Some wanted to maintain their status of not accepting women priests. After long conversations and considerable discussion, they grasped an opportunity and voted to rescind that status.

Help recruitment preparations

After the report, I help the parish work on the profile. By that stage have a team of writers. They may be going off on a little bit of a hobby horse and need some outside direction. My question is: how does the parish ennunciate its areas for development?

Having outside assistance helps the parish put together a better, much more strategic profile, which is reflected in the advert. When the recruitment pack is ready I go back for a second meeting and I ask them to sign the profile where it says, ‘we commit to working with the post-holder…’

With the application pack is signed off, I stand back and let the recruitment process take over. I will have no further involvement in the selection of an incumbent.

Assist induction

But that is not the end of my role. When an appointment is made, I share the report with the successful candidate and try to attent the first PCC meeting so that I can facilitate discussion about the future of the church.

I see the role as being an accompanier. It’s about listening, asking the right questions and establishing a relationship with key people.

A vacancy should be a time for a parish to pause and think about its future, but often the extra demands of a vacancy squeeze out time for reflection. My role facilitates the reflection. Almost all of the parishes I have worked with have seen the help they get from transitional management as a really positive thing.


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