The Christian tradition is so broad it's impossible to speak about as a single tradition. One place where different denominations reveal their emphases, their histories, and even their biases, is in how they pick clergy for their churches.
The Roman Catholic tradition sees itself as guarding the faith by establishing a line of authority to the apostles. The institution of bishops led by the Bishop of Rome is the major visible sign of this unbroken line. When a Roman Catholic parish needs a priest, the local bishop assigns one. This stewardship of doctrine has led in historical practice to a "top down" style of administration in the Catholic tradition, although the practices of a billion believers are tremendously diverse.
Baptist congregations call ministers directly with no approval from any outside body. Baptists emphasize the "priesthood of all believers" as well as placing particular stress on each individual's right and need to work out their own relationship with God.
Our Methodist sisters and brothers use what's called a "connectional" model. Stemming from the days of circuit riding, Methodist bishops assign ministers to congregations, sometimes renewed as often as once a year. The Methodist tradition lacks the notion of a "rector" who has some kind of "tenure" within a congregation. Every congregation is provided a pastor, and every pastor is provided a congregation, and sometimes the assignments are intended to broaden a congregation rather than "satisfy" it. The connections between congregations as one body - this is emphasized in the Methodist model.
None of these models is inherently "right" or "wrong" in themselves. Each tradition reflects a different emphasis on one part of scripture or another, and each tradition reflects the particular histories of the branches of the wider Christian Church.
How does it work for us? Episcopal churches traditionally have a "rector" as a long-term ordained minister in a congregation. In our diocese, the congregation and the Bishop each have a role in matching priest to congregation. The congregation decides who it wants to call as a rector, and the Bishop has the authority to approve or not. Of course, most parishes select well qualified candidates in good standing, so our relationship with the Bishop is truly cooperative.
It's no surprise that we Episcopalians take a typically Anglican approach. We assert both unity and independence, structure and freedom, at the same time! We understand that all Christians are called to have an immediate relationship with Jesus, but we work on our individual relationships with Him together. We also understand that our unity is something God desires, but we don't take that unity to mean that we all think the same way.
Now, here are some important facts about ordained ministry at Grace.
Grace Church is in the second year of a three year interim contract with our minister, Margaret.
At the end of this interim time, we will either call a rector or ask the diocese for a "priest in charge" who we may later call as a rector. Our bylaws specify that when we do call a rector, the parish votes on the candidate to send to the Bishop for approval. This is not something the vestry or wardens do on their own.
Therefore, your wardens are calling the first of several parish meetings where we ask you to discuss "what do we want in a rector" to follow Grace's interim period. These meetings will happen in the Large Hall after church on April 21st and April 28th. We'll have a light lunch and childcare will be provided at these meetings.
I'll share more details in the weeks ahead, but for now please mark your calendars and come to one of those sessions if you can. Other times and venues will also be available. Again, stay tuned.