Is our deployment system broken?

Here at the Cafe, we are trying to mix more conversation about the future of the Episcopal Church, and other profound issues, such as whether squirrels go to heaven, into our usual mix of faith-related news. Last week, a post from Scott Gunn at Seven Whole Days, caught our eye. He listed a number of things in the Episcopal Church that need fixing, prominent among them the way in which parishes select clergy.

Basically, the problem is that the median tenure of a rector in the Episcopal Church is about five years. The search process takes 18 months for most places. That means that many congregations end up without settled clergy leadership for 1/3 of the time. Those delays suck the momentum away. I’ve written about this before, but basically we need to increase the median tenure and massively shorten the transition time. There are plenty of ways to fix this, and our complacency is the only excuse for not making this one go away.

I agree that having interim clergy leadership as our norm is unhelpful. This isn’t to say that there are situations in which it is necessary. But at the moment, it is assumed as a fact of life. Why? What can we do about it?

On a somewhat related matter, Scott notes that our clergy compensation system works rather like our public school system, which is to say that clergy in the ecclesiastical equivalent of rich school districts earn more than those in poor districts, whether they deserve it or not. And furthermore:

Associates don’t work half as much as rectors. Priests in wealthy parishes don’t work twice as much as those in rural parishes. Let’s get a standard, toss in some cost of living and length of service factors, and call it a day. … Our current system sends newly ordained people into some of the most challenging parishes with few resources. Meanwhile, the economics of clergy compensation encourage many pastorally-minded clergy to become program-sized rectors, where their skills are simply not a good match with the needs of the community. … In an everyone-is-paid-the-same system, clergy are less influenced by a paycheck in discerning where they might be called. And, let’s face it, it’s a more just system.

It seems the system Scott is calling for might need to be administered by a diocese, or by the national church. I could see that causing some problems. But this isn’t an issue I have thought about much, and perhaps those could be easily surmounted. What are your thoughts on this?

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