A New Rector – What Happens in Vacancy?


Based on a note prepared by Rev Nicholas Henshall – Vicar of Christchurch, Harrogate and Acting Archdeacon of Richmond, the following explanation is the first, and longest, in a series of notes which will be published in the Parish Magazine and on the Parish Website to keep everyone in touch with the process for appointing a new rector for our Parish.

In the ‘old days’ we used to call the period without a vicar an ‘interregnum’.  That literally means ‘the time between reigns’ – not a helpful idea.  It suggests that the Christian community  is leaderless when there is no full time paid priest which we know isn’t true.  Certainly Christian communities need priests, and the Church of England invests a huge amount in training and deploying clergy.  But we also know from experience that every member of the Church counts and needs to contribute even more during a vacancy and, therefore, a vacancy can be a time for growth.  Having said that, vacancy isn’t a very good word either!

Well, what are the nuts and bolts?  What is the process in a vacancy?  Who is ‘in charge’?

Dealing with the last question first: the churchwardens, as the Bishop’s officers, are formally in charge of the parish, working with the PCC and the ministry team. That doesn’t mean that the wardens have to do everything – rather they have responsibility for making sure that everything is done.  In our Church  community we have the resources provided by Maggie and the great teams of volunteers in all areas of our Church life  alongside Darren and a wonderful team of retired clergy, worship leaders and preachers all taking a positive approach.

What about the process?

The process is well tried, and goes like this:

– at the beginning of the vacancy, the Archdeacon comes to have an informal meeting with the PCC in the parish.  This provides an opportunity to outline the whole process and to ask questions and talk together.  The PCC held this meeting on 3rd December 2013.  The Area Dean – in our case Brendan Giblin, the Vicar of Wetherby – will also meet the PCC and be readily available throughout the process with advice and ideas.  Since the Acting Archdeacon is moving to Essex the Area Dean will take a more prominent role in our selection process.

– the PCC then get on with writing what is often called the “parish profile”.  This is a document that describes the life of our church and the wider community.  It describes the church’s mission priorities and contains a clear role description for a new priest – the role they will fulfil and the skills and gifts they need for this post. This is a really important part of the document as it will be used for short listing and interviewing candidates. The parish profile also contains some “technical” information about church statistics, normally in an appendix.

– this document is then discussed at a special PCC meeting called the Section 11 meeting.   This is expected to be on 8th April 2014 and is led by the Area Dean.  Because the Deanery Lay Chair is Jenny Caldwell from St John’s her position alongside Brendan will be taken by Lesley Swales from Pool who is the Deanery Secretary. This meeting has two purposes: to agree the profile and to elect the two PCC representatives who will sit on the interview panel.  These do not have to be the Churchwardens.

– a short time later comes the Section 12 meeting probably early in May when Bishop James, the Area Dean and the Deanery Secretary will meet with the PCC to go through the parish profile and formally sign it off.  The Archdeacon will also be part of this process but by then the whole diocese will have changed.  It may be that the current Archdeacon of Craven, who is to be the new Archdeacon of Richmond and Craven, will attend or we may have to do without an Archdeacon but Bishop James is very experienced, of course, and the Area Dean is excellent.  This will also be an opportunity for the Bishop to talk more informally and pray with the PCC.

– the Archdeacon then writes a role description and a person specification drawn from the parish profile, along with an advert, and all these documents are put on the “Vacancies” page on the Diocesan website.  Because the Diocese will by then have begun the transition to the new Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales, clergy in the current  Ripon & Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield Dioceses will be invited to apply.  This will give us a wider reach for the internal advert than in previous vacancies but if suitable candidates do not emerge internally, the post will be advertised nationally – possibly in June.

– once applications have been received, they are circulated around all those who will be doing the interviews and they confirm which candidates should be called for interview

How are interviews dealt with?

it is an excellent  idea to ask candidates to come the evening before for an informal gathering, which could include people from the wider community (but which must not be attended by the two PCC representatives who will be interviewing).  We might consider, for example,  the Head and Chair of Governors of Richard Taylor School and those of the other schools in the Parish, other Bilton Clergy, etc.   It is very important to realise that this is for the benefit of the candidates.  It helps them get a broader understanding of the community.  The evening before is also an excellent time for the candidates (and their spouses) to look over the vicarage.

There are two interview panels: the Bishop’s panel which consists of the Bishop, the Archdeacon and the Lay Chair; and the Parish Panel, which consists of the two PCC representatives and the Area Dean.  As already indicated the composition will be a little different in our case.  On the day, the exact timetable would depend on the number of candidates, but would typically go something like this:-

9.00 am:  Morning Prayer in church

9.30 am:  Candidates are taken on a short tour of the Parish

10.30 am:Interviews – each candidate interviewed by the Bishop’s panel and the parish panel

12.30 pm: Presentations – each candidate preaches an eight minute sermon to both panels jointly

1.00 pm:  Lunch, after which the candidates leave

1.45 pm:  the panels meet first separately and then together to make a decision

So what can each of us do? The most important thing we can do is pray for all those involved in the appointments process.  The next is to approach the whole vacancy with open minds and with hearts set on a vision for the future ministry in this place where our Christian community can continue to flourish and grow.

You may, also, like to discuss in your housegroup what skills and other characteristics you might want the PCC to look for in a new rector.  If you want to do this you will need to feed back your views in writing to Darren by the 15th January 2014.

The PCC will next meet to take forward the preparation of the Parish Profile on 8th January 2014.