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Fr. Andrew Van Kirk has recently been appointed as Priest-in-Charge at St. Andrew’s. For many people, the “Priest-in-Charge” title is unfamiliar. In the Episcopal Church, the priest who is in charge is generally called a “Rector” (which itself is a strange title to non-Episcopalians), but Fr. Andrew is not the Rector. He’s the Priest-in-Charge. So how is this role different, and what does that mean for our life together?
Functionally, there is very little difference between a Rector and a Priest-in-Charge. On a day-to-day basis, you should not expect to notice. Per the terms of the Letter of Agreement between Fr. Andrew, St. Andrew’s, and the Diocese of Dallas, Fr. Andrew will assume, broadly speaking, the roles and responsibilities of the Rector of a parish.
The difference between a Rector and a Priest-in-Charge lies in the nature of their employment. Generally speaking, when an Episcopal parish loses its Rector (as St. Andrew’s did in August 2017 when Fr. Mike Michie left to lead church planting efforts in the national Episcopal Church), the parish enters a period of discernment, which leads to the appointment of a search committee. In turn, the search committee is responsible for selecting and interviewing qualified candidates. Finally, the Vestry extends a “call” to the priest they choose as the next Rector. This process often takes upward of a year, sometimes significantly longer. The most important reason this process is so involved is that it’s very important to get it right.
However, with Fr. Mike’s departure, both St. Andrew’s vestry and the Bishop of Dallas felt strongly that St. Andrew’s current Associate Rector, Fr. Andrew, would be a good fit to lead the next chapter of St. Andrew’s life, and that God has much work to do through this parish without diverting a great deal of time and energy in a search process.
However, to call Fr. Andrew immediately as Rector would deprive both St. Andrew’s and Fr. Andrew the opportunity to do work necessary discern whether or not this was God’s call. Especially with Fr. Mike having exercised such an enormous influence as the founding Rector, it’s important to make time for this work.
With that in mind, the Bishop, with the Vestry’s support and approval, appointed Fr. Andrew as the Priest-in-Charge of St. Andrew’s for a period of not less than two years. At the conclusion of the two year period, St. Andrew’s may call Fr. Andrew as Rector or instead may choose to begin a search process to determine the next Rector. This gives both St. Andrew’s and Fr. Andrew two years of praying together, working together, and serving together to discern if it is truly God’s will that Fr. Andrew be the next Rector. Or not. But either way, it allows us to do the work God has given us to do with a sense of stability and continuity.
In some cases, when a parish needs priestly leadership during the search process, an Interim Rector is appointed. This person’s responsibility is to help provide stable leadership through the call process leading to the next Rector, but the Interim Rector is not ever a candidate to the next Rector. As the title suggests, an Interim Rector is a leader solely for the period in-between Rectors.
Fr. Andrew is not the Interim Rector. While St. Andrew’s has no obligation to call him as the next Rector (and Fr. Andrew no obligation to accept such a call), it is very much possible that he could be so called. That means title of Interim Rector is inappropriate for this situation, and we will not be using it.