From David Kerr, Vestry secretary

I need to tell you about a meeting the Vestry had with the Bishop recently. You’ll mostly be aware that Robin is approaching 65, though that, as they say, is merely a number and is belied by the energy and enthusiasm he continues to bring to being Rector of St John’s. That job, though, is enormous and, in many ways, bears little resemblance to how it was ten years ago, when he . . .

David Kerr
David Kerr

arrived; still less that of twenty or thirty years ago. You will have guessed, by now, if you hadn’t already, that Robin is proposing to retire; and that that will be at the end of June this year.

The first thing is to reassure you that he is not ill; nor is there any other negative reason for his retirement. He wishes, as we all would wish for him, to be able to enjoy his retirement, Helen’s retirement, their grandchildren and all the normal things, while they are both still fit and healthy.

The second thing is that, inevitably, people retire, or move on. I wasn’t at St John’s in those days, but I know that there have been times in the past where these transitions have happened in sad, or unplanned, circumstances. But this is something that Robin has planned, after consultation with Helen, the Bishop and others; and there is evidence that God has been planning this, too. What do I mean by that? Well, consider, firstly, the strength of St John’s position: we are a viable, active, diverse congregation, which has experienced competent, pastorally and spiritually sensitive leadership for the past ten years. We have a Vestry which is an elected spiritual eldership and a supportive Bishop and Diocese. It won’t be an overnight process to find a new Rector. But there are recognised structures in place to help charges deal with the situation. More about those in a minute. In the meantime, I was talking about God’s planning. In the past year or two, our already generous allowance of retired Clergy has been added to by the arrival of Hamilton and Grace and by Jim and Carole Booth all of whom have been with us for well over a year. This means we have a wealth of experience and spiritual and pastoral depth to draw on meantime. God’s provision. And it means we don’t have to rush out and collar the first person with a collar that we see.

Let me say a bit more about the protocols and so on that are in place to keep us on track in the absence of a Rector. I’m not going to go in to the Chapter & Verse of this just now, or we’d be here all day. That detail will come later and is governed by the 2010 Constitution and the rules and procedures of the Diocese and Province.

Firstly, Robin will still be with us for the next few months. His last weekend with us is expected to be 25/26 June. There’s more detail and a rationale for this, but I’ll save that meantime.

Secondly, it falls to the Bishop to appoint an Interim Priest, after consulting the Vestry. What it says is, ‘The Bishop appoints the Interim Priest to keep a watching brief with the Vestry during a vacancy. The priest is there to offer advice to the Vestry as issues arise in the ordinary life of the charge and may need to deal with pastoral emergencies…. It is expected that the Interim Priest would be the first point of contact for funerals, marriages and other occasional offices. The priest may decide to officiate at these or to delegate them to another priest.‘ The Vestry felt that Jim Booth, who has been amongst us for some time and has contributed to the development of healing prayer ministry would be a good person to fulfil this; Jim has indicated a willingness to do so, and the Bishop will shortly formally confirm this.

The Interim Priest is not expected to chair the Vestry. The Vestry has meantime agreed that James Clark-Maxwell will do this, and that Heather Gibbings will be his depute.

So that’s how we keep the lights on and the services happening with no Rector.

The procedure for appointing a new Rector is governed by the 2010 Constitution, so may vary from what people may remember from last time.

Within a reasonable period (and we have provisionally agreed with the Bishop that that would likely be in June), we have to hold a Special General Meeting at which 7 constituent members of what I’ll call a Vacancy Committee are elected. In many charges, this is the Vestry; here there can be an overlap to a greater or lesser extent, but the only actual requirement is that members be constituent members of the congregation of at least a year’s standing. That committee is required to act in consultation with both Bishop and Vestry in finding a suitable candidate for recommendation to the Bishop for appointment. The Committee cannot begin to search until the existing Rector has left. A Parish Profile, describing the kind of church we are, and a Person Specification, outlining the kind of person we’re looking for, would be drawn up. The post can be advertised and it is possible, also, that the Bishop might make a recommendation (which the Vacancy Committee is not obliged to accept) if there is someone he knows of and whom he thinks might be suitable. Eventually, an agreed candidate or candidates is/are arrived at, interviewed, recommended to the Bishop and, if approved by him, appointed.

So: a likely timeline for all of this is:

  • Mid-June, 2016: SGM held; vacancy committee elected
  • End of June: Robin departs
  • September: AGM and Vacancy committee starts its deliberations
  • November: Vestry at Cumbrae and final work done on the Parish Profile and Person Specification and approval by the Bishop.
  • January, 2017: Search, advertising etc begins
  • March, 2017: Interviews and successful candidate appointed; likely 3 month notice period to his/her existing charge.
  • June, 2017: New Rector at St John’s.

You may feel that’s a long time, but the Bishop advises, and the Vestry agrees, that it is already a fairly tight time scale to do all the things we need to do. We need to do it once, and do it right.

There’s more detail available, but I’ve kept you long enough. Just to finish; different people will have different, and complicated, emotions about this news. My personal feeling, which some, but not all of you, may share, is that I wish neither Robin nor Helen were going, but I have to recognise that everyone eventually must retire or move on and, in terms of the planning Robin has put in to this and God’s provision of so many people (and that includes each other) to look after us, this is the ‘least worst’ time for a change of Rector; it’s not a disaster and we mustn’t make them feel it is; we need to release them with our blessing, with our thanks for the past ten years and to wish them every blessing in the next stage of their life together.

The Vestry – any of us – can answer any other immediate queries you may have.”

David Kerr – Vestry secretary

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St John the Evangelist, Dumfries, is a parish of the Scottish Episcopal Church also serving Methodist parishioners locally.

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