Rectoring as distinct from Pastoring

Rectoring as the overall goal, function or operational principle, and Pastoring as part of what Rectors do.

In The Episcopal Church in the United States of America — using “in the USA” to show that there is a distinction from the Episcopal Church of Scotland, and the Episcopal Church of the Sudan, and others with the word Episcopal — the term Rector is used as synonymous with other denominational and non-denominational congregations which use the term Pastor.  It is a difficult word to continue to use, since the meaning of the term, and the term itself, is somewhat archaic.  For instance, the term Bishop is used both as the term of what office a person is “holding”, AND as a term of hailing:  “This is Bildad Gray Temple, the Bishop of the Diocese of North Pines.  Bishop, how are you?”   We do hear that same consistent usage with a Vicar of a Mission:

“This is Mrs. Dorothy Truxton-Campbell.  the Vicar of St. Alban’s Church.    Vicar, how are you?”    The Term Pastor is well used in this same manor.

We rarely ever hear the same consistency of usage for the Rector.  Every once in a while some dear soul will make every attempt to make use of this title of office in every which way they can:

“Rector, the Peace of the Lord be always with you.”   “See you next week, Rector.”

As a result, different names and titles and hailings are used, and something of the office of the Rector gets lost in it all.  Hey, it meant something to somebody at some point, so how might we be able to make use of it now, especially since the environment in which the term was established is the same environment from which our Church’s Constititution and Canons were established.  Is it possible that the loss of the title, Rector, for common parlay causes a diminishment in our understanding of the very underpinnings of the Rules and Regs, the Norms and Boundaries of our Church?

All of that opining in order to set up a useful way to see the office of Rector for the benefit of the Church and its development and growth. So, moving on….

It should be clear to all who have ever known more than one Rector (or Vicar, or Bishop) in their ecclesial lifetime that there is no cookie-cutter for such an office or ministry.  This despite the Episcopal Church’s overwhelming satisfaction over so many years of the “Shepherd” vocation within that leadership office.   Whether primarily of a spiritual vocation of Shepherd, or Teacher, or Apostle, any person with any spiritual vocation can be elected to inhabit the office.  My contention is that there should be a very understandable and easily articulated definition of the Rector in and for every Parish (again, see this contention for a singular focus as translatable to the bishop of a diocese, and the vicar of a mission, even if that focus is different.)    Of course, whatever that singular definition of office is, it will be obviously colored (not tainted, hopefully) and expressed in a way that is seen through whatever spiritual vocation and spiritual gifts that person as been given to use.

In other words, the Rector of St Mary of the Golf Course, and the Rector of St. Lawrence in the Lower Pits, bringing whatever spiritual gifting they have exhibited in their ministries, would both be operating under the same singular definition, even if it expresses itself in different ways. Such as if the Rector of the Golf Course carries out his Rector-ship with a primary vocation of Teacher, and the Rector of the Lower Pits carries out her Rector-ship with a primary vocation of Prophet, their primary task would be the same.

So let’s call that task RECTOR-ing.  Pastoring.  Teaching.  Prophecying.  Apostoling.  Healing.   So why not Rectoring?.  It could help to bring some Episcopalian sense to Ephesians 4:10 and following, where one of these spiritual vocations includes the person who is Rector-ing, having the rest of this section (bringing all into Maturity in the the Lord) as their particular responsibility in focus, AND in that, bringing together those raised  up through the Holy Spirit’s gifting to be the Rector’s Parish Leadership Team  to ensure all 5 of these seminal areas of parish leadership are engaged (that would be another essay, and I’m sure its already been written by someone).

Now, this idea and definition as I lay it out is nothing new; I’m not being terribly innovative in articulating this.  But the timing is incredibly important for the life of the Church at this moment.  With that in mind, RECTOR-ing is one thing only:  it is creating a parish environment, a congregational environment, so the parishioner — every disciple in the local parish — has an opportunity to be successful as a disciple of Jesus Christ.  We won’t quibble about the meaning of ‘successful’, since every Rector will have their own understanding of it.  I certainly have MY ideas of what that means, but let’s carry on here.   That is your job — if you will — as a Rector.  The fruit of such an environment will be evident when that parishioner/disciple in that disciple-making and encouraging and loosing environment comes to the moment of being that disciple.  Then the Rector-ing environment will find ways to get out of his or her way, all the while maintaining community fellowship.   Of course, Rector-ing also must include in such an environment a plan and strategy being engaged where new people are being brought into that parish environment.

I have found this to be true, over and over and over.   Somebody in the parish gets turned on (as we used to say) to who Jesus Christ is in their life, and discovers the empowering work of the Holy Spirit in them, and the love of God, and there is no seeming holding them back …. except to make sure they have the basics, the foundations, the fundamentals of discipleship like Prayer, Bible Study, Small Group, Personal Evaluation and Reflection, Giving, and Parish Fellowship.  When a small group of those parishioners/disciples feels their “success”, it can become a force of revival and renewal within the parish.   When a whole parish gets it, then Rector-ing means upholding the vision and holding on for the ride!  (and sharing words of Wisdom, and maintaining grounding in the Gospel).  When that happens in an Episcopal parish, whole communities are effected, even more so it seems than others.  That is more than likely because of the depth and profound strength of the Faith found within that tradition.   Foundation built in.

It should be obvious that this overarching primary definition of the Rector as Rector-ing demands knowledge, comprehension, recognition of that which stands in the way of such success and be willing to marshall the forces of God — as He gives permission — to move into that territory in prayer, and in God’s power to raise the banner of the Lamb of God (thinking of Paul at the door to Macedonia).

Coaches will recognize such action and priorities and encouragement.  In fact, I have simply and unashamedly incorporated most of the terms and phrasing of my alma mater’s former coach who was stolen by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013 to restate my old statement about Rector-ing.  Giving credit where credit is due, that would be Chip Kelly when asked about what he tells high school coaches as the coaches most important job.

     “Coaching is one thing and one thing only: It is creating an environment so the player
            has an opportunity to be successful,” Kelly told those high school coaches. “That is your
            job as a coach. When you teach him to do that, get out of his way.” In turning a 4-12 team
            into a division winner, Kelly also reminded a lot of his NFL peers of that lesson, and then
            showed them some new ways to act on it..” 

As an aside, some of my more complete articulation here first came from reading the preliminary research and debriefing report of the facilitators who were asked to work with the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania in preparation for their discernment for a new bishop.   Also, a recent discussion on planting churches got into the work of bishops and dioceses.  In both cases, it could be summarized to say that BISHOP-ING means creating an environment so the congregations (not individuals) have every opportunity to be successful “gospel-shoppes” (as my old bishop Matthew Bigliardi used to call them), or mission outposts, where in fact there are those who are Rector-ing and Vicar-ing, are all about creating an environment  so the individual disciples have the opportunity to be successful….

And in those reports, it was made uncomfortably and bluntly clear that bishops and dioceses that do not spend their time or resources in this purpose will begin to not be successful but begin to fail.  The facilitators flat out told the gathered clergy and lay leadership in C. Penn. that the diocese’s first priority was not itself but the success of its congregations.

Remember that is not a simplistic definition of the office of Bishop (or purpose of Diocese), since, God knows, plans of action and clear vision and knowing strategies are necessary.   But without that primary focus all those plans and visions and strategies are eventually misleading and a dollar late in developing hope for those congregations. Then resistance begins to set in as the next set of saving grace programs comes along.

Rector-ing.  Can’t you see the next clergy conference where instead of the usual question, “How’s your parish doing?”, the BISHOPS’s question is “How’s your rector-ing going?”  And the bishop then assesses how he or she and the diocese can support and assist that Rector (or Vicar) in being a success in Rector-ing.   Wow.  Hallelujah.


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