Since the 1960s mainline denominations have moved toward using “interims” to help fill “vacancies.” Molly Dale Smith, an Episcopal priest and transitional consultant, has collected essays about the current practice and theory of interim ministry.
The title itself points to the ongoing development of this ministry. Transitions occur in any number of settings, as the essay by Ben Helmer points out. Yet it is the time between “installed pastors” (as we Presbyterians term them) that grab so much of the energy and emotion of in-between times.
This book is a wonderful resource for those who serve as interim pastors in any denomination, as well as for staff members of governing bodies. Moreover, church leaders who find they need a pastor for a transitional period can benefit from the essays in this collection.
The three sections deal with theory and practice. Section 1 addresses “Questions about Transitional Ministry.” “Stories of Transitional Ministry” follows in Section 2. Resources for congregations and governing body leaders comprise the last portion of the book.
Smith begins the discussion with a short article on “What is Transitional Ministry?” There are a number of transitions. The leadership transition of pastors is an opportunity common to times with an “interim” minister. Three things mark this shift: tasks, training, and time.
Other readings in the first section deal with what an interim pastor does, how an interim pastor is contracted, why change will happen regardless of efforts to avoid it, how conflict happens and what can be done about it, how appreciative inquiry can be a tool for the congregation, and the value of planning for the future.
This book will be an important addition to the bibliography of changing pastoral leaders that includes Mead’s A Change of Pastors … And How It Affects Change in the Congregation and Temporary Shepherds: A Congregational Handbook for Interim Ministry, edited by Roger Nicholson. Some of the authors have experience working with Presbyterian congregations, but none are Presbyterians. Even so, the process of Transitional Ministry will be a very good complement to the work of Alan Gripe in The Interim Pastor’s Manual.
Transitional ministry, as described in these essays and in the lived experience, is an important time for a congregation. The authors that editor Smith has gathered enable readers to gain a different perspective than that which labels a congregation without a pastor only as “vacant.” Such a church is a place of ongoing vital ministry. Preparing for the next pastoral leader of the congregation is central to its identity and calling of the church transition. All sorts of possibilities arise from that point in time.
Joel L. Alvis Jr. is interim pastor of North Decatur Church in Decatur, Ga.