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Hallo again to all.

Last week the priest who leads our church told us that he was leaving, to become dean of a cathedral. Whether he might be styled rector or vicar or curate-in-charge or incumbent or senior minister really depends on what country we might be in, so we shan't say. We'll just call him 'John', because that's not his name.

Our congregation loved John. He was and is a brilliant and magnetic person, everyone's friend. Great preacher, great scholar, great singer, and darn good looking, too. He arrived at our parish two days before hijacked airplanes were crashed into New York's World Trade Center, a date that Americans but not Chileans refer to as '9/11'. During his tenure here, nearly everyone in the parish has come to feel that he has done a great job. To many locals, our church is referred to not as 'All Saints of Emerald City' but as 'John's church'.

In our travels to various parts of the world, we have noticed that it is common for protestant churches to name their pastor on the big sign out front. 'Welcome to the Emerald City Church of God, Oscar Z Diggs, Pastor'. Liturgical churches usually don't identify their clergy on outdoor signage or on the front page of the church's website. The public image presented by Anglican churches does not usually include the identity of their leaders. The branding is not 'Pastor John's church' but 'Anglican church'. It's the outpost of the Anglican Communion in our town, and the name of its leader is not relevant to that.

Don't get us wrong: we're not saying that the leader of a church doesn't matter, because we all know that it does. We're saying that the identity of the leader is not an important part of its public persona.

Although our first reaction to the news of John's leaving was a mixture of joy (for his future) and sadness (for his departure from our parish), we realized upon reflection that it's probably healthy to change leadership often enough that the identity of the church and the identity of its priest do not get confused. Unsurprisingly, this confusion is more likely to happen if the priest is very talented.

We know of large organizations that rotate people through assignments in different places rather than letting them settle. We were told once by a senior vice president of a large global bank that part of its employment strategy was to treat tellers and employees who interact with the public so badly that they won't want to remain on the job longer than a couple of years. Both of these policies help ensure that employee personalities don't come to dominate organizational identity.*

We've been in this parish a long time. This is the third time we've sat in a pew there and heard the leader announce that he or she would be leaving. There are always interim priests, supply priests, retired clergy, speeches from churchwardens, and sobs from parish friends. We hope that we live long enough to see this happen again, and maybe yet again. Our parish is not John's parish, it is our community's parish, defined by the people who actually attend church. We will find someone appropriate to replace John, and we don't think we need to be in any hurry.

See you next week.

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17 May 2015

*We sometimes wonder whether in some parishes, the parish elders see their responsibility as treating the priest so badly that he or she will not want to stay very long.

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