Friday, February 12, 2010

Second chair

Several months back, the journal Congregations featured an article on clergy who sit in "second chair," or assistant positions. The author proposes that a majority of second chair occupants use the position only as a stepping stone to the head pastor spot, while a few remain in the supporting role because it suits them.

This is my third year in a second chair spot, and as much as I would love to overrule decisions on some days, it seems that I'm one of those unusual people who have gifts for being No. 2. Two of our staff members told me (independently of one another) that I serve as the "glue" which holds our staff together in a way that hadn't been possible before. I'm amused by being called glue, but as I ponder the sense that I do not desire to be the guy [sic] in charge of everything, I'd describe it more in terms of how many pieces of a puzzle I choose to see.

Whether I like it or not, I continue to serve as City Dump (i.e., my office and my ears collect the complaints, dreams, anger, tears, and frustration of any and all who maintain that under no circumstances would they feel free to express these emotions in the rector's office). I don't claim to be a nicer person, nor more approachable, nor wiser. I learn constantly from the longer experience and non-reactivity of my colleague and boss. But there is something about speaking to the boss that stops people. Second chair looks safer. And people do, after all, love to triangle leaders, so why not start with the assistant?

This isn't a matter of glue, but of sitting with, and sifting through, a situation from many viewpoints offered to (or thrown at) me, as if presiding over all the puzzle pieces in a jumble and knowing that they will fit -- but only after a great deal of patience, and hours, or months, of work.


Blogger Castanea_d said...

Make that three (staff members who consider you the "glue").

In the only other place where I worked with multiple clergy, there was a steady stream of Number Twos fresh out of seminary, on their way to bigger and better things. I worked well with some of them, and not at all well with one, a gun-toting Reaganite who is now a professor at one of the conservative spinoff "Presbyterian" seminaries. None stayed longer than three years.

I never had any more than a cordial working relationship with any of the assistants, though it could have developed with some if they had stayed longer. But it is equally true that I would never, ever, have spoken to the Senior Pastor in any frank and open way, even though we worked together for seventeen years. Now that he is retired and I am elsewhere, we have a lively correspondence and get along much better.

I will add that Fr. S. filled the Second Chair just as well as you do. As in many other respects, he was the finest priest or clergyperson with whom I have worked. And when he was priest-in-charge, I was just as comfortable in sharing any and all things with him as I was after he was replaced by a rector.

7:59 AM  
Blogger Trees of the Field said...

Perhaps all of the pieces aren't part of the same puzzle. Or it may be that there are several puzzles in the box, and part of what you are doing is figuring out which pieces go with which puzzle. At any rate, it's clear that your presence is greatly valued, which doesn't surprise me the least!

6:30 PM  

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