Interview with Deb Buxton

Deb Buxton is the Peoples’ Warden at St. George’s Anglican Church, Transcona, where she has served as a volunteer for many years. With a career background in change management, Deb has recently been appointed as one of five transition coaches in the Diocese of Rupert’s Land. This Transition Team is a brand-new ministry in the diocese, designed to shepherd parishes through the complicated process of loss and change. I had the opportunity to sit down with Deb over Zoom, and discuss the new ministry and its important role in the diocese.

– Sara Krahn

What is your background, both in terms of volunteer and career work?

I am a faithful member of St. Georges, Transcona, where I volunteer in many areas. I am the Peoples’ Warden, coordinate the music ministry and Sunday School and assortment of other jobs. Professionally, I am retired currently but I have retired several times and I am still not sure if I am done. I spent 30 years as a nurse at Children’s Hospital in a variety of areas including the Burn Unit and Operating Room and PICU. I switched careers and went into the world of Healthcare Information Systems where I worked for 10 years in the project world, mostly in the change management areas.

Where did the idea to start a Transition Team ministry in the diocese come from?

The Diocese of Rupert’s Land recognized the challenges parishes face when going through the process of transitioning from one incumbent to another. This whole team and ministry are brand new for Rupert’s Land. Heather McCance and her husband Dave Robinson are the ones spearheading this mission. They come from the Diocese of Toronto, where one of Dave’s projects was developing the transition coaching ministry. Dave was one of the key founders of that ministry, which, over the course of 20 years, has become a successful volunteer-driven ministry with 70 coaches! After moving to Rupert’s Land, Heather and Dave identified the same need for our diocese. After discussion with the leadership team, it was decided to develop the transition support team for Rupert’s Land. This is a huge undertaking, and the Diocese of Rupert’s Land is only now in the early stages!

How did the ministry come to fruition, and what is your involvement?

In January 2020 I was contacted by Heather, who asked if I wanted to be involved with the new ministry. The team was officially formed in March 2020, so it’s only ten months old. There are four coaches, plus Dave and Heather. The team is comprised of coaches with a variety of professional backgrounds ranging from change management, engineering, human resources, and education. I come specifically from a background in change management. Transition coaches are volunteer positions who participate in ongoing training with the ministry developer.

Can you walk me through the role of this ministry? How does the Transition Team work with the parish going through a transition?

The transition process is a demanding one that involves emotions and logistical details. The process has several steps to follow, from the time a vacancy is announced to the actual placement of a new incumbent. The transition coaches are the bishop’s representatives assigned to different parishes who are in the transition process. Transition coaches will work with parishes, assisting in managing the work of transition. They may help monitor and determine the emotional climate of the parish. They may assist in organizing parish-wide events or consultations of various kinds, events that will serve the dual purpose of moving through the emotions of an in-between time and gathering data that will become part of the parish profile. A significant part of the process of discerning whom God is calling to be the next incumbent of any parish is the creation of a parish profile. This document is created by the parish transition team, who work with parishioners and others to gather and compile the needed information so that prospective incumbents can get a sense of who the parish is and the kinds of gifts they seek in their next incumbent.

Tell me more about the Parish Profile!

The parish profile is a key document that is used to attract a new incumbent to work with your parish. A parish profile includes a realistic picture of the demographic, financial, missional and spiritual state of the parish; and a reflection of the parish’s core values and aspirations. The profile should include preferred leadership qualities of the new incumbent. This is a massive document (and the output of the transition team process). The document is what the diocese office uses to advertise the position. The coach’s goal is to keep the parish team on target for getting this task done. The coach will not provide any input into the content of the profile. One of the difficult things about writing the parish profile is the tendency to skew it towards reflecting what you think people want to read, as opposed to reality. The church needs to outline the expectations for the incumbent, and in order to do this properly it needs to have a clear vision of itself in the future. The hope is for the new incumbent to match the vision. And in order to craft a proper vision, the church needs to be honest with itself about its current circumstances. Once the parish profile draft is completed, it goes through an extensive review process. The parish profile is reviewed by Heather, after which the Archdeacon approves it, and then the Bishop does the final read. Finally, the diocese will post the parish profile as the tool to advertise the vacancy.

Why is it important to employ an outside perspective in change management?

In my experience, the process of change or transition needs someone to provide an objective perspective on this. Someone with an outside, objective view is able to see things from a different perspective. When you’re the one going through the loss, there’s much more emotion involved, and this sometimes impacts or clouds your ability when making decisions about your future.

What sorts of tools does the ministry offer to parishes?

As transition coaches, we’ve been focusing on learning the tools that Heather and Dave have effectively employed in their experience with the Toronto Diocese, in order to gain confidence in our own ability. It is important to understand that the role of a transition coach is not to provide the solution, but to help the “client” through the process of change. There are many tools and schools of thought on working with groups in a transition process. The Transition Coaches team is developing a toolkit and roadmaps that will be available for parishes to use. Tools include things like surveys, in-person focus groups, and appreciative inquiry. Losing a parish priest is a difficult, grievous situation even without the added conditions of a pandemic. Our job is to equip parishes with the right tools, and guide them through learning how to use these tools effectively.

What is the vision for the future of this ministry? And what kinds of skills and qualities will we look for in future coaches?

The hope is that this ministry will grow. The idea is that there’d be a set number of volunteer coaches that would be assigned to a specific parish. The timelines on parish transitions are not all the same. They range from months to years. There are also various interim stages of the process that look different depending on the needs of the parish. The current group of five coaches is our starting point. For skill set, it is so important to have group facilitation skills, as well as strong interpersonal skills. These are the skills that, as we’ve seen so far, are effective. The desire is for the Transition Coaching ministry to be accepted as a resource for parishes traveling down the transition path. And to grow this ministry we will work in creating awareness in the diocese that this support model is available and encouraged to be used.
Any closing remarks?
One of the questions we’re asking right now is how can we make this ministry a “household name” in the diocese. We would like to debunk the fear that our team’s mission is to take over the transition process in the parishes. We’re not going to take over and tell you what to do, but we will be an available resource to assist your parish through the process, should you feel you need it. Right now, there’s a comfort level missing on everyone’s part. Not to mention that many are feeling overwhelmed by the pandemic. It’s quite the time to roll out a brand-new transition team, and so we are doing our best to be sensitive to the circumstances of each parish we’re working with.

Deb Buxton is the Peoples’ Warden at St. George’s Anglican Church, Transcona, where she has served as a volunteer for many years. With a career background in change management, Deb has recently been appointed as one of five transition coaches in the Diocese of Rupert’s Land.

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