Dear Christ Church,
I’ve never written a note quite like this one, so consequential and life-shaping, trying to squeeze the inexpressible into a few hundred words to be delivered digitally. I wish that we could be sitting across a table from each other, having a conversation right now. I’m writing to let you know, with bone-deep gratitude for the privilege of leading this community for almost eighteen years, that I will be stepping down as Rector of Christ Church Austin. This decision comes after two years of slow deliberate listening to the Spirit of God. I shared the long version of this story, and the factors that have played into this decision, during the Parish Retreat earlier today. You can watch that online here.
Often, an announcement like this occurs when the leader has accepted a position and call to serve in a new capacity or location. You might call this the “pull factor” in a vocational transition, a positive pull toward a new specific calling. That is not the case for me; I don’t yet know where the Spirit is leading me. Sometimes vocational transitions happen when there is a “push factor,” where there is some kind of unwanted or negative circumstance or burnout causing the departure. That is not the case for me either.
I have simply had the growing sense that God called me to this parish for a purpose that had a long, adventurous, and beautiful arc, stretching almost two decades—through questions of congregational survival vs. dissolution, from the Episcopal Church into what was emerging as a new Anglican movement in North America, through multiple rented spaces for worship, two church plants, buying and renovating a property, and leading through the personal and congregational crisis of Christine’s accident and the pandemic and cultural crises of 2020-2021. Christ Church is at a very healthy, strong, and stable place right now—our finances are in good order, new people are visiting every Sunday, we are fully staffed, and there is a healthy hum and growth at every turn, while at the same time a deepening and maturing in prayer, formation, and creative initiatives. God called me to love and lead our parish through these chapters of the story, and now He’s asking me to trust Him as He has something/someone new for Christ Church, and something new for me.
I feel like Abraham might have felt when God called him to simply go, start walking into the unknown, “into a land which I will show you.” My Scripture reading recently took me to the story of Jesus calling the disciples, who literally dropped their nets and started following Jesus immediately when he called. They had no idea what they were about to experience, doing daily life with Jesus for the next few years. They just started walking. And the twelve became the 120 in the upper room on Pentecost, which became 3120 by the end of the day, which became a movement that transformed the Mediterranean world within a few generations.
Again, the link above will give you more context and understanding, but let me cover a few practical matters that might be on your mind, like “What’s next?” Your Vestry, a wise and humble group of people, has been working on a transition plan that will be ready to share with you next week. Please read Vestry's letter which follows my message. In these weeks of conversations and discernment, they, along with other key leaders, have demonstrated both how much they love this community and how skilled and thoughtful they are to help navigate each next step. Also, nothing is changing soon. I will remain as Rector for some months to come in order to facilitate a smooth process.
Lastly, we will have more opportunities in the coming months to look back together; but I want to start now by expressing how grateful I am to Christine, not only for her role in my life but also the congregation’s life over these many years. I owe so much of the man and priest that I am to her love and influence, her unwavering support and en-courage-ment (putting courage in me). Likewise, her touch is felt, and traces of her influence are seen all over Christ Church through her servant-leadership and various ministries among us. We love you, Christ Church, and thank God for you—an exquisitely beautiful community.
A letter from the Vestry:
Dear Christ Church,
We're grateful to Fr. Cliff for his leadership of Christ Church these past 18 years. So much of what we love about Christ Church stems from Cliff and Christine, and the ways they have embodied and instilled the values of this community and led us in mission. Their lives and choices have been consistently marked by generosity, hospitality, a high value of authentic and intentional relationships, and a commitment to whole life Gospel living and discipleship. These are values that the Lord, through Cliff and Christine, has instilled in Christ Church, and they are our collective values and part of our culture.
We honor Cliff for his years of faithful, whole-hearted leadership of Christ Church. He's been a good and wise and loving Shepherd of this flock. We're so thankful that Christ Church is in a good place, with great opportunities before us in mission and community life. Cliff has discerned that he is not the one to lead us into the next new season of life and ministry. We affirm and honor his discernment in choosing to step into the unknown.
For whatever reasons, the Lord has not yet revealed what's next for Cliff. It takes enormous faith and courage to be willing to let go of something you've loved and been so gifted for and walk a path to an unknown destination, but that's sometimes what the Lord asks of us. Sometimes He asks us to take steps of faith when we don't have all the details and assurances we would like to have. Cliff is a man of faith and courage, and we honor his example of obedient trust.
We will miss Cliff deeply. Especially those of us who have been with Christ Church for so long over his tenure. Within this congregation are people who hired Cliff over 18 years ago! Others have been with Christ Church for over a decade, and some only a few months or years. We may have different feelings about this news, and some are going to feel the impact more acutely than others. For many, it's hard to imagine Christ Church without Cliff.
Grief is an appropriate response. It’s a normal response, even a healthy one. Let us be willing to experience this a little while before we fully turn to what's next.
On Wednesday, November 1st, you will receive an email from Vestry about our next steps and answers to questions you may have.
There will be a time to mark this change, and a time to express our gratitude, love and honor for Cliff and Christine in the future. Cliff is not leaving now, but months from now. We’re thankful for this gift of time, as it will help ease the transition. Yet, transitions can be challenging. Even when they're good, they're uncomfortable.
We believe this is God's call for Cliff, and it's God's call for Christ Church. We trust that God will provide our next Rector. We have faith that He will give us who we need at just the right time. The Lord loves his Church. He loves Christ Church.
Vestry and Leadership are prayerfully discerning next steps which we will be sharing with you next week. We have great faith that the Lord is with us and will lead us. We are joyfully expectant for His provision.
We invite you to pray for Cliff, for Vestry, our staff, and for our Parish along the lines of St Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian church.
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Ephesians 1:17-19)
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)
With faith, hope, and love,
Leslie Cameron, Senior Warden, on behalf of the Vestry
*An update from the Vestry, Nov. 1, 2023*
Many of us are feeling a mix of grief and hopeful anticipation following Fr. Cliff’s announcement this past weekend that, after 18 years of leading this Parish, he will be stepping down as Rector. Cliff senses the Lord asking him to step out in faith at this time and to trust that He has someone new for Christ Church and something new for him and Christine. If you haven’t already, we urge you to watch the recording of Cliff and Christine’s extended time of sharing the “what” and “why” at the Parish Retreat and read the letter from Cliff and Vestry that was emailed.
As Cliff and Christine are stepping out in obedient trust, we affirm and bless their sense of the Lord’s leading and trust that the Lord is leading us into what’s next for Christ Church. We want to share with you the next steps we have discerned after a time of fasting and prayer.
The Vestry has invited Fr. Matt Dampier, who has faithfully and competently served as Associate Rector for over five years, to be a candidate for the position of Rector. The Vestry, with Bishop Todd’s blessing, will mutually discern with Fr. Matt whether he is called to serve as our next Rector. After Christine's near-fatal accident in 2018, Fr. Matt stepped into the gap and, with the interim leadership team, more than capably led Christ Church. He did so again during Cliff's 2022 sabbatical.
The interview and discernment process with Fr. Matt will be led by an Interview Team composed of both Vestry and non-Vestry members of the congregation who will conduct a thorough process involving thoughtful questions and deep listening with prayer and openness to the Spirit’s leading. The members of this team are as follows:
In addition to this team, an outside consulting firm specializing in ministry staffing will do an independent assessment and interview and play an advisory role in the process. Multiple rounds of interviews will take place over the next few weeks.
At the end of this process the Interview Team will make a recommendation to the Vestry who has final authority, with the Bishop’s consent, whether to offer the position to Fr. Matt. If either Christ Church or Fr. Matt discerns that he is not called to be the next Rector, a Search Committee will be formed and we will open a national search to seek a new Rector.
This process is beginning now, and we will let you know when there’s further news to share.
Meanwhile, Christ Church, we ask that you please pray that the Holy Spirit will lead and guide this process and ask that the Lord will make His will clear to all. Please continue to pray for the Warners and the Dampiers as they discern the Lord’s next steps.
In the goodness and provision of God we trust,
Leslie Cameron, Sr. Warden