When a church or congregation in the Diocese in Europe is without a resident priest at the time of a vacancy, a locum priest is appointed to ensure the continuity of worship, the availability of the sacraments and the pastoral care of all who need it. Scores of clergy, most resident in the UK, but some in other countries, have Permission to Officiate in order to provide such essential ministry. Such Permission to Officiate is only granted after a priest has completed the extensive safeguarding procedures required by the Church of England and after I have received the necessary references and assurances that they are in good standing.
The length of time a locum priest may serve during a vacancy is negotiable but very often a period of at least 2 months is desirable We are very grateful for the dedication of these locum priests who often respond to requests at very short notice and who travel sometimes thousands of miles to take up their assignments.
Their responsibility is to maintain the usual pattern of services, provide routine pastoral care, attend to the round of hospital and sick visits and preside at any weddings or funerals that occur in the parish during their time, observing the local norms, customs and laws, as advised by the archdeacon. A vacancy in a parish can be an anxious time for parishioners so it is a role that calls for experienced and loving pastors with excellent diplomatic, listening, and sometimes conflict-resolution skills!
Recently I visited the parish of Santa Margarita in Menorca. The parish is in vacancy but thanks to excellent work of the locum priest, the Very Revd Michael Higgins (above), the life of the community continues to thrive, as can be seen by the preparations for the parish Harvest Festival service and festive lunch following!
More information on locum ministry in the Diocese in Europe can be found here.