Strategies for Interim Ministers and Congregations
Barbara Child and Keith Kron, Editors

As we approach our 60th Anniversary it is an excellent time to take stock; recognize and appreciate our past, evaluate our current situation including our strengths and weakness, and to move toward our desires for the future. As a congregation each of us has a say in where and how we go from here. Our task it to educate ourselves for our transition and determine as a collective who we are, what is important to us and where do we want to go from here. Let’s begin the journey with educating ourselves of the possibilities and our potential. We at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Pensacola are a diverse group of individuals with various perspectives. Let us listen to one another and ourselves and make plans for our future.

Several of us from the congregation attended sessions addressing the Transitioning Church at General Assembly. IN THE INTERIM was written by two of the speakers, Barbara Child and Keith Kron. This synopsis is a very brief sketch of some of the information from IN THE INTERIM. Those of us committed to making our transition worthwhile would be wise to use IN THE INTERIM as a resource guide. Much of this handout is taken directly from the book mentioned above. Please let Laurie Winterberg know if you would like this book available at our book table.

We plan to have a series of meetings to address the transition our church is and will experience. Today we are focusing on information brought back from a Transitions Workshop which Kate and I (Penny) attended. Christine Purcell from the UUA Southeast Region was a speaker on transitions as well and has been in contact with our congregation via our past and present presidents.

Transitioning is a time to move from maintenance and managing our changing dynamics to asking ourselves questions like:
Who do we want to be?
What do our communities need?
What makes our congregation feel most alive?
What are our dreams for our future? (p 27)

Interim Ministry
“When radical change is forced upon a congregation, often by the departure of a minister, the task is simple to name: it is to accept the change and move on to embrace the opportunities that change allows.” John Weston former transitions director for the UUA.

This process takes time. There will be Predictable Roadblocks (p 151) and the Temptation to Rush the Search. (p 167) It takes two years or longer to do a proper job of settling a minister who follows a long-term predecessor. Some issues that arise from having had a long term settlement are grieving the losses, numbing out and losing site of mission, feelings of betrayal, and attachment to the legacy of a long term minister. Our many congregants will have different perspectives. It can be tedious to tease out these issues and address them. Interim ministers are specially trained to shed light on hidden issues, evaluate the needs of a congregation, work with lay leaders to promote healing and help the congregation identify and move toward their dreams for the future. The congregation needs time to sort out its relationship with its last minister and what it most needs from the next.

Tasks of Interim Ministry (pp 8-9)
• Claiming and honoring the congregation’s past, and healing its griefs and conflicts
• Illuminating the congregation’s unique identity: its strengths, its needs and its challenges
• Clarifying the multiple dimensions of leadership, both ordained and lay, and navigating the shifts in leadership that accompany times of transition
• Renewing connections with available resources within and beyond the UUA
• Enabling the congregation to renew its vision, strengthen its stewardship, prepare for new professional leadership, and engage its future with anticipation and zest.

A Transition Team (p14) may be chosen by the board according to the interim minister’s instructions before the interim arrives. The team may serve as both a planning group and a progress monitor. One task of the team is to schedule house meetings to help the congregation get to know the interim and understand more about what to expect during the interim period. They might help the interim manage a “history wall” which provides people the opportunity to write and post notes about how significant events in the congregation’s history have affected them. The wall invites people to read and reflect on what others have posted. The team might assist the interim in drafting question for the focus groups for the Appreciative Inquiry process.

Coming to Terms with History (pp 51- 61) Involves viewing all aspects of our history from common dysfunctions, like “satisfaction stagnation” and denial to healing rituals, like Appreciative Inquiry and visioning for our future. There will likely be some purposeful disequilibrium created during the interim period. All congregations in transition suffer some sense of loss and grief. They must be given the opportunity to process that grief, even if it seems minor. Interim ministers are trained to assist in this process.

Appreciative Inquiry (p 58) offers an opportunity to get in touch with their positive feelings about their church and from those feelings to cast a vision for the future. It is a simple process which might involve sitting down for an hour or two with a few parishioners willing to respond to some questions, like:
• What was it that first brought you to this church?
• Tell about a time when the church was important to you.
• What was your most moving moment here?
• How would it feel to arrive at UUCP one day and discover that the church was gone?
• Imagine coming to this church in five, ten, twenty years. Tell about what you see and what you feel on those visits.

Responses could be collected by the Transition Team, handed off to a writing team, and developed into “provocative proposal” – a technical Appreciative Inquiry term for vision statements that stretch the congregation to develop plans “as big as their dreams”.

Useful Tools (p 60) Giving the congregants an opportunity to construct a timeline is one way to support a congregation telling its story. A highly visible timeline in a hallway is especially effective because it provides a visual image of hope. Interviews with senior members is another tool for recognizing how we have grown as a congregation. We already have a wonderful video of what Unitarian Universalism means to many of our congregants. And more of this kind of work is being done in anticipation of our 60th Anniversary. We are also planning to examine our time capsule form our 50th anniversary and plan to enter items for our 75th.

Loren Mead in The Once and Future Church, writes,

Coming to terms with the past means the congregation comes to a place where it is able to look at its past, lay to rest its ghost, value its heroes and heroines, honor its special story, forgive itself for its faults, and gain energy for a new stage of its journey.

What a great opportunity we are facing at this time of transition. It may not be easy and will require time and effort, but it will be very worthwhile to do the work and take the long road to our energized future.

Let’s look at Options for Ministerial Transition Other Than Interim Ministry. (p 241) Some of the choices are to choose contract ministry or developmental ministry, to proceed directly to another settlement, to consider teaming up with a nearby congregation to be part of a multisite team, or have no ministry at all. We operate under congregational polity and have the right to choose our own course.

Contract Ministry (p 242) is often part-time, usually less than ¾ time and may be helpful for a congregation that needs to slow down, heal and to rebuild lost trust. It is usually a one year contract which may be extended if both parties agree. The pool of contract ministers is smaller than for settled ministers however sometimes a good match is found. It is most important that there are clear and explicit details of what is expected of the contract minister and the congregation. It is unrealistic to expect full time work from a part-time minister. Will the contract include preaching, pastoral care, supervising staff, attending board meetings? How often is the minister to be in the area and in the pulpit? What about officiating at events such as weddings, memorials or community events? What happens if pastoral care is needed during the minister’s time off? Who is in charge of music programing, staffing issues and right-relations? How is the contract renegotiated if that choice is made? “Congregations considering contract ministry are encouraged to have their leaders consult with regional staff about how contract ministry might best serve them, talk with other congregations that have chosen this option and found it valuable, and be realistic about what needs they have, what they can expect of a contract minister, and how they will ensure that their expectations are reasonable.” (p 245)

Developmental Ministry is a 5-7 year, performance based commitment to sustained congregational culture change. The term “developmental ministry” seeks to capture the deep commitment of congregations and ministers as they do the hard work of moving a congregational culture toward greater health and vitality. This form of ministry is intended for congregations which are struggling with a traumatic history of unresolved conflict, a history of abusive leadership, or patterns that combine a lack of civility, an inability to analyze and resolve problems, and poor boundaries—patterns which together result in a lack of respectful relationships. A checklist for whether a developmental ministry should be considered asks whether the congregation:
• Is not actively engaging in Unitarian Universalism
• Is isolated from other congregations, regions and the UUA
• Is not focused on a rewarding mission
• Has not been successful in building an energized volunteer base
• Replays old conflicts again and again
• Does not trust and authorize elected leaders to lead
• Fails to build trusting relationships with ordained leaders
• Resists ministerial and leadership authority
• Is unable to forgive, learn and move forward
• Accepts or expects a self-centered, “me first” consumer approach to congregational life.

For more information on developmental ministry refer to pp 245-251 of IN THE INTERIM.

Proceeding to the Next Settlement without a Transitional Minister (pp 251-252) Congregations who try going forward without interim ministry end up hiring an interim minister after all. Regional staff has suggested that proceeding without interim ministry might be a viable option in the particular set of circumstances, when a small congregation is geographically isolated but in good health. Because interims are seldom interested in serving these isolated congregations, this approach teams a new minister, perhaps recently graduated, for a period of 5 years with the understanding that the minister will go into search in the last year.

Multisite team ministry (p252) A congregation may consider teaming up with a larger nearby congregation to be a part of a multisite team. If a congregation has limited resources, joining its efforts with those of a larger nearby church can bring in additional staffing, resources and support.

No ministry for a year (pp 252-253) is a choice when a congregation needs to pay off bills or pay for the negotiated severance of a minister, and the costs of additional ministry are understood to be too high. A year off allows the congregation to regroup, feel less pressure and become more prepared for interim ministry. Congregations which have taken a year off, then gone into search [for a settled minister] have more often than not been unsuccessful, but those that entered into interim ministry after their year off have been very popular among ministers in search when they did begin seeking a settlement.