Length of Interim Ministry –
I’ve promised columns addressing my observations from meetings my first few weeks here, with various leaders in the church. Those will resume next week; meanwhile, another issue worth addressing has bubbled up in the last week. For those who’ve already read this week’s e-blast, you already may have seen the note that the OUUC board approved a two-year period of interim ministry, at its meeting last Thursday. I know that many members of the congregation have differing opinions and differing feelings around the length of interim time. The note from the board offers some of their reasoning for making this choice. Here are the reasons why I recommended this time frame to the church, and why I believe it will be best for the church in the long run – even though it is not ideal in every way.
This requires a bit of explanation about the search process for a new minister. (I know this will be familiar to some of you, but I include it because some newer members will not be familiar with the process.) Simply assembling the Ministerial Search Committee (MSC) requires a couple months for board members and/or other leaders to poll the congregation for input on prospective MSC members, generally midwinter through early spring. This MSC then will need a full year to do its work: late spring and summer to clarify tasks and develop roles and details, early-mid fall to gather congregational input on hopes and needs for your next minister, mid-late fall to develop and release search materials that clarify desired ministry traits, winter for the MSC to vet and narrow prospective ministers to a final choice, and early-mid spring to introduce the finalist to the congregation. So the process is very involved and thorough.
The duration of the interim ministry period is dictated by the amount of time needed to find a new minister. As I told the board last week, you have three choices for this duration: 1 year, 1½ years, and 2 years. (That’s because most UU ministers who search for a church, do so the same time of year.) Given the timeline I laid out above, for a 1-year period, you simply would not have had time to form the MSC soon enough to give this important process of a ministerial search the time it would have needed to be successful. You might have been able to form the MSC quickly, starting the instant Rev. Perchlik’s leave-taking was announced in April. I am convinced this approach would have had a couple significant negative downsides. First, given the questions, uncertainties, and tensions that I understand were present in the congregation back in April, I believe it would not have been possible to assemble a search committee that had the confidence of the entire congregation, no matter who was on it. When an MSC is not widely trusted by the congregation, the outcome of any call process is doubtful. Second, the chances of such a quick search not resulting in a successful call are much higher, than search processes that take their time. Give the extended transition you’ve already been through, I would hate to see such an outcome for OUUC. For these reasons, I recommended to the board NOT to limit the interim time to just 1 year.
A 1½-year option is available for an interim tenure. There have been, for several years now, a couple of churches and a handful of ministers in search about 6 months or so off-schedule from the more common timeframe of when other churches and ministers are searching. If you formed the MSC now, they likely would have time (though still be a little bit more rushed than would be ideal) to conduct a thorough search. However, there is one significant downside to an off-cycle search: the pool of available ministers would be much, much smaller, maybe in the single digits. Attempts in recent years to develop a critical mass of ministers in search at this mid-cycle point simply have not yet worked out. I would hope for a much more robust pool of applicants to be your next settled minister.
Given the problems with these two options, that leaves the option of 2 years of settled ministry. This option will allow you a thorough period to prepare and conduct a full and unhurried search for your next settled minister, which gives the greatest chances to call a minister whose gifts and skills match your needs and hopes. That said, while this is the option I recommended to the board, I will be the first to admit it is not perfect. You have already been through an extended transition period, and I know that two more years of transition will be frustrating. Yet it also will have the advantage of allowing time for processing the consequences of Rev. Perchlik’s leave-taking, and how to move forward in the somewhat new set of circumstances in which you find yourselves today, versus when you were in search a couple years ago.
I’ll add one other note. Some may respond that we don’t need to conduct a search via the process maintained by the UUA. And technically, that is factually accurate: as a congregation, you are free to search for and call a minister via a process of your choosing. Indeed, I have seen several congregations over the years attempt just that. In one case I know of, the process resulted in a good match for that congregation, a liberal Christian minister who has served them well for several years. That did happen…once. In every other instance I know about, these searches resulted either in no call, or the call of a short-tenured minister. In more than one case, they resulted in a short-tenured minister who misconducted, sexually or financially, in the congregation, causing lasting harm. My reasons for recommending the UUA search process have nothing to do with the UUA having control over who your minister is (as a few people seem to suspect would be the case – it wouldn’t). I recommend this search process because it has evolved, over the years, a series of checks and balances intended to promote the best possible chance for a congregation and minister to vet one another well and thoroughly, giving the greatest possible confidence that the match is a good one. That’s what I hope for, here at OUUC.
If you have questions, I will do my best to answer them. Thank you.
In faith, Rev. Eric Posa