Pruning. The second metaphor that comes to mind when I consider what an experienced interim minister can do is pruning. Good pruning requires careful study, sharp tools, and a knowledge of the plant as a whole. When plants are allowed to grow without pruning, they become weakened by neglect. Some programs that were started by the former minister may have run out of energy, but members may have a hard time letting it go. Worship may have become stale or overly accommodating to individual needs. The interim will have an eye for what may need to be pruned during an interim time to allow for new energy to emerge.
However, none of this is done in isolation! An interim minister consults with key leaders, discusses her thoughts and insights with the Board, and collaborates with a number of lay leaders. After all, it is your church, your congregation, but the role of the Interim can be like the real estate agent who comes into your home and notices in short order all of those things which you cannot see because you have been living comfortably with it for many years. The interim time is not just “a holding pattern.” It’s an important time to evaluate your past, assess the health of your present congregation, and prepare for the future.
As an Accredited Interim Minister (AIM) I am guided by the five primary developmental tasks of interim ministry. They are:
1. Coming to terms with your history. What is your congregation’s creation story? What historical highlights/low lights have shaped who and what you are now?
2. Discovering a New Identity. In times of transition, we may begin to discover that “what we’ve always done” doesn’t fit this new reality. As a result, a new identity begins to emerge.
3. Encouraging New Leadership. All leaders have a life cycle. Often the most active members are ready to transition to a less active role, yet new leaders have not been cultivated. An interim minister can help identify, train and equip new leaders for the transition and beyond.
4. Renewing Denominational Ties. With long-term ministries, congregations can often become insular. The interim time provides an opportunity for outside guidance and support. If the congregation is seeking a settled minister, the denomination becomes an invaluable source of important information and connection.
5. Committing to New Directions. By the time a congregation has formed a search committee and has done a congregational survey, the congregation has begun the process of commiting to a new chapter of their congregation’s life. By the time a new minister is called, the congregation is ready and excited about the future.
Each one of these tasks is clearly described at the beginning of the interim time. The interim minister engages with the leadership on these five tasks and reports on them to the Board regularly. Below is a list of the congregations I’ve served, with a few highlights frommy previous two interim ministries:
All Souls Church Unitarian, Washington DC (2020-2022) – Membership: 1,100
1. Established a co-equal relationship with the Executive Director in an innovative approach to de-centering hierarchy and white leadership.
2. Helped the Board understand and interpret their policy-based governance structure.
3. Created a visiting minister series and minister-in-residence to bring colleagues of color to the All Souls pulpit
4. Created an internship for a Meadville-Lombard Leadership Studies intern of color
5. Discerned that All Souls would be best served by a minister of color for the final year of the interim period.
Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis, Annapolis, MD (2018 – 2020) – Membership 381
1. Helped the congregation discern their leadership needs, moving from Senior Minister & Associate model to one of collaborative and co-equal leadership. The church moved Rev. John Crestwell from Associate Minister to Co-Senior Minister.
2. Helped the congregation process and grieve the tragedy of losing a church member to gun violence (Capital Gazette shooting);
3. Helped establish clear lines of authority and accountability between staff, ministry teams and volunteers.
4. Worked closely with their Building Beloved Community to develop congregational skills with Anti-Racism and Anti-Oppression;
5. Encouraged and supported the passing of the 8th Principle.
Other Interims Include
Fox Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Appleton, WI (2015 – 2017); Membership 718
The Unitarian Universalist Society of Cleveland (2004-2005), part-time, while serving West Shore); Membership 70. The UU Society of Cleveland merged with the First Unitarian Church of Shaker Heights.
The UU Church of Glen Allen (1999-2000); Membership 150