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.
Serving different size congregations. I am have served as an interim for four congregations of differing sizes:
UU Church of Glen Allen, VA (1999-2000)
The Cleveland Unitarian Universalist Society (2003-2004) (The Society has now merged with the First Unitarian Church of Cleveland to form a new congregation.)
Fox Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Appleton, WI (2015 – 2017)
Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis, Annapolis, MD (2018 – 2020)
The UU Church of Glen Allen was under 150 members; The Cleveland Society was approximately 50 members and Fox Valley UU Fellowship is 700+ members. While I have experience in smaller congregations, the last two congregations have been over 550 members with responsibilities for supervising eight to ten staff members. I feel comfortable and confident in my ability to manage and navigate large and complex church systems. From 2015 – 2017, I worked with Associate Minister Reverend Leah Hart-Landsberg (Fox Valley UU Fellowship) as both her supervisor and as part of three person Executive Team. The Executive Team was charged with the day to day operations of the Fellowship and reported directly to the Governing Board.
At the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis (Membership 381) , I was hired as the Interim Senior Executive Minister, charged with supervising the Associate Minister, Rev. John Crestwell. It became clear to both of us that a more collaborative and less hierarchical ministry would be more beneficial to the church and for our relationship. We began to work together as co-equals; a model of ministry with which I am well familiar from working with my husband as co-ministers for 16 years. Working co-equally with my colleague, we have modeled cooperative, collaborative ministry. By 2019, I became simply the interim minister, and Rev. John Crestwell – the minister. UUCA just completed its search by calling the Reverend Anastassia Zinke to serve as a colleague of with Rev. Crestwell. My contract with UUCA will be complete by July 30, 2020.