Rev. Stephen D. Edington
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Interim Insights

This section draws on my experiences with the four congregations I’ve served as an Interim Minister, along with my 33 years in the UU settled parish ministry.

Many of the day to day tasks and responsibilities of interim ministry parallel those of the settled ministry. Indeed it is very important that these tasks and responsibilities be done especially well during an interim period. Whatever the circumstances that may have led up to the previous minister’s departure (be they positive, negative, or some of both), the congregation needs to have as good and forward looking an outlook as possible as they prepare to welcome a new minister. One of the best ways for an interim minister to foster such an outlook and attitude is to offer the best quality of ministerial services as s/he can.

As I began each of my Interim Ministries I encountered a certain level of anxiety in each congregation at the outset. This is perfectly normal. The congregation is going through a major change in its life, and dealing with various unknowns—including not knowing their newly arrived Interim Minister. “Who is this person—and where will we be going with him/her as we find ourselves a new minister? What do we need to do over the next couple of years to get us ready for a ministerial change?” These are perfectly normal questions to be asking.

I’ve found I’ve needed to devote my first few months of Interim Ministry in each setting to getting the congregation comfortable with me, and establishing a good level of trust so that we could creatively work together in the time we would have. I feel I was able to do this in all three settings. There were, of course, challenges to be met; and some re-thinking to be done about certain aspects of congregational life—all of which I feel were accomplished quite well.

In addition to establishing a good trust level, my process at the outset of an interim ministry undertaking is to have conversations with the lay leaders, staff, and other members of the congregation that get at three very basic questions:

*What most needs to happen here over the next one to two years in order for there to be a good foundation in place for a settled minister?

*Who bears responsibility for what in making these things happen?

*How do we best do it?

In the three congregations where I’ve been the Interim Minister I found these proved to be the four areas of focus:

*Worship

*Governance

*Pastoral Care

*Staffing

 Worship

In all three congregations I’ve worked with a Worship Committee (with a different name in each place), the Music/Choir Director, and the Religious Education Director in attending to the good quality of worship I found in each setting. I did make a few changes to the style and process of the Sunday service while also respecting the worship culture of each congregation. This brought consistency and continuity—while still leaving room for innovation—to each congregation’s worship experience.

 Governance

With the Manchester (UUCM) congregation I introduced a policy governance model similar to the one put in place in Nashua during my ministry there. The goal was not to have new model in place during my time there, but to acquaint the lay leaders with an alternate model of governance they and their settled minister could implement if they wished. I also worked on enhancing communication between the Governing Board and Committee Chairs—something that was particularly needed in this setting.

The Unitarian Church of Montpelier (UCM) had put a policy governance model in place shortly before my arrival there; and my role was to help with its implementation. This partly involved helping to clarify the roles of the Governing Board and the Executive Team. I also devoted time to better integrating the Executive Team and the Staff when it came to making management policy and implementation.

First Church Unitarian of Littleton (FCU) appointed a Governance Task Force at the time of my arrival to review their current governance structures and recommend possible alternatives. I have worked with this Task Force over the past two years in both assessing the effectiveness of FCU’s present means of governance, and proposing other models for consideration. The work of this Task Force is nearly complete with some good proposals in hand for them to work on implementing with their settled minister.

 Pastoral Care

Given the short-term nature of an interim ministry, the kinds of long-term relationships that enhance the quality of a minister’s pastoral care-giving are somewhat limited. Nonetheless I found an expectation of pastoral care from the minister in all of my interim settings that I was quite comfortable in fulfilling.

Each of my interim congregations had a Lay Pastoral Ministry team in place (again, with slightly different names for each one, but basically the same function.) I was able to form a good and supportive working relationship with each. With FCU I introduced a slightly different model for offering pastoral care than the one they had been using, and it has been well received.

 Staffing

I have been the staff supervisor in all three interim settings and have worked in a good and collaborative way in each place. I’ve been fortunate in having staff members to work with who know their jobs and do them well. My role is usually to offer advice, direction, and support as needed.

One unfortunate exception was at UUCM where we had to let a custodian go for inappropriate behavior in his interactions with both the staff and members of the congregation. This did, however, provide me with an experience in determining the types of behavior in a UU congregation that are acceptable—until such time as they are not.

In each setting I have conducted annual evaluations of each staff member with input from the appropriate parties, which I feel have served both me and the staff well.

With the UCM congregation I worked with their Personnel Committee in revising and updating their personnel policies.

My most concentrated work on staffing matters has been with FCU. Upon my arrival there had not been ministerial supervision of staff or ministerial evaluation of staff; and personnel policies were vague. This is not to say they didn’t have a good functioning staff, because they did. With the support of the Standing Committee I took on the roles of supervision and evaluation of staff.  With, again, the support of the SC we put a Personnel Committee in place and together we have implemented a set of Personnel Policies that I feel will serve the congregation well going forward.

 The “Mirror Role”

One other role of the interim minister, as I have come to see it, is to be a mirror for the congregation. This involves reflecting back to the congregation some of its behaviors, processes, and general ways of doing things. Such a reflection process raises these kinds of questions: Do you like what you see? Do you feel what you see enhances the life of your congregation? What do you see that you’d like to change and/or work on as you seek to call a settled minister?

 My Accreditation

In April of 2014 I was granted Accredited Interim Minister in Training (AIMIT) status by the Transitions Office of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

 

 

 

 

 
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