As we enter this new year – our second year together
and your second year of interim ministry – I find myself thinking and wondering
a lot about expectations, identity, and change.
This summer, as I prepared to spend a week
camping with my mother, my sisters, and their children, I spent an hour talking
about my excitement and my anxieties with my therapist and even more time meditating
on this. You see, I’ve changed over the past few years.
We go through seasons of our lives where our
identities are clearer and we question them less. And we go through other
seasons where transformation reaches up and grabs us, and where we re-question
our identities and come to new understandings. The cycle is continuous and
This isn’t surprising, but it is stressful. And
it’s even more so when we change and then we go back into a setting where
people expect us to still be the same – where we each have specific roles and
ways of being. Disrupting those, even when it means being who we want to be,
who we know we are now, is hard.
And it’s particularly hard when we’re coming to
understand that our identities are multiple and are made up of not just one
story but many stories. That those stories are contradictory but still may very
well all be true. And that parts of our stories that we may not have given
enough credit to in the past are showing up in ways that deeply influence us.
Our society teaches us that we can’t hold and honor all these complexities.
For my family, for this congregation, and in
the larger world this is a season where we’re living into the challenges of
transition, expectations, and changing identity more.
And so I’ve found myself thinking about
expectation and identity. I’ve found myself turning over a quote from the book In the Interim: “Do all churches [or people] need to take advantage of
the opportunity to significantly change during a ministerial transition[times of societal or life change]?
Research and experience tell us that this is a time to discover a new identity.
That discovery will best be made when the congregation [or person] has examined its [their]
old identity and compared it to present reality.”
We all interact with change best when we’re
able to examine our old identities, compare them to our present reality, and
honor our stories, experiences, and feelings. When we can hold the fullness of
our pasts and perhaps even find new strength and resources in them. And we do
even better when we’re able to sit in the mystery of change.
As I cultivate my curiosity in the midst of
this great unknowing, Martha Beck’s change cycle from Finding Your Own North Star also comes to me. I’m sharing it below as a resource for you as we enter this new
church year together. What’s your mantra for this stage of life? I’m looking
forward to exploring with you.
This past month has been a big one in your transitions
process! Your collaborative history odyssey came down in the sanctuary, seeds
of things you value about this congregation and what it’s added to your life
began to go up in the foyer, and you selected a ministerial search team. You’re
deep within your interim transitions process (see my April article for a recap
of your interim goals and questions).
At the same time, the Ministry Council, Board, and staff
have begun discussing hospitality and welcoming at WUUC. Our discussions
started based on feedback we’ve received from visitors and things members and
staff have noticed as they’ve engaged with the interim process. Those who
attended the town hall on April 28 heard some of the musings that are beginning
to emerge from our discussions
Work that’s emerging to make WUUC a welcoming, hospitable
place for newcomers includes making street signage more visible, creating
connection teams, developing WUUC’s social media presence, and developing
programming around inclusion and radical hospitality. If you’d like to be
engaged with this work, please let Karen Hyams or me know.
As we continue working on strengthening community and
sharing our joy and strengths, some of you will recall the roller coaster of
change that I shared with several gatherings in the Fall. Many people put dots
on it to show where they were then on the roller coaster. And so I wonder,
where are you on it now? Does where you are on the roller coaster of change
depend on what part of the transition you’re focusing on? Maybe you’re on
several roller coasters? As we explore the theme of Curiosity in May, I invite
you to share your place on the roller coaster with me and with others.
We also held a workshop for existing small group
facilitators at the end of April and will be working on expanding that work
before the next church year to strengthen small groups. And WUUC’s new LGBTQIA+
Welcoming Congregation renewal team has begun its work.
Roller coasters can be uncomfortable, especially when you’re
on several that are going at different rates and have different paths. Personally,
I find that when there are changes around or within me sometimes one of my
first, ingrained reactions is to question why it’s happening or to react
against it. What I’ve learned helps me more with responding to and interacting
with change is to take the energy of that first reaction and turn it into
curiosity. How can I be genuinely curious about what’s happening? How can I be
curious about what others are perceiving and experiencing?
And so, as we explore curiosity this month, how can we all
be curious about our own and other people’s experiences? How can our curiosity
help those seeds on the foyer walls – the seeds of what you value about WUUC –
How does your past influence who you are today and who you
might become in the future? How does it affect what you love to do, who you
connect with, and how you want to engage with the wider world? How do the high
points, the low points, and the level points affect that?
Many of us grapple with these questions in our own lives. They’re
big questions that stir up our hearts and minds. And they’re key questions for
congregations during their interim ministry. In fact, that first question is
the one we’ve been working with together for the past eight months.
Now that you’ve spent two months together putting
information and photos on your history odyssey and having conversations
together in small groups, in community conversations, and in conversations with
the minister, it’s time for your history odyssey to come down. And this is an
opportunity to engage with those questions in a new way that looks at the
present and toward the future!
Eight months into your interim ministry this congregation has been working hard on your focuses for this first year of interim ministry. These include:
Understanding your heritage, particularly through storytelling about your past, and how your heritage influences what kinds of relationships members have with each other, with ministry, and with your minister.
Based on this work, beginning to understand your mission and discovering a new identity. This is work that will continue well into your second year of interim ministry, as will all of your first year work.
Building internal connections, trust, and communication.
Your work on covenant and expanding covenantal communication the past several months has been directly related to this focus.
Building connections with the UUA to support search and for General Assembly, which will be in Spokane from June 19-23. Understanding and strengthening WUUC’s other connections with the external community.
Understanding your current organizational systems and governance, your desired relationship with ministry and ministers, and then beginning to develop your desired organizational structure and governance.
In the coming months I’ll be beginning to work with this
congregation on exploring those key questions in more detail:
How does your congregation’s past influence who
you are today and who you might become in the future?
How does it affect what you love to do, who you
connect with, and how you want to engage with the wider world?
How do the high points, the low points, and the
level points affect that?
As we explore them, we’ll be working toward generating some
answers to questions the Board and I have identified as key ones for your
What kind of
relationships do the members and friends of WUUC want to have with each other?
What kind of
relationship does the congregation want to have with its minister?
What is WUUC’s
governance approach? Do policies and procedures support that?
What is the
identity of WUUC (how much focus on inward community, how much focus on
transformation, outreach, and justice work)?
How can members
of WUUC hold space for difference while maintaining communication?
Stay tuned for information and invitations to work on these
questions. In the immediate term I’ll be holding another informal group
conversation with the minister on April 7 at 11:45. Please come join us to
begin this discussion.
February was certainly an interesting month for all of us! Our
monthly theme for February was Trust, which feels right as I reflect on the
patterns of life at Woodinville Unitarian Universalist Church.
Our interim work together slowed down in February as Snow-pocalypse descended upon us. It disrupted the expected patterns of our lives at church and away from church. It focused our attention in new and different ways on the here and now, on patterns of weather and what we need for physical safety. At WUUC this meant people pitching in in unexpected and different ways, even as we missed worship one Sunday and church events for almost two weeks. Which brings me to our monthly theme in February: As you look back, what were you being asked to trust in new or unexpected ways? Does your answer change if you think about what the invitation of and to trust was at church, at home, and at work?
It also feels appropriate that as we move into March our theme is
As you know, one of the key pieces of any congregation’s interim work is exploring your history. Looking at who you were and how your congregation responded and continues to respond emotionally and spiritually to historical events helps a congregation understand who you are and where you might be going. This exploration can be a journey if you choose to enter into it in that spirit, which is why I call this your collaborative history odyssey project.
history odyssey is the roll of paper stretching across the wall of WUUC’s
sanctuary. It includes a timeline of historical events but it’s not simply a
timeline. Rather than being about events it’s about your emotional response to
the events of your congregation’s life. It’s the story of your congregation.
showing individual responses, it’s a way of understanding your individual and
collective emotional and spiritual responses to your history, as well as
helping those who weren’t present begin to understand how events of the past
might affect today. It shows those who study it events and times or traits that
sparked strong reactions, positive or negative. It shows patterns in your
history. And hopefully as you work on it more it will show some of the most
important things about who you are as a congregation.
I discussed in my sermon on February 24, your odyssey already shows amazing
highs and deep lows, and some people are perceiving patterns in it. I’ve lifted
up a pattern of resilience that I perceive. Several others have shared that
reading it feels negative. I’ve observed that many of the things that excite
people about WUUC, that you love about your congregation hadn’t made it onto
your odyssey yet. And so, as we keep your history up for you to add to over the
month of March, can you find creative ways to add the things you love about
WUUC to your odyssey, even as you honor your own and others’ griefs? What story
will you tell there and how will it affect how you see yourselves and how you
create your future?
This month I want to share an update based on questions I’ve been receiving about your interim process.
Interim Ministry vs Ministerial Search: Workshop Feb. 3 at 11:30 a.m. with Transitions Coach
Some people have asked questions about when WUUC will begin the process of searching for your next minister and have expressed concerns that WUUC might be behind schedule with this. The quick answer is that you’re not at all behind schedule.
The search for your next minister is something that is done in parallel with your interim ministry work and is related to the interim ministry work that you do, but it is separate from it. When Rev. Duane Fickeisen, WUUC’s transitions coach, is here on Feb. 3, he will cover this in much more detail. I’ll continue doing your interim work and giving you updates on that, but most of the information about the search process will be coming from the Board and, later this year, the Search Team.
Briefly, though, congregations searching for a new settled minister generally form a search committee for their next minister in the spring on their first interim ministry year (spring 2019). Over the summer a search committee comes together to understand how the search process works and to decide how they will gather input from the congregation. In the fall of your second year of interim ministry, the search committee will gather input from the congregation on what you’re looking for in your next minister. Provided there is clarity, the search committee creates a packet about the congregation. The process with prospective settled ministers takes place from December – April. Over the next few months, the exact process WUUC will use will become much clearer. This process needs to be discerned with your transitions coach.
Interim ministers do not get involved with the search process itself. Rather, we work with the congregation to do its own interim/developmental work. Doing this work is important to gain clarity on the interim focuses I outline below. This work has been found to be critical for the health of congregations. And without doing this work it’s much more difficult to have a successful search for a congregation’s next minister.
Congregational Interim Focuses
The interfaith Interim Ministry Network and the Unitarian Universalist Association have discerned five main focuses for congregations during their interim period. Doing this work is important to gain clarity on who a congregation has been, who it is, where it thinks it’s going, and its congregational culture and relationship to ministry and minsters. Having more clarity on these issues helps a congregation move into the future with zest. What’s more, without more clarity on these issues it’s difficult to engage in a successful search.
The five main focuses of a congregation’s interim work are:
Your heritage – coming to terms with history.
Your leadership – allowing needed leadership change.
Understanding your governance and organizational processes.
Your connections – internal and UUA, regional, interfaith, other organizations.
Your mission – understanding your identity.
Your future – committing to new direction.
Another way of understanding interim ministry is to think about it as a time when a congregation reflects on and discerns its answers to these overarching questions:
Who is WUUC?
Who is your neighbor?
What is WUUC called to do in the world?
Work on these interim issues and questions is iterative, meaning that we typically work on them simultaneously and repeatedly throughout the two years of interim ministry. In September 2018 and throughout the fall, WUUC’s Board of Trustees and I discerned that much of the work I’d do with you this first year would focus on:
Your heritage, particularly through storytelling about your past.
What kind of relationship has WUUC had with itself? With its ministers?
Building internal connections, trust, and communication. This includes working on and deepening your relationship with covenants.
What kind of relationship does WUUC want to have with itself? With its minister? How can members of WUUC hold space for difference while maintaining communication?
Building connections with the UUA to support search and for General Assembly, which will be in Spokane from June 19-23. Understanding your other connections with the external community.
What is the identity of WUUC (inward community vs transformation and outreach)?
Understanding your current organizational systems, your desired relationship with ministry and ministers, and then beginning to develop your desired organizational structure and governance.
What is WUUC’s governance approach? Do policies and procedures support that?
The Board, Transitions Team, Ministry Council and I have each been working on these issues from different angles over the past few months.
We’ve worked on understanding your heritage through multiple gatherings and the collaborative history odyssey project we began on Jan. 27 will help you enter into congregation-wide discussions.
The listening circles, community conversations, and work on interim issues and covenant that I’ve begun doing with various committees is part of work on internal connections. You can read more about the Board’s work on these issues in the newsletter column they began writing for the December newsletter.
In the Board’s newsletter articles you can also read about some of the work we’ve done on making connections with the UUA. The BSAFF fund, renewal of WUUC’s Racial Justice Task Force, and the work Advocates for Social Justice is doing are examples of ways this congregation is working on understanding your other connections to the external community.
And finally, while not everyone finds this as fascinating as I do, the work we’ve been doing on understanding your organizational systems has led to the Board adopting WUUC’s new signage policy and interim hiring policy, as well as the processes we used to hire WUUC’s new Director of Lifelong Learning. The Ministry Council has been working on understanding responsibility, authority, and how programs are developed, which has helped lead to the BSAFF fund and new support for small group ministry.
We’ll be continuing this work throughout the spring. As the congregation engages in this work, we know that there will be anxiety, conflict, and some confusion. These are normal parts of the interim process. It’s uncomfortable and challenging to engage with interim work. And the end result isn’t perfect, finished products. Instead, the journey itself is sacred – this is where our spiritual work happens, as we build the path while we travel it.
To help support clear communication and the congregation’s interim work, please contact me directly if you have concerns, feedback or more detailed questions about things that are happening at WUUC during the interim, or if you’d like to have a more in-depth conversation with me about WUUC. I also encourage you to talk with the members of your Board of Trustees and the Transitions Team.
As we’ve discussed in various venues this fall and winter, helping a congregation do its interim work takes a lot of an interim minister’s time and energy. As such, I’ll continue being less involved in pastoral care and in social justice work than Rev. Lois was. Please keep reaching out to me and the lay pastoral associates for support, though. Jessica Belmont and Dan Ballard have joined the lay pastoral team to help meet the congregation’s pastoral needs.
For regular updates on upcoming interim work stay tuned to this column. In addition, this winter I will begin holding informal conversations with the minister about once a month following worship. At the first conversation on Feb. 10, I’ll invite participants to discuss your collaborative history odyssey project. Other currently-scheduled dates will be March 3, April 7, and June 16.
As I write this, it’s Dec. 21. In some ways, the new year with its theme of possibility is the furthest thing from my mind and heart. And yet. And yet it is Dec. 21. It’s Solstice. One of my favorite times of the year. This is our shortest day in 2018. We will have 8 hours and 24 minutes of daylight and 15 hours and 36 minutes of darkness. We’re in the midst of the quiet and stillness of holy darkness. And in many ways a new year begins as the Earth shifts in relation to the sun and light begins to grow once again.
And so, even as I sit here in the midst of darkness, a new year begins. New possibilities arise. But the darkness and stillness invite me to a different relationship with possibility than the one I often think of with the new year. It invites us to opportunities, to changes, to journeys that are deeply rooted in our past and in the deep, dark holiness of our spirits. It invites us to the memory of a different kind of love. A love that is deep and rich and whole and held. It doesn’t sparkle. It embraces.
As the new year begins we will find ourselves, both individually and as a religious community, naturally turning towards more light, towards new possibilities, toward sparkly objects and flowering possibilities. This is good and true and as it should be as the world turns. But my prayer for me, for you, and for WUUC is this:
Precious, tender, embracing Spirit,
As the new year begins
Help us to always carry and embrace our past,
Each other’s tenderness,
Each other’s wounds,
Each other’s hopes,
With the enveloping and deeply rooted
That we have found in the warm embrace of the turning of the year
That we have found in Community, in You.
Help us allow this to be our source and our strength in this new year,
That we may love ourselves and each other every more truly
And have the courage to live Love ever more fiercely and fully into the world.
Blessed be and Amen.
Love and Blessings,