Our Interim Minister, John Nichols, submitted the following report to the congregation for the 2012-2013 First Parish Annual Report, which was distributed at the Annual Meeting. You can get a copy of the entire report through the church office.
THE FIRST REPORT OF THE INTERIM MINISTER TO THE FIRST PARISH OF WAYLAND, MAY 2013
The time between the departure of a beloved minister and the call of a new one is often thought of as “dead time” and the interim minister who arrives during this time is considered a “place holder” for the “real” minister who is to come. Nothing could be more misleading. Scholars have recognized that during the interim time a congregation needs to make progress toward five goals, which will bear critically on the early success of their next ministry. They are as follows.
1. “Claiming and honoring the congregation’s past and healing its grief’s and conflicts.” Every congregation has something to be proud of and something from the past that lives on and figures positively into the present. It is part of the congregation’s identity. Former ministers are a big part of that identity, their strengths and their weaknesses, what they valued and didn’t value. It is common enough to idealize a beloved former minister or sometimes to demonize him. It is important for a congregation to move beyond either extreme; to see its former leaders as fully human beings with partial even flawed visions: with gifts to be celebrated just as the next minister will have different gifts and a different vision of the church. If that next minister is haunted by the ghost of his predecessor, his early ministry will be difficult.
2. “Illuminating the congregation’s unique identity: its strengths, its needs and its challenges.” What does the congregation have to offer newcomers and what might hold it back? In today’s world congregations, like many other entities, are expected to have a vision of where they’d like to be and how to get there.
3. “Navigating the shifts in leadership that occur during the times of transition.” During long ministries particularly the leadership of the congregation tends to rotate among the current minister’s friends. In the interim, often, new people step forward who may be inclined to nudge the church into new directions. The congregation can draw upon a wider range of talent. The new minister will appreciate the differences of perspective he/she find among the congregation’s leadership.
4. “Renewing connections with resources within and beyond the UUA.” This is a time when many congregations reach out to their denomination and find resources that have been there for them all along. Many ministers tend to be intrigued by congregations that are willing to reach beyond their own resources for help.
5. “Enabling the congregation to renew its vision, strengthen its stewardship, prepare for new professional leadership and engage its future with anticipation and zest.” In the interim period the ownership of the congregational future clearly rests where it should have been all along. It is no longer “Rev. Good’s church.” The fate of the congregation belongs to its membership; whether it moves forward or back, whether it grows or withers, whether it thrives financially or starves for lack of support. No one else is as responsible for the fate of the congregation as each individual member. The leadership’s ability to bring this message home is critical.
It is also to be hoped that after a suitable interim time the congregation is ready to greet their next minister as someone with a strength and vision, likes and dislikes, skill and energies that may be completely different from what the congregation has known before. Hopefulness about what the future may bring rather than a commitment primarily to replacing the past is what an interim minister hopes to see at the end of his/her time.
What makes the interim time critical for addressing these goals? The interim is in a position unique to ministry. He/she is pre-fired. The date of his/her departure is already known, which means that the interim minister can coax people to consider observations, which a newly settled minister might find risky or even dangerous to make. The interim minister can be a guide and provocateur, making whole new worlds more accessible to the congregation. What can they lose by trying something different when, after all, the source of all of this kerfuffle will only be there for a few more months.
I’m not sure if this congregation was prepared for an interim minister with a different theology and philosophy of ministry or whether you expected someone who would fill Ken’s shoes as well as possible. Be that as it may we have spent nearly a year together, and we have a year to go. You know more about me and I hope I understand something more of what you hope for in a minister. If you are curious about what I understand or just want me to hear from you please feel free to contact me and we’ll find some time to spend together.
During the time remaining, First Parish will decide how it wants to present itself to interested ministers, what it will insist on and where it will take chances. Your committee will discover what ministers interested in your congregation hope to find here, and somewhere in that conversation I hope a good match will be made. All of the choices that shape the future are up to you. Whether you spread the word that First Parish is a good place to be or remain silent until the next minister arrives is up to you. Whether you make a strong personal investment in the future of this congregation or get by this year with a place holding pledge is up to you. Whether you appear to candidates as a challenging and exciting place to be or a comfortable New England backwater is finally up to you.