Next Steps in TOLUUC’s Ministry

When a pandemic forces a church to instantly transform itself into an online organization, what is there for a board to do, beyond reacting to COVID related issues? For Tree of Life, the answer may surprise you. We’ve been very busy with a myriad of projects ranging from supporting the revision of staff contracts, the writing of a new hire handbook, revising policy and procedures, offering opportunities to address systemic racism and more. We recently held our annual all-day retreat at which we reviewed 2020-2021 goals and established 2021-2022 goals. There was so much to talk about, we wish we could have several more days to address it all!

One of the biggest challenges the board has been working on over the past few years, and will continue to work on, is discerning what our next ministry will look like. Will we search for a settled minister or a contract minister? Will this position be part-time or full time? Given that no minister can be perfect in every way, how will we decide what qualities we should prioritize? How much money can we realistically expect to be able to offer a minister and for how long? Given the unfinished work of discerning our mission, updating policies and procedures, examining our financial standing, addressing conflict, etc., what kind of applicants would we attract? How do we prepare ourselves to give the next ministry the greatest chances of being long-lasting and successful? These are complex questions without easily discernible answers.

Approximately two years ago, after a generous gift allowed us to think about hiring a minister again, we examined the possibilities and decided to seek the services of an interim minister. The reasons for choosing interim ministry are many, but really boil down to a simple concept: strengthening our foundations and preparing us to enter into our next ministerial search with the best possible chance to find a minister as close to our “perfect fit” as possible.

The interim minister has been described as a “systems analyst” who helps a congregation take the time and do the work to better understand where its systems are healthy and where it needs to grow. The main goal of our interim ministry period is to help us become a healthy congregation that knows who we are, where we have been, and where we are going. An interim minister is uniquely positioned and thoroughly trained to help and encourage us to examine our history, prepare for our future, develop leadership, define our mission and purpose, establish strong policies and financial practices, and strengthen our connection with the greater Unitarian Universalist community.

Normally, the interim work takes place over two years, after which the congregation is ready to search for, or may have already found, its next minister. However, nothing about this past year has been “normal.”  Nevertheless, we have made a good start: a thorough review and updating of our policies is well under way; a mission and vision team has been assembled and is working on a process for the congregation to distill its core values and propose a mission statement, job descriptions have been reviewed, and revised as necessary; a finance team has been established, and we are in the process of applying to become a pilot congregation to test a new leadership development program.

In spite of these good efforts, though, much remains to be done, all of which will take time.  If we were to attempt to find our next minister at the end of the current 2 year interim ministry, we would have to begin the search process within the next month to have access to the largest pool of the best candidates. However, we are nowhere near ready to put our best foot forward to attract the quality of minister we hope to engage.

The board feels that a third year of interim ministry with Rev. Jenn would be the best way to serve the larger goal of preparing us to be truly successful in our next search, but we also understand that many members of our congregation are eager to take the next step and may be disappointed, frustrated or saddened that it may take longer than we hoped to achieve that goal. We feel that it is important that we hear your thoughts and concerns and answer any questions you may have before we make a final decision.

In faith, and in love, your Board.

Leah Mikkelson, President

Sue McCowin, President-elect

Janet Burns, Treasurer

Irene Raven, Secretary

Michael Bissett, Member-at-large

Ivy Sitkoski, Member-at-large

Steve Lyons, Member-at-large

3 Responses to “Next Steps in TOLUUC’s Ministry

  1. I commend you on your thoughtful/analytical approach. There is no right answer, nor even a good one. Thank you for all you do.

  2. I appreciate all of the work that has gone into the current plan. I am anxious to get started on our search, but also understand that we are currently living in extraordinary times. When I first heard about extending Rev. Jen’s contract, I thought it was a great idea. I have enjoyed having her as our minister in so many ways. I am concerned, however, that it feels like we are stalled in this interim period and no closer to our eventual goal of a settled or even a contract minister. I appreciate all of the hard work that the board has been doing and I understand that much of it I was not aware of until now. I also get that the past 2 years have not been normal years at all. I would just like to have the sense of moving forward as a congregation more than we are. Is it not possible to start a ministerial search without a mission statement? Can the congregation approve a mission statement quickly? I apologize if these questions were already asked in previous session that I missed. I would just like to feel like we are moving towards our goal of either a settled or contract minister.

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