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Connecting the Dots - UUSM Transition Update

Updated: Apr 3

Shared Ministry: Growth through Service 

by Rev. Terri Echelbarger and John Farrow on behalf of the Transition Team (Diana Candee, Joan Cassman, John Farrow, Tricia Dell, Rev. Terri Echelbarger, and Rev. Tovis Page)

“Transitions are ongoing, and they are a process. So where are we in our transitional ministry process at UUSM? We’re so glad you asked! This is an “all hands on deck” process, designed to help the UUSM community move into the future with clarity and intention.”

We want to thank those who are investing time and sharing their voices at the transition-related Community Conversations. We hope we are hearing a true cross-section of views and ideas because that is pretty essential for what lies ahead of us. This process is important.

In this update we’ll talk about our second workshop, held on March 10. We broke into six or seven small groups of four to six members, including an on-line group, and we discussed five key questions about ministry at UUSM. See all the chart pad notes here.

Ministry, from the Latin, means service. We began by recognizing that ours is a shared ministry in which both our members and our professional ministers serve together. So we need to consider two questions: how we can best serve, and how we can best serve together.

Serving together is what makes us a community. Rev. Tovis suggested we consider a flock of starlings dancing in the sky, and their seamless movement of leading and following in turn. Rev. Terri suggested we think of a garden, a rose bush, and what is budding now… and the fertilization and pruning that are necessary to make that happen over time. Rev. Terri reminded us that it’s our garden, and our rose bush, even when we are letting a minister help tend it, holding hands with us, for a time. We may aspire to the dance in the sky, but we must also tend the garden. The congregation and its professional minister are in an equal, consensual covenant. How holding hands looks varies, depending on the engagement and skills of the congregation, and the skills of its minister. It’s not a one size fits all arrangement, especially in UU congregations.

At the workshop, we spent a few moments talking about the different types of professional ministers: Settled Ministers, Developmental Ministers, Transitional Ministers. Rev. Tovis and Rev. Terri are contract ministers, which is yet another type. UUSM will need to decide what type it will need starting in 2025 for the next 5-7 years. Rev. Terri shared that 5-7 years is a typical cycle in congregations, at which point, some re-creation usually has to unfold. This essential re-creation can happen in a number of ways, but not unless we are intentional about it.

Next, our workshop groups talked about times when UUSM seemed in the zone and working well. The most prevalent examples were the times when we were engaged with programs like Home and Hope, Homework Central, MLK Day, campaigning for affordable healthcare, becoming a welcoming congregation, our Partner Church program, and other programs in which many were involved in serving the larger community together. Others pointed to programs inside the church like Beloved Conversations, our RE program, OWL, and our small group ministries, in which many of us served our own community. Both the inward facing and outward facing engagements involved strong service to each other and to our larger community led by professional ministers and supported by a deep lay bench, in short, a shared ministry. There have been many chapters when it felt like nearly everyone was rowing the same direction. There is a yearning and an optimism that UUSM could get there again.

Our small groups also talked about when and how we made it through rough patches. The most common examples of tough times were abrupt transitions in professional ministries - periods of confusion and what felt like betrayal. We were again struck by the importance of community in getting through these rough patches together. Our small groups reminded each other that lay leaders have always stepped up; that our ties to and trust for each other weave a safety net; and that we eventually resume pulling together. Indeed, these episodes remind us of our self-determination and enduring strength as a congregation, with or without professional ministry.

However, Rev. Terri noted that, in one-on-one conversations, she and Rev. Tovis still hear a lot of unresolved hurt about these transitions and other conflicts that still hold us hostage in some ways. The question is, are we ready to truly release the strings of the past so we can move more boldly forward, expecting the extraordinary, in the years to come? If you have a sore spot you might need to let go of, or if you just want to better appreciate how the congregation can best come together when it leaves no member behind, please consider attending the May 5 workshop on Letting Go, at noon after the service. And if you have issues you want addressed that you have not yet shared with Rev. Terri or Rev. Tovis, please do.

Next, recognizing the typical tenure of a professional minister, Rev. Terri asked each workshop group for one goal for 2025-2030 that it would set for UUSM. And she asked what role each person is willing to play in making that goal a reality. The answers to these questions can tell us something about the kind of ministerial leadership we will need. If you weren’t at the workshop, please take a moment to consider: What would be your one goal for UUSM for 2025-2030? Would you be willing to help make it happen?

Some of the workshop groups responded with goals that reflect UUSM’s historical engagements and the aspirations identified by our elders in the heritage podcasts, for example, a focus outward to serve our local and global communities through social justice work and a focus inward on a strong RE program that would also recruit families. Some of the goals were more concrete: deal with the 314 building, host a bar in the lounge for our members once a month (or as one of our ministers more cautiously phrased it, a “coffee house”); invite our neighbors in to use our social hall and to know us; form a house band. All of these goals involved service, together.

Last, Rev. Terri asked each small group to consider those goals and then write one quality about the minister we are seeking they would want included in the congregational profile, considering our own gifts as laypersons and remembering that no one can be talented at everything. The goal should be to find a minister who can fill in the gap. Suggestions from our workshop groups included strong preaching and worship services, strong pastoral care, self-awareness, ethics, well-read and open minded on the topics that may divide us, a listener, an inspiration.

If you have a goal for the congregation over the next five years or a quality you want to see in a professional minister, put it in a sentence or two and contact someone from the Transitions Team to tell us what it is!

Shared ministry is service together. We grow spiritually through our service to the church. And the church grows through its service to our community and the wider world.

Upcoming Transition Work

Please mark your calendar for our upcoming events.

If you missed the first Community Conversation (on culture) please take a look at our first Transition Team update posted HERE.  Your engagement makes this work transformative!

May 5th, 2024 @ Noon: Letting Go

In our work to date many hurts have been revisited. In preparing to move forward together, what do you personally need to let go of in order to move ahead at UUSM?

May 12th, 2024 @ Noon: Vital Leadership 1 (Administrative Teams)

A workshop for active leaders on administrative teams like the BOT, LDC, Finance,

Beni-Comp, Facilities, Stewardship, COM, Transitions Team, ECO (NOT program teams like RE, Connections, Music Ministry, Worship Associates - your gathering will be scheduled later). Teams should plan to send at least two representatives to this gathering. Lunch will be provided. We’ll talk about setting ourselves and others up for even greater success.

June 2, 2024 @ Noon - Community Conversation on Mission and Vision

At our third transition-related conversation, we will discuss our mission and vision for

the future, including programs of worship, music, pastoral care, religious exploration,

community connections, and social justice. Our mission and vision are aspirational. Our budget and our service to the church and the community puts our money where our mouth is. So it’s a perfect time to discuss mission and vision as stewardship season wraps up and the June 9 Congregational Meeting asks us to approve a budget

Ongoing work – in between these community conversations, the transition work continues!

  • All of us reflecting on our history and heritage with an eye to the future

  • All of us reflecting on UUSM culture and what supports and impedes our shared goals

  • All of us reflecting on the ways lay and professional ministers hold hands at UUSM.

  • Revs. Tovis and Terri continuing to weave transition themes, questions and reflections into sermons and services

  • Rev Terri working with administrative committees on effective governance and leadership recruitment

June 2024 – Board and congregation determine whether to seek settled, developmental or contract ministry and form a search committee.

June 2024 to June 2025 – Search for new professional ministry.

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