The role of the Interim Minister
Many years ago one of the sages of congregational life at the Unitarian Universalist congregation in Albany NY said to me, “our commitment to the life of this congregation matters. Ministers come and go, but the congregation remains.” The context of the conversation was probably the impending ministerial transition and the resulting “differences” amongst the congregants as to whether this was a good thing or a bad thing.
His advice has stayed with me all these years later, especially as I moved from one “side” to the other. As both a lay leader and then ordained clergy, I treasure the life and health of the congregation. I am an institutionalist and one of the best things ministry can make happen is helping fostering healthy congregations that are resourceful, compassionate and resiliant in the face of life’s many transitions.
An interim minister enters into the life of a congregation at a pivotal, crucial moment. Although many aspects of the work will reflect the traditions of ministerial leadership, some parts are by their very nature different.
An interim enters the life of the congregation already leaving. Our time-frame is temporary, our ministry short-lived on purpose. In that year or two, we will do all we can to position the congregation for its next ministry, moving on to another transition.
Part of the work will be looking back, reviewing the events and relationships that brought us here, to this moment in time. But there is no time to get stuck in nostalgia. The interim Minister is also a facilitator of visioning work, helping the congregation assess where it is now and creating a road-map for where it wants to go… how its next ministry will be part of this vision.
As an interim minister, it is my task to enter into the life of the congregation quickly and lightly. The relationships we would build in this short time will impact the future, and they will be as strong and supportive as we allow them to be.
And then as the plans for the future are created, as the choices are made and a new beginning charted, the interim minister, as gracefully as possible does what poet Mary Oliver suggests:
“And when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.”
“In Blackwater Woods” by Mary Oliver, from American Primitive. © Back Bay Books, 1983
The photograph above is of the chalices used for communion at the Unitarian Church in Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napocaj, Romania) – one original and the other a replica of the chalice used by Dávid Ferenc, the 16th century founder of Unitarianism in Transylvania