Love Can Build An Interim Bridge

In last month’s blog, I tried to share an informative overview of the interim search process we are currently involved in and provide updates and a timeline so that congregants would know what we had done so far and what we needed to do next in order to locate and secure an interim minister to work with us for the 2 year interim between Rev. Mark’s retirement and the hiring of our next official called minister. I will continue to try and keep people updated with this process but for this blog, I felt that rather than focus on the “how do we get an interim?” aspect of the process that I would instead shift to talk a little about “what do we do once we have one?” 

The Bridge

The UU Reverend Margaret Keip who has served as both a long-time called minister as well as a 6-time interim minister has described the interim period as a “bridge connecting what was to what will be.” So whose job will it be to build our bridge? Who will design it? Who will determine which spot we start from on this side of the divide and where we will aim to land on the other side? Who helps ensure that the bridge being designed is safe to cross? With so much attention being directed towards the bridge building, who is going to keep an eye out for the equally important non-bridge-related work? I swear, couldn’t we just call in The Judds?!

The Role of the Interim

So the first thing we want to be clear on is knowing the actual role of the interim. Though there may be a lot of things we “want” them to do or to focus on, their work is actually quite specific. In fact, you can find the job description laid out pretty clearly in the pages of the Janus Workbook, UUA’s guidebook to the Interim Ministry. In simple bullet form, it lays out the 5 major areas in which the interim will focus their energy. These are:

  • Helping the congregations claim and honor its past while also helping heal its griefs and conflicts. 
  • Illuminating the congregation’s unique identity, its strengths, its needs, and its challenges. 
  • Clarifying the multiple dimensions of leadership, both ordained and lay, and navigating the shifts in leadership that accompany times of transition. 
  • Renewing connections with available resources within and beyond the UUA.
  • Enabling the congregation to renew its vision, strengthen its stewardship, prepare for new professional leadership, and engage its future with anticipation and zest. 

This doesn’t exactly mean that the interim can’t do anything else ever but I do think it is important that we step into this interim period with the understanding that their primary work is contained within those 5 bullets and does not automatically include them taking on the work we may have come to appreciate from Mark or expecting them to assume or initiate the outward work we might want to see in our future called minister. For example, Mark has served in the role of a community leader regarding issues from Marriage Equality to Sanctuary. Furthermore, we can all pretty much say that leadership in social justice and social action will be a quality that we will be looking for in our future called minister. Though these are great things to value in our past, present, and our hopeful future ministry, it is not the work of the interim minister. In fact, the interim minister’s role specifically requires that they focus inward on the congregation rather than looking outward to the community at large. On the flip side, we may place a high value on our ministerial leadership’s investment in pastoral care and we will want to see that focus in the future. But again, though the interim will likely be connected to the continuation of pastoral care, it is not part of the job’s primary responsibilities. Being clear and explicit about what is and isn’t the work of the interim will help prevent the potential hurt feelings, disappointment, and conflicts that can come from false expectations. Judith Walker-Riggs describes the work of the interim and the shifting of congregational responsibilities this way:
The interim minister’s attention will be fully engaged in having the congregation address interim tasks such as coming to terms with its history and being able to articulate its present identity. In addition, the interim minister will help the congregation prepare for change, decide what direction to take for the future, work together in a common purpose, and heal and develop trust if necessary. The interim time also provides an invitation to the congregation to decide how the members themselves will do the work of the church in the world.” In a way, this leaves me thinking of the interim minister as the bridge-building consultant; the one who knows a lot about different types of bridges, the one who knows how to help us figure out which 2 points we want to connect, the one that can help us locate and identify the bridge builders within so that the work of UUCA can continue while the bridge gets built.

The Role of Us

So if the interim is the consultant possessing a lot of bridge-building facts and formulas, then it kind of looks like the actual people who will be building the bridge will be…..us! That sure leaves us with a lot of work to do in order for a safe and strong bridge to get built, right? How will we do it? Well, don’t worry. Most of us here at UUCA has been building bridges in some way or another for quite some time now. And one of the easiest ways to begin preparing for the construction process ahead of us is by simply and informally asking ourselves some questions. Questions like:

  • What kind of church are we?
  • What do we want to change and what do we want to stay the same?
  • What do we want to look like in the foreseeable future?
  • What kind of activities have we engaged in, and what do we wish to do in the future?
  • What has our structure been, and do we want to change it?
  • What do we want to prioritize during the interim in regards to programs, care, and connection?
  • How might we, individually as well as in groups, step up our involvement so that the things that matter to us continue to move forward both during the interim as well as beyond?

Fortunately, as a congregation, there are also a number of actions and initiatives that we have recently undertaken that will align well with the bridge-building work of the interim. For example, the Racial Justice Advisory Council is working to help us evaluate our present practice with the goal of helping us establish future plans and actions for moving us towards becoming a more anti-racist congregation. Elsewhere, an amazing team of congregants has recently completed an assessment of current and future maintenance needs for our various campus properties. This assessment ultimately provides us with important information that will be crucial to our interim conversation about our future, not just in regards to what we “do” and “how we do it” but even “where we do it.” And recently Reverend Claudia has begun pushing us to look more deeply at what we value in regards to the work of Community and how we might participate in it. Heck, even the recent sharing of Teresa Honey Youngblood’s blessing on Becoming seems to practically have been written for the interim moment before us.

“What is becoming of us, beloved? We ask this again and again, with care and curiosity: what is becoming of us?

As we change–inevitably, sometimes uncomfortably–may we choose dynamism over stubbornness, transformation over safe sameness, possibility over status-quo.

May we flow instead of calcify, remembering there are paths away from mistakes, and we can always make more room for those joining the current.

May we reach toward one another and toward interdependence. May we seek and make contact and community as if our lives depend on it, which of course, they do.”

The Bridge We Build

I recently saw a picture of a bridge built over a canal in Venice. I smiled at its beauty and then of course, quickly forgot all about it. However, as I reflected on the bridge building work of the interim period before us and about Youngblood’s instruction that we reach toward one another, the image of the bridge returned to my mind. The hands reaching out and connecting two sides. Our past and our present reaching out to connect to our future. The bridge we will build will be a strong one. Just like The Judds said it would.