It is such a gift to be doing this work of ministry in collaboration with a colleague. I know because in my time here it wasn’t always so. When I arrived at UUCA in the summer of 2004, I was the sole minister to handle all the work of this congregation. I did my best to get by, but it quickly became clear that I needed help. At a recent Start-Up Workshop for our Minister of Faith Development Rev. Claudia Jiménez facilitated of staff by the UUA Southern Region, I told the story of how the position of a second minister at UUCA evolved, and now I want to share it with the rest of you.
It began in the summer of 2006 when I got in touch with the Rev. Sarah York, who was finishing up an interim ministry at the Eno River UU Fellowship in Durham, NC. I asked her if she would be willing to serve during the next year as a part-time consultant to help me organize our pastoral care program. Sarah was a great candidate since she knew the congregation – she had been a member before entering the ministry and was planning to move back to a home she still owned in Asheville – and she was accomplished in the area of pastoral care.
It was a such a great year that at the end I asked her to stay on in a one-third-time staff position as Assistant Minister for Pastoral Care. She would manage our Pastoral Visitors, staff a newly formed Congregational Care Council, and preach once a quarter.
In the fall of 2010, Sarah told me that at the end of that church year she intended to retire from ministry. So, I met with the board to talk over how we would handle that opening. I reported at the time that we had more than enough work for a full-time second minister, but we couldn’t support one in the budget.
Board President Kay Aler-Maida said this seemed like a moment to invest in our staff. We had only recently received a sizeable bequest from the estate of UUCA member Marian Elmslie, and Kay proposed that we use part of that bequest to supplement our budget for up to five years until our pledge base grew enough to fully pay for the position. It seemed like a reasonable bet because in recent years our pledge base had been growing steadily.
So, the Board convened a Town Hall meeting where we asked for feedback on what the focus of this second minister should be. As a result of that meeting, we decided to focus the position on pastoral care, social justice, preaching once a month, and what we called “shared ministry,” which included supervising small groups and our membership program.
A search committee was appointed and in the spring of 2011 we hired the Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper as Assistant Minister, leaving open the possibility that she could later ask the congregation to formally call her to an upgraded position of Associate Minister. Lisa did terrific work for the congregation, and in 2014 was formally called as Associate Minister.
Meanwhile though, the bet we made to fully support the second position by the pledge base didn’t pan out. Whether it was the result of the recession or other factors, contributions leveled off. We did our best to cut costs – a portion of money we set aside to last us 5 years in fact lasted almost 10. We will finally exhaust that fund in the coming year’s budget. But meanwhile, some staff positions were eliminated (membership coordinator, communications specialist), program expenses were held to a minimum, salaries for exempt staff were frozen and money for professional expenses was trimmed year after year.
It became clear that we couldn’t sustain all the staff that we had. So, I began to explore options. As it happens, about the same time as this, our then-Director of Religious Education Joy Berry announced that she would leave. We investigated finding an interim, but in the end Director of Administration Linda Topp said that with the help of RE Coordinators Kim Collins and Jen Johnson she could manage the congregation’s RE program for the next year. Linda had prior experience as a DRE and had reduced her own work time from 40 to 30 hours a week to save money. So, she had room in her schedule to take on the RE duties.
After discussions with colleagues I learned that some congregations had created ministerial positions that combined supervision of religious education with other ministry duties. So, I proposed to the board that this was a way we could solve our budget needs: find a minister who could combine supervision of children’s, youth and adult RE with pastoral care, supervision of small group ministry and the Wednesday Thing and preaching once a month. I suggested the title of Minister of Faith Development.
Rev. Lisa was clear that she was not interested in this position, but also she was ready to seek out a church where she could serve as lead minister. So, while Rev. Lisa entered search, we did, too. A search committee interviewed a number of candidates, and in April 2018 recommended Rev. Claudia for the job. Meanwhile, Lisa found a position as minister of the Greenville, SC Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.
It’s been a great first year. Rev. Claudia has more than exceeded our hopes and expectations. But during this year she and I have also remained in conversation about how well this combination of duties worked in general and how well it worked for her. From early in her time here, she found herself increasingly drawn to social justice. And the more we talked about our hopes for adult faith development here the clearer it became that it often dove-tailed into justice work.
So, we have decided that in the coming year she and I will shift our portfolios a bit: Rev. Claudia will take over leadership of social justice, and to give her room to do that, I will take over leadership of our pastoral care program. We will spend the summer figuring out how to accomplish this shift, but I think you will find it a positive change that will serve our hopes for this congregation.