As almost all are well aware by now, our minister of 16 years is retiring in just a few months. I myself have been here less than three years, but that too-short time at UUCA, with Rev. Mark in the pulpit, has left me wishing that I’d moved to Asheville much earlier!
Although I’m a newbie to UUCA, I’m an oldie to UUism. I was raised as a UU, and before moving to Asheville, I spent 32 years at another UU congregation (I’ll call it UUCx). During most of that time, I served in various leadership positions. During those 32 years, my congregation went through three ministerial transitions. Yes, three. Since I saw those transitions “up close and personal,” I’m brazenly declaring myself “experienced” in ministerial transitions, at least from a congregant’s point of view.
I’d like to share a few thoughts about UUCA’s upcoming 2-year transition period, during which time we’ll be served by a professional Interim Minister. We’ll be doing many things, the capstone of which is the selection of our permanent, “called,” or “settled” minister to start serving us after the transition period. The Interim Minister comes “pre-fired” as they say, and is here specifically to help us through this period, and then move on.
Mainly what I want to tell you is that even though UUCx’s ministerial transitions presented many challenges, they all provided tremendous opportunities for growth, for both the congregants individually and the congregation at large. I expect this will be the case for UUCA as well. I expect we’ll come out of this process even stronger than we are now.
Back to UUCx: Of those three transitions, two were departures of long-time, beloved ministers, both moving on to new experiences (which they certainly get to do, and in many cases should do). UUCx was in pretty good shape when they left. The other was a transition from a negotiated resignation, and the congregation had lots of issues centering around that minister. We were a polarized community, and we needed healing. In all three cases, however, we went through the same process; and in all three cases, the consensus was that UUCx came out better and stronger having gone through it.
As I mentioned, the Interim Minister is here specifically to help us navigate the transition. Fortunately, the Interim we’ll hire will almost certainly be an Accredited Interim Minister (AIM). AIMs have all received training targeted at transition work and common transition issues. They come with the education, tools, and experience to guide us. The ones I’ve experienced have focused on helping us recognize and understand ourselves as a congregation, largely independent of the minister: What is our past – our conflicts and griefs as well as our joys and successes? What is our identity now – our strengths, challenges, needs? Where could we go in the future, and where do we actually want to go in the future – and from that, what sort of minister do we need to help us do that?
Referring to a congregation in conversation, I’ve often heard people say (and have even said myself) something like “that’s Rev. So-and-So’s church.” That’s not really correct. UUCA is not Mark’s church, even though I firmly believe his presence was absolutely central in making UUCA a truly great place. When our settled minister arrives, it won’t be his, hers, or their church. It’s ours. The congregation’s church. The interim period allows us to recognize and internalize that ownership, take hold of it, and start planning the future for this gem we call UUCA.
I personally will miss Rev. Mark profoundly. Full stop. But I believe the upcoming years will be really good for us. Lots of interesting things are in store. So buckle up, and get ready to do the work we need to do as we usher in a new and exciting era at our beloved UUCA and, hopefully, have a little fun in the process!
Clyde Hardin, Board of Trustees