Minister’s Musings Among the Mountains – Mar. 31

Some of you have asked questions about the why’s of the next steps in the selection of the new minister and what happens thereafter. I’d like to try to answer some of them but will defer to the Ministerial Search Committee and Paula vanHaagen as chair of the team for specifics.

Why does the search process take so long? Interim ministers are hired very quickly but the search for a new settled minister is a long procedure.

The search for a new settled minister does take a long time and is expensive. We should remember that our UU congregations operate from congregational polity and therefore are independent entities. You can choose whomever you like as your new minister. There’s no bishop or superintendent who will make your choice for you as other denominations might do.

The process is a lengthy one because you hope for a long, long relationship with your new minister. The average length of ministries in mainstream American religious circles is about 6 years. Many go much longer than that. Others don’t. The process is then very carefully laid out so that your search committee will experience the best possible candidates for the relationship. You obviously would like a long-term relationship like a marriage or partnership that is strong and robust from day one.

The process to find a new settled minister used to be less clear and inevitably some mistakes were made. The process now involves sharing of information, much discernment on the part of minister and searching congregation, and finally your decision to vote a minister ‘in’ as your called minister.

What is the congregational vote mean and what percentage is expected?

Congregational polity means that you as the congregation makes the final decision about your governance, your budget, your mission and much more. This is also true about your selection of a settled minister. Many older church bylaws said that the actual vote in favor of a new settled minister had to be at least 80% in favor. Nowadays it’s at least 90%; otherwise the minister will likely not accept the call. The reason generally is that if more than 10% of those voting aren’t comfortable with the new minister then there’s likely the potential for conflict within a year or two between the minister and those who didn’t vote for the person.

The process to find a settled minister is designed to make sure you find the best possible candidate for the individual (and unique) needs of a congregation. It’s very rare that a congregational vote of less than 90% happens now because the search committee represents the congregation and has discerned from surveys and the like what the congregation wishes to have from the next minister. Many votes are unanimous now because of how well the search committee has done its work.

What’s ‘Candidating Week?’

That’s a fancy term for the week when the minister (and their family if applicable) will be at Westside to visit, answer questions, attend many dinners, potlucks, meetings, visits with staff, and much more. They will do two Sunday services. Here at Westside the first service will be April 23. The rest of the week will be a whirlwind of meetings, questions and answers, and much food. The second Sunday on April 30 the minister will give their second sermon. They will leave for a restaurant after the service is done while you have a congregational meeting to discuss calling your new minister and taking a vote. The board president or the search committee chair will then call them with the result. If the result is affirming, then minister and family will return to church for the celebration. It is very rare for a non-affirming vote nowadays thanks to the work of the search committee, the UUA, the Regional Staff and others.

What do ‘called’ and ‘settled’ minister terms mean?

“Called” used to mean “called by God” to become a minister. It still does in mainstream Christian, Jewish, Islamic and other traditions. It is a more complex question in our UU faith since we have a whole spectrum of ideas about “God”. Another way of looking at it would be that a congregation and minister fall in love with each other and so the minister is ‘called’ to do ministry with that congregation in trust and partnership. Here’s a blog that explains it better than I can:

“Settled” minister means a minister who is in a long term relationship (or marriage) with a congregation. Interims like myself are not settled in our jobs. We move from place to place. Ideally, the next minister at Westside will have many years of powerful collaborative ministry with you. That’s one way to understand that term “settled” as in ‘settled down’.

I hope that’s helpful information as you continue this process.

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