Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Greetings


       Hello, members and friends of the UU Church of Boulder!

I'm Rev. Eric Posa, and I look forward to joining with you for this upcoming time, as your Interim Minister. I invite you to explore this website. These pages have served as my search packet during my transitional ministry searches. I hope they answer many of the questions you may have about me, and about my ministry. I look forward to meeting you, and to serving with you, starting the second week of July 2019.

In faith,
Rev. Eric Posa



TABLE OF CONTENTS

Monday, May 4, 2015

Biography

I was born in Fort Worth, Texas on November 30, 1971. My parents both had been born into working poor families during the mid-1930s; I was their only child. We lived in a town called Kennedale, a suburb only a few miles from Fort Worth, but with the feel of a small, semi-rural town that really was (and still is). My family fit in well in this lower-middle-class community—my dad was a truck driver, while my mom stayed home to take care of her only son.
Religiously, though, my family had little in common with the evangelical Protestantism common to the (mostly) working-class white southerners there, as we were unchurched. I came to completely reject organized religion, and the theological ideas I heard coming from the religious communities of my hometown. By the time I moved from Kennedale to Denton (about 40 miles north of Fort Worth and Dallas), to begin my undergraduate studies at the University of North Texas (UNT), I was a committed atheist who wanted no part in any religious community. I started my undergraduate career in 1990. I completed my Bachelor’s and Master‘s degree in philosophy, but it wasn‘t giving me a sense of wholeness, which still seemed lacking.
January 1994 was a time of major transitions in my life. In January, I had my first major religious experience (which changed my atheism to theism), and I went to church – the Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. I joined two months later, and remained a member there until I graduated seminary.
Soon, I was thinking about ministry. I began putting together my seemingly disparate drives—to think & teach, comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable—into a coherent call to preach and inspire religious reflection, offer pastoral care to those in need, and engage in prophetic work in the larger community. In the meantime, I took a university job as an academic advisor. I filled my other hours with a great deal of church lay activity, and justice work in the community.
                                                                 
I soon reached a point where I needed to put the various pieces of my life and calling all together. So in the Fall of 2000, I started work on the M.Div. degree at Brite Divinity School, of Texas Christian University. This seminary enriched me, by throwing me into a broadly ecumenical environment. Any “Christ cringe” I might have had left over was eliminated, replaced by a respect for the amazingly diverse Christian religious tradition I was immersed in for almost five years. My ministry internship early in my seminary career, in the healthy, dynamic Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge in 2002, affirmed my call to ministry more strongly than I could have hoped.
I finished seminary, and was ordained and fellowshipped, in Spring 2005. I then accepted an opportunity to do a chaplaincy residency, spending a year as a full-time hospital chaplain in the suburbs of Fort Worth. The experience was powerful - especially the lessons I learned serving the psychiatric unit - but convinced me that I needed the community of a congregation to serve in ministry more effectively and authentically.                                               
This led me to accept a 1-year interim ministry in San Antonio, Texas (see below for more details). Though a positive experience, the one tension was that the new person in my life could not come with me. Suzi's work as an academic librarian kept her anchored in Fort Worth, while I served over 250 miles away in San Antonio. Fortunately, the relationship between Suzi and I still grew, and we married in May 2007.
My first called ministry was in College Station, Texas (100 members), from 2007-2011. The ministry there was mostly rewarding. The congregation discerned its identity more clearly through a successful mission and vision process, and became more involved in community service work, such as the CROP Hunger Walk (for which I served as local organizing team leader). Nonetheless, my desire to function as a change agent, which was frustrated by the necessarily slower pace of settled ministry, led to my discernment that transitional ministry work was a better match for my gifts and call at that time than settled ministry.

TRANSITIONAL MINISTRIES
I served for the first time as interim minister, at First UU Church of San Antonio (360 members) from Sept. 2006 through July 2007. This interim ministry was rich and rewarding, further confirming my decision to return to parish ministry. The church struggled with finances, and the end of a long-term pastorate where relationships between minister and lay leaders had slowly deteriorated. I helped to provide a calm, steady presence, with a new approach to the congregation's worship. This was deeply rewarding work for me, and prepared me to pursue transitional ministry as my vocational path.                                                   
I entered what then was called the Interim Ministry Guild in Spring 2011. My second interim ministry was at the UU Church of Greensboro, in central North Carolina. This was a church with significant recent conflict, resulting in a church split. I worked with them to further their work at transforming the congregational culture around conflict. We also implemented a new church governance structure, which moved the minister to chief of staff and clarified lines of accountability, particularly between governance functions and ministry functions. And we navigated a change in the religious education staffing. We also unpacked some of the lingering, decades-long aftereffects of clergy sexual misconduct that occurred well in the church's past. 
I served as Interim Sr. Minister at the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg, in south-central Pennsylvania. This church was in the unique position of having two church campuses - one urban, one suburban - and holding worship at both. I worked substantially with them, completely revising their staffing structure so they could more effectively live into their ministry at each building. I also did substantial work with the board to more fully engage the Policy-style Governance system they have had in place for years, but never truly lived out. Sadly, the congregation was plagued with money problems, as the result of a 5-year decline in membership and pledging, which hindered some of the change work we sought to engage together.
Following this, I was in Memphis, Tennessee. First Unitarian Church - better known throughout the Memphis community as "The Church of the River" - had just concluded the successful, 32-year ministry of Rev. Burton Carley when I arrived for their interim ministry. They were healthy and stable, but accustomed to some ways of doing church that no longer served as well as they had 30 years ago. Work with the church board increased their role in making big-picture decisions for the congregation, and better articulating and documenting their policies. And after listening to several members, it became clear there was a hunger in the congregation to become engaged in social justice work in the community in ways they'd not previously been. After I preached on this issue and invited interested members to come forward, a social justice team was organized within the congregation for the first time in recent memory.
Most recently, I have served as interim for the Olympia UU Congregation, in Washington's state capitol city. Including my ministry internship, this has been the third state capitol in which I've served. I'll be happy to discuss with interested search committees, the similarities I've experienced between them that differ from other congregations.
These experiences have prepared me to move forward with increased confidence and renewed enthusiasm, as I explore my next interim ministry.

RESOURCES

Preaching and Worship

In congregational communities, the central venue for offering ministries of many kinds is the pulpit. Sermons express - "proclaim" - our highest aspirations, the larger vision for a particular congregation’s ministry, pastoral words of comfort for hurting people, and prophetic demands for justice and peace. The sermon is the most in depth element of the worship service in that the themes, the values being lifted up for us are explored in greatest detail through that sermon.
Yet the sermon cannot be reduced to mere text. Preaching is an embodied act, one in which words are given life through their delivery by the preacher using his or her voice tones, inflections, gestures and expressions. In my own preaching, I often find my delivery of the sermon is most effective when I step away from the pulpit and can walk around, incorporating movement in the delivery of the message. 

Preaching at installation of Music Minister, William Ross
First UU Church, San Antonio, TX, September 2006

My sermon topics vary widely. I believe in drawing upon many faith traditions and many spiritual and intellectual disciplines to inform my sermons. I have experience with theme-based ministry, and have preached on a “theme of the month” at three previous churches. (At one of these three congregations, which valued theologically sophisticated sermons, the monthly themes were theological topics.) I also find real value in going deeper into a particular religious tradition, to unpack the many insights that tradition can offer on a variety of themes while watching to avoid the trap of cultural misappropriation. One year, I focused on three traditions, preaching once a month (each) from: the Tao Te Ching, the Bible (specifically, the Gospels), and an explicitly Unitarian, Universalist, or UU source. Each of the three addressed the same theme, with the insights from the particular tradition. Over the year, this allowed for comparing multiple teachings from the same tradition with one another. It went well beyond “cafeteria theology” (sampling an idea here, or spiritual practice there, all out of context) to understand each tradition and its insights more richly.
I find my emphasis, in most sermons, is more inspirational than intellectual. Theological and intellectual themes regularly inform and are expressed in my preaching on any given Sunday - I was a philosophy major in college, and the value of exploring the "big ideas" is clear to me. However, my general style is to draw these themes out of stories that not only illustrate these themes but also help people connect on a more visceral level. My goal in preaching a sermon is for people to leave with a little food for thought, but more so with an inspiration to commit to another aspect of life.
Preaching, of course, is only one aspect of the worship experience. The Sunday morning gathering - especially the worship service - is the primary moment that guests and newcomers encounter the life of a church. All churches, especially UU churches that affirm the worth and dignity of everyone, are called to embody and practice radical hospitality. “Radical hospitality” is both inviting people through the doors, and also taking every meaningful step to make the church as welcoming to these guests as possible. Whenever a church is considering any decision regarding its worship, I always encourage worship leaders to ask themselves, "How will our guests and newcomers experience this?" While this is never the only issue to consider, not to give weight to it inadvertently hinders the work of the church to welcome others.

Co-officiating wedding of colleagues, Revs. Christian and Kristin Grassel Schmidt
Cedar Lane UU Church, Bethesda, MD, August 2010

Each congregation has its own particular worship traditions, and I feel no need to abandon completely the order of service that has evolved in a church. However, some changes may be appropriate during the interim period. The key question is not, “What do I [as interim minister] think the church should change about worship?” Rather, the issue is, what is the church’s mission and vision, its core purpose for being and doing ministry, and how can their worship best help them live that? Anything in a congregation’s liturgy that distracts the church from living out its mission, from living into its vision, should be examined carefully for alternatives.
Another vital avenue for participation in worship is music. The more people who sing or play, the merrier - and often it really is more merry that way, for the wide involvement not only fills out the sound, but can feel more inviting. While I regret that I don't play an instrument, and I'm not a strong singer, I am a great lover of music of many forms. I appreciate classical, formal music, especially when well-played, but find that meaningful and moving worship experiences can be conveyed through jazz, gospel, folk, blues, rock, and even country music. (I am, after all, a native Texan.) While I see great value in those churches with strong formal music programs, I have experience and interest also in exploring more contemporary forms of worship, with congregations that are open to trying new things. (And I should note - one element of my ministry that is most frequently noted, by members of every church I serve, is that when the music is lively, you're gonna see me dancing and clapping along in the chancel.)


SERMONS
[Note: The titles link to PDFs of sermon texts; some are complete texts, while others are intentionally incomplete sermon notes.]

[Note on Audio: The MP3s linked to the word "(audio)" are podcasts of the sermons. Each begins with a standard intro clip; the sermon begins between 1:50 and 1:55 on each MP3 file.]

Theology

Theology is a broad topic in any religious tradition, but especially so in the creedless tradition of Unitarian Universalism. Nevertheless, I find meaning in the classic definition that theology is "faith seeking understanding." By faith, I do not mean belief; it has nothing to do with how many impossible things you believe before breakfast. The word "faith" derives from the Latin for trust – trust in a value, a power, or (for some) a being which transcends my own simple self, whether natural or supernatural, personal or impersonal. It is trust in something on which I can rely to make sense of my world.
As Unitarian Universalists, we are free to define the object of our faith in ways meaningful to us, but in our covenantal religion, where individuals make promises to one another – promises that form communities greater than the sums of their parts – we each need faith, trust in more than just me myself, to enter together into those covenantal bonds. If I trust no one, I cannot authentically enter into covenant with anyone.
Of course, faith can have more than one object; many of us rely on, trust in multiple sources. For myself, my spiritual life has led me to a faith in a presence I have experienced deep within myself, yet also far beyond myself, a sacred presence that I have come to know as God. This presence nurtures my sense of connectedness with the universe, and with other people – so I know it also as Love. This ever-present Love is a source (though not the only source) for strength and inspiration when I struggle to make my way through life on my own.
And yet, my faith in the God-who-is-Love in no way negates my faith in the overwhelming power of nature, the capacity of human community to offer healing and liberation, or many other sources power and meaning. Despite some powerful spiritual experiences that have impacted my life profoundly, I cannot claim to have a full grasp on spiritual truth, and I have no expectation that anyone can know the sacred mystery in full.
Christmas Eve service
UU Church of Greensboro
December 24, 2012

Thus I‘ve come to value the importance of stories and metaphor, not only to convey larger truths, but as a fundamental way in which we human beings make meaning in our lives. To understand something for us means to be able to tell its story. I appreciate the narratives of sacred scriptures from many traditions and their abilities to make sense of our world. Deep meanings about fundamental aspects of life are conveyed through these stories, regardless of their historical accuracy.
Since seminary, I myself have been most inspired by the stories of the life and ministry of Jesus, found in the Gospel writings. Like the 19th century Unitarian Theodore Parker, I reject the religion about Jesus, but affirm and follow the religion of Jesus – the way of loving the divine and loving humans, especially those marginalized and oppressed, while rejecting the idolatries of empire. Thus I value these and other sacred stories, not for any literal truth they claim, but for the metaphorical truth of their teachings.
In interim ministry, a church and minister with contrasting theological perspectives and emphases often find themselves matched together for a year or two. This, I believe, is good, even healthy. We as people of covenant, not creed, are called to accept, even affirm, those people whose perspectives differ from our own. That includes hearing our various views on life and faith with minds open enough to be changed, even as we continue to affirm our core values.
SERMON TEXT ON THEOLOGY

Ministry in the Congregation

Leadership is a vital aspect of congregational ministry. In my ministry, the leadership I offer comes in two primary modes: vision-casting, and facilitation. Casting vision comes from exploring with a church not only its goals and priorities, but also its collective gifts and characteristics, and discerning a way forward, a plan that meets the goals while remaining true to the unique character of that church. To cast vision means offer a vision to the congregation, consistent with this exploration and discernment, of how the church can live out its principles and values, and engage its liberal religious mission within the church, and in the larger community. This also involves presenting that vision and mission to lay leaders and members in such a way that they do not feel forced to assent to the minister's view, but feel invited to buy into this vision that rises out of the congregation, to claim ownership of it. Especially in times of transition, there is an important call for the church to live into its vision, and to live out its mission, while always keeping our focus, not inward, but out toward those to whom you minister. As I summarize these points: “Affirm your identity. Discern your calling. Serve your community.”
A significant aspect of my leadership role is to help set the conditions in which all stakeholders can claim their voice at the table, while also enforcing appropriate boundaries through any decision-making process. Both in my settled ministry, and my various interim church settings, I worked closely with the boards of those congregations to rethink their understanding of governance, and clarify which issues truly demanded direct board involvement, and which were better delegated to staff members, lay leaders, board committees, and/or ministry teams. This involves gathering and equipping the people of the church, or larger community, in such a way as to promote their use of their individual and collective power to gain insights, reach decisions, and make changes that benefit the whole group.
I have found that for in-depth exploration of intellectual themes, the classroom or small group setting is a far better context than Sunday morning worship. Adult Religious Education (RE) classes provide opportunities for the give-and-take exchange of ideas that fosters deepening of insights. Small group ministry, whether affinity groups or (especially) a more coordinated small group program, can also meet this need for intellectual stimulation while pairing such exploration with the fellowship and intimacy of an on-going group meeting. I greatly enjoy teaching in a small group setting, and will pursue regular opportunities to "proclaim" in these interactive settings in any church I serve. More importantly, I will seek ways to establish an ongoing adult RE program where one is not present, and support or strengthen one that is active.
I also strongly support children's RE, and will look for ways in any congregation I serve to be present with children and parents throughout their experience of church life. In College Station, for example, I attended the monthly RE Committee meeting on the first Sunday of each month, and often participated in some way. That said, I find that I most effectively can support children's RE by entrusting the DRE to do their work well. I intend to collaborate regularly with the DRE, offer support and advice when needed, and otherwise offer them the trust and freedom to accomplish the work effectively, according to the church's broader ministry goals.
Pastoral care is one of the aspects of ministry where the importance of shared ministry comes most clearly into focus. As an interim minister, whose work focuses on helping the congregation discern its present and future roles in the church's various ministries, it has been important that I NOT act as the primary pastoral caregiver. Sharing the caregiving ministry of the church means empowering lay caregivers, remaining in close contact with them, sharing information on those in our church needing care, and referring each other to members we can aid. Other care needs such as rides to church or medical appointments, temporary help with meals while recovering from surgery or illness, or casual conversation partners to alleviate loneliness, best can be filled by lay caregivers. An active member care team is invaluable in any church. Much of my pastoral role as interim minister is to educate and equip these team members to meet the needs they encounter.
Speaking with congregants after worship
Olympia UU Congregation
August, 2017

That said, there are certain aspects of pastoral care best entrusted to the minister, interim or settled. One of the more sensitive and complex aspects of ministry is that of companioning others in their experiences of grief. As I prepared for ministry, I completed my required unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) not at a hospital, but with a hospice agency. Meeting with hospice patients in nursing homes, and in the hospice unit the agency maintained, immersed me in the dying and grieving processes, for families as well as patients. This chaplaincy internship was difficult, but also invaluable in equipping me with the experience to walk with people toward death. I’ve also found that my experience has helped me in working with people grieving for any number of reasons - divorce, relocation, ending of a previous ministry, etc.
Another deeply valuable aspect of my chaplaincy service came after graduating seminary. It was my work in the psychiatric and chemical dependency treatment facility next door to the main hospital, during the year-long CPE residency that followed my graduation from seminary. Regularly attending group sessions in both the inpatient and outpatient programs, and frequently meeting one-on-one with patients, vastly increased my awareness and sensitivity to mental health issues, especially depression and addiction, but also bipolar disorder, various personality disorders, and other conditions. My familiarity with these conditions, my knowledge of how best to support those living through them, and my ability to set appropriate behavioral boundaries with those who struggle to manage their actions, has been greatly enhanced.
In both these modes of leadership, I strive to remain engaged, emotionally and spiritually present with those I'm leading, without getting caught up in the anxieties or worries of those feeling overwhelmed. Maintaining this "non-anxious presence" is not easy for anyone, and even the best of us fall short from time to time. Promoting as much openness in communication as I can, helps; the majority of church conflicts I've experienced have involved miscommunication or lack of communication. Plus, I work to offer new insights to church leaders, with whom I work closely, that can open new ways of considering and resolving issues that face the lay and ministerial leadership alike.

Ministry in the Community

One of the calls that brought me back to parish ministry, as opposed to chaplaincy, was social justice. I missed working in the community for causes of concern, activism which my chaplain's residency left me little time to engage. Most of my young adult life was spent doing community service and political activism - from serving on a committee for Habitat for Humanity, to leading a community forum opposing a dangerous industrial plant set to open near a poor, predominantly African-American neighborhood - and I longed to re-engage this wider community advocacy.
While the interim time is, of necessity, a time of increased introspection for a congregation, I believe it is detrimental to the life of any congregation to become solely inwardly-focused, even for just one year or two.  I see one part of my role as interim minister to encourage a church to explore its social justice work, and when necessary, consider new ways to engage the community. 
Two areas in particular have been at the forefront of my social action work. One is advocacy as an ally with the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) communities in the places I have served. In San Antonio, I worked with a GLBT advocacy group including leaders of several local faith communities, working on projects from a Christmas collection drive for the local AIDS Foundation, to coordinating the annual interfaith Pride worship service in June. In Greensboro, I worked with faith leaders throughout the city, and queer activists across the state, to organize meetings and training sessions in opposition to the anti-marriage-equality Amendment 1. I also traveled to the steps of the Supreme Court building in Washington, DC, to take part in the United for Marriage rally on the day the Court heard arguments on same-sex marriage.
participating in the United for Marriage rally
w/ Revs. Dan De Leon (left) and Darryl Kistler (right),
March 26, 2013
In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, I had the honor of serving when the state gained marriage equality. The day the ruling was announced, I quickly arranged to open the church three days later (the day the ruling took effect) to host multiple weddings at the church. Four weddings in one day was a new record for me, but completely worth it. Following that experience, I arrived at The Church of the River in Memphis to learn, surprisingly, that they had never pursued recognition as a Welcoming Congregation to the LGBTQIA+ community, despite examples of clear welcome going back 30 years to the height of the AIDS epidemic. We pursued that program in Memphis, and in January 2017, the church voted unanimously in favor of Welcoming Congregation status.
                                                                 

signing the marriage license for the first 
same-sex marriage legally recognized in 
Dauphin County, Pennsylvania
May 24, 2014
The other aspect of activism that dominated my first interim ministry was grassroots community organizing work. In San Antonio, I became involved with COPS and The Metro Alliance, two of the nation's most successful community organizing groups (affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation, or IAF), to meet with organizers, participate in accountability assemblies with political candidates, and advise leaders on strategy for future campaigns. In Greensboro, I worked with Occupy Greensboro's Alliance Building Working Group to make connections throughout the community, and led interfaith worship at the encampment site. While serving in Harrisburg, a church member and I traveled to North Carolina, to attend the Moral March in February 2014, showing solidarity with a broad coalition of activists practicing a new "fusion politics" as the gathered to improve their state from the many ways peoples were being marginalized. In Memphis, I was involved in the core organizing team for the newly-forming local chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), which has a mission of "organizing white people for racial justice" and often functions as a de facto "white people's auxiliary" to local chapters of Black Lives Matter. I then worked with other faith leaders in Memphis and an organizer from the national Gamaliel Foundation (another national community organizing foundation) to form MICAH, the Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope. This effort, though still in its early stages, has been particularly successful in that several church members have also become involved, and ongoing church membership in this coalition looks likely after my interim ministry here concludes. This work equipped me to promote the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process, in ways that helped produce real results in the communities I serve. 
with my spouse, Suzi, at the Occupy Greensboro march,
October 15, 2011
 Yet social justice work is not the only engagement we UUs can have with our larger community. Unitarian Universalism has a saving mission - overcoming divisions of belief with the spiritual power of love, liberating each other from oppressions including homophobia and transphobia, and healing the toxic pain of shame through affirmation of inherent worth and dignity. We UUs are called to carry this message out into the world, living out this mission not only in our advocacy for justice, but in our everyday relationships with friends, neighbors, and co-workers. We do not put on and take off our UUism as we step into and out of the church building, as if our faith was some comfy bathrobe; our Unitarian Universalism is to be made real in our lives 24/7.
The question of how we might embody our UU mission throughout our lives, and what impact this will have on our churches, is one I have explored deeply in recent years. I am a part of a cohort of UU religious professionals - ministers, religious educators, seminarians - exploring the new "missional church" paradigm. This model encourages a shift from thinking of church as a place where people come to get their own spiritual needs met per a consumerist mindset (AKA the "attractional church" model), to viewing the church as a place that prepares people to go out into the world to meet its needs. While this model originated in some evangelical Christian circles, our cohort is exploring how this model can inform and enrich our experience of Unitarian Universalism, while ever affirming a distinctly UU approach to liberal religion. For example, the congregation I now serve in Olympia, is in ongoing discernment whether or not this call should extend to the construction of tiny houses on church grounds, in which members of Olympia's homeless community would be welcomed to live. While a shift like this is not right for every congregation, and I am very happy to minister to any church seeking greater health and vitality, I will be particularly interested to explore this missional paradigm with any congregation hoping to deepen its practice, understanding, and living out of its Unitarian Universalist faith.

Interim Ministry

The time between long-term clergy is a time of complex change in the dynamics of a congregation. Such transition does not simply fall into place by its own volition; it must be guided, directed in ways that foster increased health and vitality for the congregation, as it enters its next phase of ministry. A skilled interim minister, trained for and experienced with engaging congregations in ministry that fosters intentional change, can empower even troubled and recalcitrant congregations to experience transformation and wholeness.
My own experience and training in interim ministry has equipped me to coach congregations through these times of transition. "Coaching" is a good metaphor; moving through the changes that prepare a congregation well for its next minister, is the work of the congregation itself, not of the minister. If I prepare myself for a church's next minister, that does the church no good; the church must prepare itself. I bring the tools, skills, and leadership presence to guide lay leaders and members in this work.
As a fully Accredited Interim Minister (AIM) in the UUA, I have completed three tiers of training with the Interim Ministry Network, an ecumenical/interfaith organization, and been certified by them as a Transitional Ministry Specialist. I have attended multiple annual seminars of the Unitarian Universalist Interim Ministers' Guild, receiving specialized training at each one, in issues ranging from staff supervision, to facilitating conversations on difficult topics, to guiding congregational mission and vision work. And I make a point to seek out additional training annually (usually in autumn), understanding that learning interim ministry, like all learning, is a life-long process. These have included trainings in missional church ministry, Policy Governance, and church consulting, among others. Now completing my fifth interim ministry, I have found opportunities to incorporate tools and analyses from all these educational opportunities into my work with congregations.

Discussion of Interim Ministry in UU Churches
featuring myself and Rev. Alex Holt
"The VUU" - online talk show produced by Church of the Larger Fellowship
January 15, 2015

My own approach to interim ministry emphasizes listening and relationality. Rather than foolishly rushing in to prescribe some one-size-fits-all solution to a congregation's needs, I always take the first few weeks of my ministry with a congregation to hear the multiple viewpoints and unifying themes of church members and leaders. Then, as a clearer picture emerges of the strengths and needs of the particular congregation, I initiate with the congregation those specific strategies with the greatest potential to meet that set of needs, and build upon the relevant strengths. Increasingly, the principles and techniques I've studied in community organizing have informed and deepened this work. In all this, I strive ever to remain mindful of the relational and systemic dynamics at play in the life of the congregation, always ready to make mid-course corrections as needs arise.
That said, relationality never means enabling or coddling. There will be times when any congregation will make mistakes, and I will not hesitate to note when this is happening. Yet neither is mine an autocratic approach, for disempowered lay leadership is counter-productive to congregational well-being in the long term. As many community organizers say, "Never do for others what they can do for themselves," so that all (ministers and lay leaders) can claim and balance their proper authority and responsibility. So while categorically saying "No!" is rare for me (though not unknown), I will note the negative (and/or positive) consequences I see as likely arising from a particular course of action, and encourage the stakeholders to weigh those likely consequences in their deliberations. One settled minister who followed my interim ministry in that church described its members' recollections of my approach to engaging conflict constructively: "The congregation still remembers the quiet, soft-spoken Rev. Eric, who with the patience of Job could listen deeply to their stories, and then tell them with the conviction of Micah the errors in their ways." My goal at all times is to foster the trust that establishes such truth-telling and risk-taking as worthy of our efforts.

PERSPECTIVES FROM OTHERS

RESOURCES
  • Roadmap for Interim Ministry - Olympia: prepared for congregation's board, following and based upon 5 weeks of initial meetings with dozens of lay leaders throughout the congregation. This document functioned as a guide for work going forward in this congregation.