Several months ago, your Board of Trustees faced a difficult decision with implications for years to come for the UU Church of the Brazos Valley. After deep analysis and deliberation, our congregation will work toward the goal of calling a settled, or permanent, minister to begin in September 2022. As a precondition and in accordance with best practices of the Unitarian Universalist Association, we will seek an interim minister to assist us in this project for two years beginning this September.
Time was of the essence as we chose this action, since there is a defined season in our denomination each year for ministerial search. The decision was made last December to give us the best chance of hiring an accredited interim minister, as well as to allow our current contract minister, the Rev. Donna Renfro, a greater advantage in her search to achieve her desire to move into settled ministry.
Immediately ahead is the work of the Interim Minister Search Team, appointed by the board with a mix of congregation and board members, to lead us in this undertaking. They will help us choose the interim minister that they believe will best guide us over the next two years to achieve the goal of calling a settled minister.
We realize that many members, even those who have served in leadership positions, might be uncertain about the various categories of Unitarian Universalist ministry. Newer members may be unaware of the recent history of our congregation’s ministerial leadership.
In 2013, the Rev. Sam Schaal began a two-year term as our Interim Minister. An Interim Minister’s role, beyond the usual pulpit and pastoral care duties, is to lead us in preparing for a settled minister. The Interim Minister comes into a church fully committed to this task and is generally limited to a two-year term. They cannot be called as a settled minister to avoid a conflict of interest in this process.
While an Interim Minister is hired by the Board with advice from the search committee, a settled minister is called by a vote of the congregation with considerable congregational input. The search process is intense and entails some expense for which we will need to budget. A settled minister has tenure and in return commits to the long-term leadership and development of the church.
Rev. Schaal found that we could benefit from a brand-new type of ministry, so a Developmental Minister, the Rev. Aaron Stockwell, came to UUCBV in 2015 expecting to continue until this year or longer. And we made progress on a set of developmental goals while he was here, however Rev. Stockwell unexpectedly announced his departure in 2018 after much of the ministerial search season was concluding, and we were faced with severe limitations if we wanted to continue full-time ministerial leadership. The only option available to us was contract ministry, which we chose as a temporary solution for a duration of one or two years.
According to the UUA Transition Ministry Handbook (https://www.uua.org/sites/live-new.uua.org/files/transitional_ministry_handbook.pdf):
(Contract ministry is) often used by a congregation that is seeking less than ¾ time ministry, or that is uncertain that other types of ministry are a fit. The minister(s) is contracted for a specific period of time, most often for a year with a list of specific tasks, like preaching and pastoral care, though it may include more tasks, depending on the percentage of time. Not all ministry tasks will be covered. Contracts may be renewed and modified. Contract ministers are hired by the board. They may be called by the congregation, generally after a period of several years.
As we entered contract ministry, expectations by both the previous and current board for contract ministry were based more on those of interim, developmental, or settled ministry for a church our size. Under our revised by-laws, as the only full-time, paid professional in the church, the minister is given broad responsibilities which include, among others, administrative leadership. In light of these needs, the board came to a determination that contract ministry - with any contract minister - does not fit with our long-term goals.
I believe that despite some short-term disruptions, the future of our shared ministry of progressive religion and service to the Brazos Valley is exciting. There are a few loose ends to tie up as we work on governance and strategic planning goals with help from our interim minister, but we are aware of these needs and ready to face them. We are a financially secure church with generous donors committed to fair compensation for our staff, and soon we will enjoy an incredible new green facility. Located in a dynamic, growing, and diverse community, there are so many opportunities not only for a settled minister and their family, but for a church that is a beacon to that community.