Conflicted endings to ministries are grueling and heartbreaking for all concerned. Yet, many ministers will experience such an ending over the course of their careers. Taking the time to heal, to gain needed perspective, and to skill up in key professional areas is important, and it can’t be achieved alone. The Review Team exists to hold ministers in such transitions in care, to support them in creating a personal and professional developmental plan, and to help ministers arrive at decisions about their appropriate service in the future. Correspondingly, it is the task of UUA Congregational Life staff and the successor interim or developmental minister to encourage the congregation's lay leaders to examine their role in the conflict and make plans for their development as a congregation.
When a minister experiences considerable conflict or a difficult parting with a congregation or other institution, Rule 23 of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee Rules calls for a team of staff leaders (the “Review Team”) to ask that minister to participate in a process of assessment before they are eligible to participate in the search process or to accept contracts for congregational ministry, including sabbatical coverage. Currently the members of the Review Team include the Co-Directors of Ministries and Faith Development, the Transitions Director, the Professional Development Director, the Director of Congregational Life, a Regional Lead, and a Regional staff member.
What constitutes such a difficult parting is clear in some cases—a negotiated resignation or a vote to terminate—and more complicated in others. In general, the assessment process is activated when the stress on the minister, the lay leadership, or both has been high or when issues of ministerial ethics, effectiveness, or emotional or mental health have arisen. The minister is automatically placed on Administrative Hold from congregational ministry until the assessment process has been concluded. Ministers who are under official investigation for misconduct or incompetence complaints through the Office of Ethics and Safety will also automatically be placed on Administrative Hold pending the outcome of the complaint. If at any time the minister wishes to contest being placed on hold for settlement, the minister has a right to request a Fellowship Review before the Ministerial Fellowship Committee.
The assessment process serves to:
- Develop a more complete perspective on both the recent professional challenges and on the overall direction of a ministry;
- Understand more clearly the causes for and the lessons of conflict or challenge;
- Deal with any feelings of loss, anger, frustration, or hurt;
- Determine readiness for continued parish ministry;
- Create a professional and personal development plan that will support future success;
- Assign a mentor through the UUMA to support the minister through this transition; and
- Identify appropriate opportunities for future service.
The Review Team Process
Once the Review Team receives a referral about a conflicted ending by UUA staff in Transitions or Congregational Life, they will assign a contact person from the team. The contact person will reach out to the minister with information about current members of the Review Team, upcoming meeting times/dates and deadlines for review of materials, and the expected turnaround time for determinations.
The following materials will be reviewed:
- A brief reflection (up to five pages) looking at the ministers’ part in the conflict and what they have learned;
- A memo from Congregational Life staff member most knowledgeable about the conflict;
- Exit interviews from the Minister and (when possible) an exit interview from the Board;
- A draft professional and personal development plan. In some cases, the minister will be asked to do a formal assessment at one of the Ministerial Career Centers to help create such a plan.
These materials are considered confidential to the Review Team, and if necessary, the MFC. The Review Team meets, discusses their impressions of the situation, and develops any recommendations they may wish to make to the minister for additional work. This work could include requirements such as participation in a career assessment program, individual or group therapy, spiritual direction or other programs of continuing education, or a recommendation for clearance for settlement, perhaps with certain restrictions or cautions. The Review Team works closely with the UUMA to assign a mentor to reflect with the minister as they work on their developmental plan. The minister will be asked to submit a one-page report on their progress one year after being released from hold.
There is always a tension between taking time to heal and learn, and the economic reality that most ministers need to get back to work to make a living. It may take 1-2 months after beginning the process to gather the exit interviews and a Congregational Life memo about the conflict. It isn’t unusual for ministers to take a pause of 1-6 months before working on and submitting a reflection and a developmental plan. Once the Review Team has everything in hand, they will generally turn around their determination within 30-45 days. They may have additional requirements if they feel the minister hasn’t addressed key concerns. Ministers have up to 3 years to clear the Review Team before the Rules require referral to the MFC. Extensions may be available when requested.
If work at a career center is recommended, the cost has ranged from $1400-$2000. MFD will pay up to 50% of that amount, which is usually billed directly to the attention of the Ministerial Development Director. Other financial support is available, if needed, for appropriate counseling, spiritual direction, or continuing education programs.
If the Minister Disagrees
If a minister disagrees with the determination of the Review Team, they may request that the matter be referred to the Executive Committee of the MFC. While this process unfolds, the minister continues to be ineligible for search. The Transitions Director will not send to congregations in search the name or Ministerial Record of a minister on hold for settlement and will inform the Ministerial Fellowship Committee of a minister who pursues congregational ministry positions while on hold.
The usual outcome of the assessment process for the minister is greater clarity about one’s ministerial skills, interests, and direction, in addition to the awareness, support, and tools to succeed in future ministry endeavors.
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