Staffing and Interdependence: When a Staff Member Changes Congregations

Frog with a rollerbag going through an archway

The interdependence of our faith communities is integral to our polity (as is our independence). This is what makes us an Association of congregations. What can this interrelationship look like when it comes to congregational staff? Here are a few examples:

  • Newly hired staff are welcomed and mentored not only by their own staff team but by colleagues from area congregations.
  • Religious professionals from a geographic cluster gather regularly for collegiality, support, and shared learning.
  • Professionals serving congregations of similar size, shared interests, or other commonality connect online to discuss mutual challenges and aspirations.

When it comes to recruiting and hiring, the theology of “we’re all in this together” can lead to awkward situations or strained relationships. Consider:

  • A leader sends a position opening notice for publication in the newsletter of a neighboring UU congregation, but the newsletter editor is reluctant to include it.
  • At a cluster gathering, a minister causes unease by announcing their Director of Religious Education opening and soliciting suggestions from their colleagues.
  • A Director of Music applies for a position at a nearby congregation and asks that their current supervisor not be contacted unless/until they receive a job offer.
  • Two part-time staff members at a small congregation have recently been hired for full-time positions by larger congregations in the area. Frustration and resentment ensue.

There is nothing wrong with a congregation asking for and receiving help with staffing needs from a UU neighbor – in fact, it’s an excellent way of living into our spirit of interdependence. Of course, it is important to uphold sound processes and healthy relationships. Here are some suggestions and values to consider when navigating these situations:

When Saying Good-bye

  • Abundance: How can you continually nurture religious professionalism while holding staff lightly? Be prepared to let them go to serve our wider faith and trust that other talent is available.
  • Nurturing professional formation: If your staff member has been hired by another congregation, take pride in the role you played in their growth and development.
  • Closure: As with all staff departures, good closure is important for congregational health. How might you celebrate releasing your staff member to serve Unitarian Universalism in a new way?
  • Reexamining: When a staff member leaves you to serve another congregation, you have the chance to reassess. Is this a chance to modify the position and/or rethink your staffing structure in general?
  • Positive employee experience: A staff member may leave because they’re looking for more (or fewer) hours or because the needs of another congregation better suit their skills and interests. Such factors may be beyond your control. But what about the things you can control? Going forward, are you providing staff with a strong onboarding and orientation experience? Will they feel supported and appreciated by their supervisor and other leaders? How are their accomplishments celebrated? Is their compensation equitable?

When Hiring from Another Congregation

  • Transparency and truth-telling: There’s a certain energy we hold when we’re keeping secrets. How can we keep confidentiality while honoring the hiring process and an employee’s current employment status? How can we put more truth in the system? Check references and request additional ones if you haven’t learned everything you want to learn. (Get permission from the applicant before seeking to contact someone as a reference.)
  • Empathy: You know it can be difficult to lose a staff member. Recognize that the congregation may be anxious, grieving, and/or have hard feelings. How can you show consideration?
  • Gratitude: Your sincere expression of thanks can go a long way in helping the other congregation move forward. How might the minister and/or other key leaders reach out?

To Preserve Healthy Relationships

  • Reconciliation/forgiveness: Remember that professional organization Good Officers are available if a conflict arises between colleagues.
  • Contact regional staff if you need to talk through a delicate situation. Congregational Life Staff will keep your conversation confidential while helping ensure a sound hiring process and a good outcome.

About the Authors

Jan Gartner

Jan is passionate about helping congregations live out their values within their walls!...

Jonipher Kūpono Kwong

The Rev. Dr. Jonipher Kūpono Kwong currently serves as Interim Senior Minister at Fourth Universalist Society in New York, NY.

UUA Office of Church Staff Finances, Ministries and Faith Development

The UUA Office of Church Staff Finances states its own mission as follows: Guided by the values of our faith, we equip congregations for excellence as employers and their staff for financial competence and well-being. Information, services, and programs are provided to congregational leaders and...

For more information contact .