Rev. David Pyle, Regional Lead
A Culture Change
Times of change and transition in the life of a congregation are often times that we, as your UUA Regional Congregational Life Staff, are most engaged with and involved with the congregations we serve. These times of change take many different forms, from a time of growth in membership or program for a congregation, or a time of change in the justice work of a congregation, or a time when a congregation is hiring a new staff position, or a time when there is a significant number of new congregational leaders… we love when a congregation is making a transition, because it is in those times that we get to journey with you the most.
One of the more common times of change when your Regional Congregational Life Staff is able to journey with your congregation is during times of professional staffing change, and in particular, times when the professional ministry of a congregation is changing. Sometimes it is the long-expected retirement of a minister. Other times it is just time for a minister to accept another call or position in ministry, for the minister or for the congregation. Sometimes a ministerial transition will be needed due to the health or wellbeing of a minister. Sometimes these transitions in professional ministry happen amidst conflict and challenge. But whatever the circumstance, I have always found that such times of ministerial transition can be one of the most important times for a congregation to lean into their relationship with our UUA, and the staff of the MidAmerica Region.
As your MidAmerica Regional Staff are beginning to prepare for the ministerial transitions process this year, there are a few dynamics I wish to bring forth. I believe that there are some changes to the landscape of ministerial transitions that are important for our congregational leaders to be aware of that may not be apparent to those not following ministerial transitions as closely as we do on the UUA Staff.
In our ministerial search process in the past, there has usually been more ministers in search for a congregation than congregations in search for a minister, leading to a situation where congregational search teams had many options when considering ministers to serve their congregation. I believe this pattern is changing. We are in the midst of a wave of ministerial retirements that is larger than our experience of recent decades which not only creates more congregations in search, but also means fewer ministers looking for congregational ministry positions. We add to this two other dynamics… the significant number of ministers who leave congregational ministry within their first five years of professional ministry, and the growing number of seminarians and new ministers who are choosing non-congregational forms of ministry as their call, such as Chaplaincy or non-congregational justice centered ministries.
I also want to highlight how difficult congregational ministry has been for professional ministers during this time of pandemic. Not only have ministers, congregational staff, and our congregations had to “re-invent” church at least three times in the last two years, but many ministers find their spiritual sustenance in the work of ministry to be in many of the aspects of the profession that the pandemic made impossible… such as in-person worship, pastoral care, and teaching. Many ministers have experienced this time as one where they are working harder than ever without the usual ways that the work of ministry feeds their soul… and are just worn thin. It is understandable that many are in need of a break from congregational ministry in order to reset their heart and their spirits, just when congregations are coming back in-person and in need of their ministry more than ever.
I say all this to say three things. First, for those congregations in ministerial search these next few years, I just want to say that these searches are likely to be more competitive than they have been in the past, with fewer ministers in search than before. Engaging the process of ministerial search well is more important now than it ever has been before. Second, I would like to invite congregational leaders and members to have some compassion and show some support for your Religious Professionals, not just the professional ministers but all of your church staff, who have been through more than ten years of church adaptation in the last two years, and have somehow made it work, but at an emotional, spiritual, and professional cost that is felt but difficult to name.
And third, I just want to leave you with the thought that, if searching for new Religious Professionals, including ministers, is likely to be more difficult in the next few years, then now is the time to invest in the professional congregational staff you have. To build deeper relationships, to provide additional professional support, and to journey with them into this new understanding of what it means to be a congregation in these changing times.