Rev. Dr. Maureen Killoran, MA, DMin
Unitarian Universalist Transition Minister
Professional Transitions Specialist

The Transition Process

The period of time between when your former minister leaves 
and your new minister is settled can be a fertile period for
congregational self-examination, and for clear visioning about what
-- if anything -- you would like to change.  

Many congregations have had productive and successful interim
periods through engaging five focus areas as a framework for
exploration, understanding, and creative development.
I find it helpful to frame these focus areas as questions,
outlined below.

In addition, a new and creative approach known as "developmental
ministry" allows congregations intentionally to frame several specific goals and directions, and then covenant with a transition specialist to work concentrate together on these areas for several years.

In both processes, the end goal is a creative, energetic, and joyful continuing ministry for the congregation.

Please feel free to contact me if you have additional thoughts or would like to discuss this framework.

Five Focus Areas

WHO HAVE YOU BEEN?     Coming to terms with your congregation’s heritage -- how did you get here, who have you been and what does it mean?  This includes taking a clear-eyed look at current and past accomplishments and also your conflicts, addressing issues surrounding the departure of any previous ministers (including the natural grief and dislocation that comes from any major transition).  
At a congregational workshop at River Road UU Congregation, members shared and explored the meaning of stories from their collective past.  
This "history wall" (picture to the left) remained posted for several
weeks, giving the rest of the congregation an opportunity to
add their own stories.  

(b) WHO ARE YOU NOW?   Claiming your strengths -- who is your congregation now (with all life’s problems and your current economic challenges)  and how can this shared awareness of identity help you move forward?  Congregational exercises such as asset mapping and appreciative inquiry can be helpful here, accompanied by clear and direct sermons and frank conversations among broad segments of the congregation.  

(c)  HOW ARE YOU?    Developing new, clear and appropriate governance and leadership structures (volunteer and paid staff) and opening doors for new involvement.  At First UU San Antonio, for example, this entailed revising and clarifying their policy-type governance structure so that as many congregants as possible could understand how and why things were organized -- and perhaps most importantly, how they could access the resources they needed to get things done.  At Eliot Unitarian Chapel, we created practical and timely operating policies and assisted the Board's completion of its transition to Policy Governance. In both cases, clear organization charts helped to facilitate congregants' understanding of "how things are done around here."
Congregations often find new and creative lay leadership emerging during their transition time, such as the addition at Eliot Chapel of a Social Justice Coordinator as fully accountable "volunteer staff", leading to the broadening and deepening of the congregation's engagement in a range of areas of social justice.  At First UU, River Road, and Main Line, needful staff changes opened the doors to creative visioning and new endeavors. 

(d)  WITH WHOM ARE YOU CONNECTED?  Acknowledging and strengthening connections with the wider Unitarian Universalist movement and other broader structures.  Drawing appropriately on resources to facilitate congregational development.  The photo at right depicts an art project created by the Transition Team at River Road (drawing on the talents of artist Barbara Lewis), developed as a means of helping one congregation realize and appreciate the extensive involvement with the wider world.

(e)  WHO WILL YOU BE?  Many congregations enter their period of transition with their stewardship in decline. Whatever issues led to the ending of their previous ministry have exerted a downward pressure on people's willingness to give financial support. One of the key aspects of a successful interim period is the redevelopment of the congregation's stewardship, and the lifting of its spirits relative to generosity and giving. This is part -- though far from all -- of the benefits that come from engaging this focus, as the congregation makes a positive commitment both to new leadership (including your new minister) and to enthusiastic congregational participation in the future. 

lthough it is possible that a church would experience a logical flow through the five focus areas, or that all five would turn out to be of equal import, this is unlikely. The process is more akin to a spiral than to a linear progression.  It is important to recognize that interim ministry is in many ways an art, and the transition minister is called to work in partnership with the truths and wisdom of the congregation rather than to expect a standard template to apply.

Futurist Margaret Wheatley offered an important insight for congregations in transition when she wrote, "If we are interested in effecting change, it is crucial to remember that we are working with webs of relations, not with machines." The focus areas offer a framework to help the congregation and its leaders pay attention to important aspects of the organic process of transformation and change.

Rather than a time of stasis, the goal is for your congregation to both use and to remember this interim period as an exciting time when old issues are resolved, renewed energy bubbles up, and new ideas and vision emerge. 

Click here to read more about how a trained and accredited transition minister can work with you to make the most of your congregation'
s interim time.