First Unitarian Society of Madison is finishing the first year of a three-year interim ministry. The interim ministry period includes the transition ministry work and the settled minister search (beginning in 2020). Below you’ll find information about the transition ministry work. This page will be updated regularly.
Meet the Interim Ministry Transition Team
Interim Ministry Transition Team: Community Interviews Summary
- Purpose of the interviews
- Interview questions and process
- Categories and criteria
- Agencies interviewed
- What did we hear about perceptions of FUS?
- What were the agencies' perceptions of community needs?
- How can we be effective partners in addressing community needs?
- Deepening our understanding, continuing the conversation
In his work with congregations in transition, the Rev. Doug Wadkins encourages congregations to look outward, to consider the congregation’s role and relationships in the world outside its walls. Doug has typically done that work himself, but he changed his approach with FUS. Given the size of the congregation, our long history of community involvement, and the experience, commitment, and engagement of the Transition Team, Doug suggested that Team plan and conduct the interviews. This wasn’t merely a practical approach to manage the interim work. It is Doug’s observation that if he does the community interviews, no matter how skillful his reporting back, key elements of the interviews will leave with him. Engaging members of the congregation in the interviews deepens our understanding of community issues and strengthens our relationships with community partners.
We identified four primary goals for the interviews:
- To gather information about perceptions of FUS in the community outside our walls.
- To understand community needs.
- To explore future directions that align with our congregation’s vision and values.
- To provide opportunities for members of the congregation to gain a broader perspective on our role in the world by inviting them to participate in the interviews.
We wanted the interviews to be informal and relationship-building rather than quantitative. Where possible, we invited an FUS member to come along on the interview. In a conversational format, each member of the Team attempted to cover the following:
- We clarified the purpose of the interview as described above.
- To encourage candid responses, we gave assurance that the information would be aggregated, and that specific responses would be confidential.
- We asked about the work of the agency, and what it is that the person being interviewed finds most rewarding in their work.
- We asked interviewees to tell us about their agency’s interactions and relationships with FUS.
- We asked interviewees to share with us their perceptions about FUS.
- We learned about what the interviewees see as the community’s most pressing needs.
- Finally, we sought to understand how FUS can assist with addressing needs, and suggestions for future connections.
The selection of the agencies to interview was based primarily on agencies with whom the congregation, teams, and staff have regular and on-going contact and engagement. We also looked at agencies that had been the recipient of our outreach offering over the last few years. Staff (especially Tim Cordon and Drew Collins) were consulted in the possible agencies to be interviewed. We found that the agencies fell into eight different categories, with many representing two or more of these characteristics:
- Social justice and equity
- Accessibility and inclusion
- Education (early childhood through higher education)
- Environmental/ecological justice
- Religious/spiritual institutions
- Public policy
- Music and arts
We initially generated a list of nearly 50 potential interviews, narrowed down to 31. In the end, interviews were conducted with staff from 26 different agencies:
|Arts for All Wisconsin
Christ the Solid Rock Baptist Church
Driftless Area Conservancy
First United Methodist
Grace Episcopal Church
Madison Urban Ministry
Madison Arts Council
MMSD Transition Education program
Second Harvest Food Bank
The Road Home
United Way of Dane County
UW Morgridge Center
UW Nelson Institute
UW Odyssey Project
Wisconsin Wetlands Association
WYSO Music Makers
Summary of what we learned: We focus here on three areas: Perceptions of FUS, community needs, and how we can be an effective partner.
Descriptors often used were: Successful, liberal, middle-to-upper class, smart, and not racially diverse.
We were viewed as interested in engaging in the wider community, accepting of everyone’s worth and beliefs, and as a steward of cultural legacy (with specific mention of architecture and music).
We were identified as committed to social justice, and to engaging in social justice efforts in ways that are unifying for the wider community.
Some respondents expressed the opinion that some of us may find it easier to give money than offer our time and talents. Though not a common response, there was a suggestion that some of us may give money to alleviate white guilt.
We heard from some that we underutilize our power to impact change given our numbers and resources, and that we’re willing to help but not sure quite how to focus where we can have the greatest effect.
- Racial equity and addressing racism
- Scarcity of resources for the most vulnerable: Mental health and medical services, removing barriers to food security, employment, education, affordable housing, eviction prevention, adequate shelter.
- Conservation issues, environmental quality, sustainability, global climate change
- Support for local artists and musicians
- Be prepared to follow the lead of people doing the day-to-day work. Be humble. Listen more than we talk. Understand that we have a lot to learn.
- Learn from partners what is most needed; do what is needed, not just what interests us. Get out of our comfort zone. Get out of this building and into the community.
- Sharpen our tools: Know what skills are needed and what our strengths are. Inform ourselves about the issues and where we can be most effective.
- Continue the outreach offerings and other forms of financial support. In addition to the funding, these efforts provide much needed visibility for the agencies working in the community.
- Volunteer our time. Provide “behind the scenes” work/support services that free up the agency’s professional staff to provide direct service. Do the “grunt work,” sweep the floors, serve the meals, pick up trash, serve on Boards. It’s all essential.
- Develop a “rapid response” process that draws members into calls for action. Be prepared to respond to calls for action. Show up, write targeted, and well-informed letters.
- Continue to seek ways to make use of our exceptional space to support local performers/artists/groups.
- Continue to engage in existing community partnerships (via senior staff leadership, staff, and members, as appropriate).
- Host information sessions that highlight the work of the agencies.
- Seek opportunities to invite coalition groups to use FUS space in order to encourage/support these inter-agency collaborations.
- Explore ways to engage the Children’s Religious Education and youth programs in identified community needs (e.g., through Faith in Action curriculum).
We will be exploring community connections, in a series of three Sunday Hearth-side CHAT sessions during February and March. These one-hour group discussions will be in the Gaebler living room of the Wright-designed historic Meeting House. Join us on February 16, 23, and March 1 from 12:30 pm to 1:30 pm.
- February 16 HUMANITIES: The UW Continuing Studies Odyssey Project recognizes the power of arts and humanities for learning, progress, and justice to empower adults and family members at the poverty level, to overcome adversity, and achieve dreams through further education. People from the Odyssey Project will discuss with CHAT participants, recent efforts, and future opportunities for cooperation,
- February 23 JUSTICE: People from three local faith communities (Episcopal, United Methodist, UU) plan to share past outreach experience on social justice and distinctive ways of helping. Recent experience with the local voices network (LVN) is enabling local people to share discussions of publications. People from various faith communities can share distinctive ways of helping related to hunger, green teams, housing, and restorative justice.
- March 1 ENVIRONMENT: The UW Nelson Institute of Environmental Studies, with its Wisconsin Idea outreach activities, includes able scholars from many departments who can help people with awareness and understanding regarding prevention and sustainability, related to air, land, water, and plant issues. An increasing number of members from faith communities and voluntary associations are recognizing that such stewardship is an important priority. Several FUS councils are active.
Interim Ministry Transition Team: Overview of Our Conversations with FUS Congregants
One of the roles of the Ministerial Transition Team is to be the “eyes and ears” of the interim minister, reaching out to the congregation to provide accurate information, listen to their voices, their ideas, their hopes, their questions and their concerns about the transition. The information we receive is shared among members of the team and with Doug as we receive it. We want to let you know what we’re hearing, and to give some information on “next steps” for each of the areas we outline below.
What is the job of the Transition Team? It is to solicit, understand and communicate the views of the congregation to Doug about the transition. The Transition Task Force is not involved in the search for the new minister. That will be done by the Ministerial Search Committee, which will form in 2020.
People are passionate about their views and are concerned they are not being sufficiently involved in decision making. We hear that we need more involvement, need to survey congregants, need to institutionalize ways of communicating. We want to be called to action, congregants say, and we do not want decisions made for us.
Between now and June, there will be opportunities for members of the congregation to voice their views and listen to each other. This will include forums, a large leadership congregational forum meeting in April, Board listening sessions, and continued opportunity to meet with members of the Transition Team individually and in small groups. In addition, we will offer periodic updates through the Red Floors, in print version around the building, and in monthly newsletter articles in The Madison Unitarian.
We have heard voices both in support of the extension, and questioning both the value and the process that led to the extension. Why was the decision made to extend the interim period to three years? We need to remember that one of our UU principles relates to the democratic process. As one commenter noted: “The added time does not guarantee a superior outcome.”
More and more congregations are finding that a three-year interim significantly improves the results of their search, and that the three-year process leaves them better prepared to begin that shared ministry well. The idea of a 3-year interim was confirmed at a training for ministers of congregations in transition that Kelly Crocker attended in August 2018. At that time, she learned that while a 2-year interim period is more common, larger congregations, especially those with long and successful ministries, have increasingly turned to a 3-year interim. The candidates most suited to our congregation will want to know that the congregation has undergone a period of deep discernment to both reflect on their past and look to their future. In his report to the Board in January 2019, Doug outlined a number of tasks that would need to be completed before we are ready to go actively into search. Believing that it is better to take the time needed, the Board made the decision to extend the interim period by a year.
Going forward, do we want the current structure (Senior Minister, Minister of Congregational Life, Student Minister) or shared ministry? Shouldn’t the congregants decide which model is better? We value a team approach to ministry, but we also are concerned that shared ministry might impinge on our ability to recruit a strong and engaging senior minister.
The denomination has been, and continues to be, challenged to have a broader, more inclusive view of ministry. While our congregation may in the end seek a senior minister or some model of shared ministry, it is important to take time now to address the array of choices. What has worked in shared ministry? Where have such models not worked? What are the workable examples of a senior minister with a collaborative approach to co-ministry? Kelly and Doug will be talking with colleagues in other congregations to gather and share that information and the board will likely appoint a task force to further explore the issue and share the findings with the congregation.
We want to retain the intellectual stimulation, the theological depth and historical grounding for which we are known, but we also want to develop further our spiritual and emotional lives and connection to others.
In our conversations we’ve heard in equal measure from those who seek intellectually challenging sermons during the interim, as well as those who say that they are deeply moved and nurtured by sermons that address their emotional and spiritual longings and help them explore the meaning of this time of transition for themselves and the congregation.
It is important that we maintain and expand external connections between FUS and the larger Madison community including the wide array of non-profit agencies focused on social, economic and environmental justice, music and the arts, the University and other Madison faith-based communities to address the societal concerns of our city.
The decision to go through a 3-year interim allows us to devote time and energy in the fall to exploring our connections with the broader community. The specifics have yet to be spelled out, but typically Doug works with the Transition Team and members of the congregation to reach out to community organizations to help us articulate how we can build on our commitment to being an effective force in our community.
Doug has talked in sermons, the newsletter, and at the parish meeting about what he sees as the needs and goals of the congregation. Where does he get his information?
When a minister leaves a congregation, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) does an exit interview with the clergy team and leadership. Those interviews are made available to potential interim ministers. In addition, one of the first tasks that Doug gave to the Transition Team was to identify individuals across the congregation who would represent the wide range of members of the congregation: various levels of engagement, length of membership, involvement in various programs, etc. Between August and the end of November, Doug met with each staff person and interviewed approximately 90 members of the congregation to better understand how they see their own and the congregation’s perspective on the transition. The information from this process was discussed with the board, the staff and the transition team to confirm that the trends were consistent with these leaders’ perspectives on the congregation. The discernment continues, but this work early in the fall provided a basis for beginning to shape and an understanding of the congregation.
The Transition Team is grateful to all those who have reached out to us with questions, thoughts, and suggestions. Below, you’ll find some of the feedback we’ve received over the last several weeks. These selected items are a small representation and not meant to be an exhaustive list.
Third Year Interim
- No problems with the 3-year interim; if that’s what it takes, we should do it.
- They would like to see young people more involved in the process.
- Concern that the parish board decided to prolong the process without input from the congregation.
- This process is taking too long, and we could lose congregants during a lengthy interim period.
- Emotional characteristics [in sermons] are important, but we can’t lose sight of the need for theological and historical grounding.
- We seek a liberal interpretation of religious texts placed in the context of modern society and our community.
- It’s the first time they’re hearing women’s voices (Kelly and Carin) being elevated and acknowledged as equal to those of men. Expressed enthusiasm about “the pastoral nature” of the sermons.
- The recent services have gone toward the heart and are less intellectual. They said there are a lot of outlets for intellectual pursuits, but not for heart and spirituality.
- Maybe ministerial candidates would want to be senior minister rather than sharing ministry.
- In favor of exploring different ministerial structures. Would like to hear more about the possibilities.
- Unequivocally value a team approach to ministry, but also believe that an emphasis on shared ministry is likely to negatively impact our ability to recruit a strong, energizing and engaging senior minister.
- Likes the collaboration with the two ministers in the pulpit.
- Wants to see a concerted effort to specifically identify the principle related to the democratic process, and explicitly invite open expression of differing points of view at parish meetings and forums.
- Once we have a plan, staff need to know what it is and be able to speak confidently about it. They are the first point of contact for many people. People trust staff; if staff are equivocal or in the dark, people will feel confused. If the staff speak knowledgeably, people will feel more secure and informed.
- Most of the group participants expressed concern about the lack of communication between the board and the congregation regarding plans and decisions.
- Feels that [the newsletter articles have] given them a good understanding of the process, and finds it thoughtful and deliberate.
The Heart of FUS: An Interim Experience
Sometime during the month of October, we invite every single group associated with FUS that meets in any capacity anywhere, on or off the grounds, to share with one another the answer to these two core questions:
- What is the heart of FUS for you?
- What does it look like when this congregation is living from this place?
We invite Journey and Chalice Circles, RE parents and teachers, the Board of Trustees and their committees, ministry teams, Children’s RE classes, youth groups, the staff, elder communities, our choirs, and any other groups to take a few minutes to share their responses to these questions with each other.
Then share with the ministry team! You can print out a copy of the pdf and email it to email@example.com, turn it in at the welcome table, or use the online form.
Interim Ministry Town Hall Meetings
What Are We Called to Do
Sunday, March 15, 2020
@ 12:30 pm
Whom Do We Serve
Saturday, January 25, 2020
@ 1:30 pm
Sunday, November 3, 2019
12:45 pm – 2:15 pm