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Desert Notes May 2, 2024

Love is our Doctrine. Service is our prayer. Justice is our calling.

Desert Notes May 2, 2024

What does it mean when a position is an “interim” position?

Watch this video instead of reading, or while you read.

Many people think of interim work as a placeholder while a congregation conducts a search.

Nothing could be farther from the case, if the interim work is done right.  

Interim work is developmental work that prepares a congregation to be in search for a settled minister, faith formation director, or music director. This work focuses on five tasks:

  • engaging institutional history, 
  • discovering congregational identity, 
  • managing shifts in power and authority, 
  • maintaining linkages to Unitarian Universalism, 
  • and developing new leadership.

Engaging institutional history includes looking at how the position has evolved in time, who has held the position and how they served the congregation within that position, and some of the challenges and successes of the position. It also includes understanding how the position has been impacted by the larger congregational context–changes in other staff positions, finances, theological perspectives, issues in the larger community, etc.  

Discovering Congregational Identity includes developing an understanding of the unique mission, vision, and values of a particular congregation and identifying where these may be changing or needing review. Often the role of the interim is to help congregations reflect on how they may have changed, be changing or want to change. What worked in the past that might not be working as well now? What needs are emerging that need to be accounted for?

Managing shifts in power and authority includes understanding how changes in size and membership demographics might be impacting how decision making is engaged as well as how differences in leadership style and skill sets might change how a position fits in the organizational structures. Shifts in who is serving in other leadership roles also impact these understandings.  

Maintaining linkages to Unitarian Universalism includes tracking denominational changes and trends, research, events, activities, publications, professional development opportunities, and relationships with other UU congregations and professionals. Interim staff help the congregation understand themselves inside of the larger denomination and access needed resources to implement programs and activities as well as to orient themselves around ideas and strategies.  

Developing new leadership includes identifying new leaders, offering training and learning experiences, replacing outgoing leaders, connecting new programs with new leaders, and building relationships. In an interim period some leaders will move on to other activities or interests or lose interest because of changes in the program, its focus, or needs. This is a natural shift, and sometimes includes tending grief, disappointment, or confusion when change is happening.  

This work is very important–especially when the position has been held for a significant amount of time by the same person. This is true no matter what the relationship with the last person was. The interim person is asked to be a teacher and an experimenter–someone who asks questions, offers new ideas, and reflects on how programs and activities are going. As they develop “answers” to the developmental issues of interim work, they offer the congregation suggestions about what the future of this role and program might look like and will need from the settled professional They help a hiring team discern any changes to a job description, where other changes in resources are needed, and what qualities to look for in a future candidate.  

VUU has struggled, as many congregations do, to engage successful interim work for any professional position. The pandemic made this work nearly impossible. Many congregations don’t even try to do interim work outside of ministry positions, thinking it’s better to get someone in to do “the job.” The problem is… “what job?” The interim position is designed to help uncover assumptions about “the job” and identify new opportunities to develop the job. To this end, we are seeking an Interim Director of Lifespan Faith Formation.  

Rev. Sarah Oglesby-Dunegan