The Interim Leader’s Tasks – Vitality: Building a Commitment to Future Congregational Health

This series of blogs on the work of interim religious leaders and the congregation they serve – and specifically, on my work here at Follen in religious education – continues this week with a focus on Vitality, and the ways in which a commitment to future health in faith formation can be put in place, now and for the future, at Follen.  Taken together these five blogs focus on the developmental tasks that interim leaders look at when working with a congregation in transition (specifically, this one!).  In the past four weeks we’ve looked at Heritage (Coming to Terms with History), Mission (Developing a Unique Identity), Leadership (and changes during the interim period), and last week, on Linkage (the ways in which we renew and deepen connections to our faith and denomination).  Next week, I’ll turn my attention to the roles that the interim leader experiences during the transition time – a different set of developmental tasks from those of the congregation.  But first, let’s examine Vitality.

What does a focus on Vitality mean?  Among other things, the interim leader is helping the congregation look at these elements:

  • How to support the congregation in renewing its vision, strengthening its stewardship, preparing for new professional leadership, and engaging its future with anticipation and zest.
  • Helping the congregation focus energy on the future in a positive way.
  • Planning for closure and having an effective leave-taking strategy.
  • Serving as a resource to the congregation’s religious educator search process.
  • Implementing change while also leaving the system open to future changes.
  • Developing and implementing a transition strategy for transferring information to next religious educator.

This is where the vision for the future of faith development and the importance of laying down a path for ongoing leadership and continuity meet.  So how’s that going, anyway? As you probably know, there is a Faith Formation Search Committee in place and their work is well underway right now.  A job description has been written, applications from those interested in being considered for leadership are being received, and soon, interviews will begin.  The search team spent a lot of time constructing a survey to ask you, the members and friends of Follen Church, what you imagined for the future of faith formation, and your input helped to shape both the job description for the position that will begin in late summer and the sense that the search committee has of priorities for the next settled leader of faith formation.  While I have stayed outside the search process, I have responded to questions from the Committee and have made sure that my colleagues knew about the opportunity that exists at Follen for an exciting faith formation ministry. My number one goal is to do all I can to ensure that Follen has excellent religious education ministry on an ongoing basis!

In the meantime, the work does not grind to a halt:  part of making sure that the transition from interim to settled leadership is as successful as possible involves the interim leader continuing to help shape plans for the future, and that continues here at church.  Working with the RE Action Team, last year we created a Curriculum Grid which selected curriculum not just for last year and this, but for next year and potentially, the year after. That allows all of us to know what our intentions and plans will be for next year and – if your new settled leader concurs, for the year after – and to help all of you who are lay leaders in faith formation programs know what the expected program will be that your children and youth will participate in.  

We will be seeking out team leaders and teachers within the next week and this effort will be ongoing through the spring, with the goal of fully staffing this program before the end of ‘regular’ worship services in June.  Doing this means that your new settled religious leader can enter the church ‘system’ with a robust program that is ready to go in August – that is the best possible way to welcome a new leader and support their ongoing ministry.  

And there is record-keeping and information-gathering as well.  When I depart Follen on June 30th, I’ll be leaving my successor both a personal letter with information about how I’ve experienced this transitional ministry, and offering as much detail as I can provide about the ABC’s of religious education ministry here.  The files will be up-to-date and complete, the curriculum and RE supplies as well-organized as possible (even within the midst of upheaval due to a large building project), and an FAQ provided that will endeavor to quickly answer all “how do I…” questions that might arise.  Ensuring a smooth and supportive transition is key to building in ongoing vitality here at Follen, and I am committed to making sure that exists.

And then there’s the ‘closure’ part.  Transitional leadership is not all smooth, and I well know both that my arrival at Follen was challenged by the shape that the program was in when I arrived, and by the changes – some of them abrupt – that I felt needed to be made in order to make the RE program operational and healthy.  I hope you will believe that those changes were made out of a deep commitment to ensuring that Follen would be able to claim a stable, functional, and even superior, religious education program – one that not only offered support and love for children but also religious growth and learning and above all, personal safety.  

We have come a long way in the months since August, 2016.  It has surely not all been smooth but it has been formative and, I pray, supportive of this congregation’s over-arching vision for itself, both now and in the future.  For the leave-taking part, I hope that you will want to identify a time for both formal and informal goodbyes, knowing that in saying goodbye well, we engage not only in an important act of transition and closure, but take another step toward making sure that we all are embracing health and vitality in this historic and important UU congregation.  May it be so.

Faithfully yours,

Deb

Deborah Weiner
Interim Director of Religious Education