By Rev. Ellen Debenport
I’ve been thinking for weeks about what to write in this final minister’s message.
I could thank you for these eight years when you have been so loving and supportive to me.
I could thank all the people who make Sundays sparkle (and it takes a village).
I could name the newcomers and oldtimers and those of you who have been my teachers in so many ways.
I'm grateful, of course, and I decided the best way to reciprocate would be to offer a few suggestions about how to keep the church happy and thriving until you hire the next minister, and even beyond that. Because it’s entirely up to you.
And I want to ask a favor.
HERE’S THE FAVOR
Do you know the word “ghosting?”
It’s when someone abruptly ends all communication in a relationship or friendship. No explanation, no official breakup. Just suddenly they’re nowhere to be found.
It happens in churches, too. People fade away rather than face an uncomfortable situation or speak up for what they want.
As a parting request, I’m asking you NOT to do that.
In case you should be tempted to fade out of the church – anytime, but especially in the coming months -- please tell the board what’s on your mind before you go.
They have asked for feedback. They have set up an email address for you to reach them specifically about this time of transition between ministers – firstname.lastname@example.org.
The board won’t know you're unhappy unless you tell them. You might or might not see the changes you’d prefer, but at least the church will have had a chance to keep you.
And you might be pleasantly surprised. The reaction might be, “Oh, we never saw it that way. You’re right!”
Or you might learn things are being done a certain way for good reasons you weren’t aware of.
Remember board members are congregants like you. They volunteered to serve on the board to oversee the business side of the church. This minister transition landed in their laps, and it means ramping up every aspect of their service as they enter new territory.
IN TIMES OF CHANGE
Now, the only reason I suggest that some people might be unhappy is because some always are. No matter what's going on in the church.
Overall, I imagine this transition will go swimmingly. The time between ministers can be a period of great growth and cohesiveness. But it is also notoriously tricky for congregations.
I gave the board members a stack of books about how to change ministers successfully. It’s such a pivotal time in a church’s history that every denomination has a body of work about how best to carry it out.
Unity has specially trained ministers to help churches through the process. For Wimberley, the board has hired Rev. Monica Driscoll, who will be here at the end of June.
I know some members can’t wait to get started on creating a bigger, better church with all sorts of changes and new initiatives. You will be here every time the doors are open to keep pushing for the church you envision.
Love your enthusiasm. Just remember there are many, many opinions to be considered.
This transition process will take months, and there might come a time when the novelty wears off. Some people might be tempted to stay home until a new minister is chosen. A few of you have already told me you might sleep in or go to Sunday brunch.
If people fade, the church could falter.
FIVE STEPS TO SUCCESS
So please don't do that. Here are five suggestions for what to do instead:
1. Keep attending even if you’re not thrilled with everything.
2. Keep volunteering as you have been, maybe even more. The church runs on volunteers all the time, but especially when there’s no minister.
3. Keep giving as much money as you’ve been giving and possibly more, even if you're not perfectly happy, even if you disagree with some of the decisions, even if some of the speakers or musicians are clunkers in your opinion. They’re temporary. Starving the church of money won’t make it better.
4. Go to the congregational workshops to talk about the church’s future. Listen carefully to those who want change and those who don’t.
5. Be open to the process. People who have been in Unity a long time, like many of you (and me), sometimes suffer from “I already know this” syndrome. No matter what you already know, you’re applying it to a new situation now.
This is a journey. It will unfold. Imagine yourself looking out the window of a train. You might pass through some bleak landscapes, but they will pass. And your view from a single window is limited.
In summary, keep a beginner’s mind. Participate in all the workshops and meetings and surveys. Make your opinions known, especially if you start thinking you’d rather stay home.
If you have a problem, say so. If you have a great idea, say so.
Decisions are made by those who show up.