This blog post is brought to you by Search Team member Libby Head:

If you’ve talked with any of the Ministerial Search Team members or if you’ve been reading our blog, you may know that the search for a new Minister is quite a complex process. First we went on a retreat, in part simply to get us oriented to our handbook. Our ninety-nine page handbook. It’s a completely overhauled edition, compiled over eight years of observation and reflection within the UUA. There are many rules, guidelines, tips, protocols, and schedules in this useful tome, and during our Search Team meetings we frequently refer to it on our laptops.

Sounds pretty intensive, right? Well, we have an equally lengthy responsibility in terms of the documents we create as part of the search, too. We will create a detailed survey to administer to you all in hopes of attaining valuable, rich insights to guide our process. We have to create something called a “Congregational Record” and a “Documents Packet”. 

Those are pretty vague-sounding terms, so perhaps imagine creating a personal ad (remember those? My generation is probably the last to have seen them in print) in the hopes of finding that perfect long-term partner. Now make sure your ad is detailed–we’re talking thousands of words long, answering dozens of questions about your needs and preferences. Be honest! Warts and all, as they say! Be sure to include your latest tax return, a copy of your driver’s license, the notes from your last therapy session, and a two-page autobiography that includes all of your previous partners.

That’s the Congregational Record and the Documents Packet in a nutshell.

What’s exciting about working with all this text–the handbook plus what we create–is that the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) has come out with entirely re-done elements of the search process just in the last couple of years. I mentioned that our handbook for search just got that massive update, but besides that, the UUA also completely revamped the questions that all the congregations have to fill out to complete their Congregational Records. And they’ve just unveiled at this summer’s General Assembly a preferred set of survey questions for us to use (whereas previously you could get suggestions but you could freestyle anything you wanted). 

Why all this change? Well, we’re not sure. But I have some theories. You might be aware (because UUs love to be aware!) of some of the controversies that have gripped our Unitarian Universalist movement in recent years. As we grow, develop, and struggle together spiritually, the UUA leadership has made some important, long-time-comin’ kinds of changes. At the same time, amidst those efforts, the movement has made some big missteps, too. UUs keep having our eyes lovingly opened to areas where we fall short of our ideals. Even in our mighty striving for justice, equity, and inclusion, we have much more work to do. So, I believe that at UUA headquarters they’ve been giving a hard look to practices that need improvement, and working hard to refresh some of the areas that need it.

These rejuvenated approaches won’t affect you directly, beloved Wildflowers, but you will hopefully see the results in terms of the candidate for Minister whom the Search Team eventually introduces to you next spring. We will do our best to use the improved UUA resources to find you a candidate who’s as passionate as Wildflowers are about love, justice, and joy. There might still be difficulties along the way, but we trust you’ll let us know so we can share what needs a change. Everyone in our community is critical to conducting a good search process, from the unknown folks far away in the Transitions Office at UUA headquarters right down to you and me!

Yes, that’s right, your dedicated Search Team met for three and a half hours last Tuesday night!  And not a single one of us fell asleep at the meeting!

Despite its length, it was actually a terrific meeting.  We got so much accomplished! Here’s a sampling of some of the things we decided:

We’ll be conducting our survey of the congregation for the whole month of September.  You’ll hear more about this soon, but just know for now that this is a critical part of our search process — it gives us, and prospective ministers, valuable information about our church, and it helps us narrow our focus on what qualities are most important to us in a new minister.  We very much hope that everyone will participate in the survey!

In late September or early October, we’ll have our congregation-wide Beyond Categorical Thinking workshop.  This is a workshop put on by the UUA that is designed to address unspoken biases in the search process. In the workshop, we will explore our hopes and concerns for a new minister, as well as learn how our own history (both personal and congregational) might interfere with our efforts in this search. Ultimately, beyond being a terrific opportunity for us to face our own biases, our full participation in this workshop signals to prospective ministers that we are serious about being anti-racist, anti-oppressive, and welcoming to all, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or physical or mental ability.

Then, in October, we’ll be hosting cottage meetings and focus groups.  Cottage meetings are open to anyone to attend, and there will be several to accommodate various schedules.  It’s a chance to further narrow down our search criteria, and we hope you’ll be sure to attend one. Focus groups will be opportunities for specific groups in the congregation to meet with the search team to discuss the particular desires they have for our new minister.

By November 17, we will be submitting our Congregational Record to our Coach, Rev. Phil.  It will include data from all of the above and more, and much of the data will be available on our website.  And speaking of the website, we are also in the midst of a number of website revisions to make our website more informative and visually appealing.  Keep an eye out for the changes!

It’s going to be a busy fall, but every step we take gets us closer to calling the minister that’s right for us!  We look forward to working with you on each of these steps, and as always, don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions at search@wildflowerchurch.org.

Yes, it’s true!  We have consolidated and summarized all the comments that people wrote on our outline of a person in the Community Room, and the answer is, we want it all!

In terms of identity, you told us you want a feminist who is LGBTQ friendly, trans-friendly, and everyone-friendly; someone with knowledge of disabilities and how they affect people; someone welcoming of Jewish community and history; and someone who has a non-dominant identity in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation, or ability.

Regarding personal qualities, you want someone with a sense of humor who is compassionate, empathetic, kind, and open to constructive criticism; someone who can resolve conflicts and bring people together; and someone who is easy to talk to.  Our minister should practice good self-care, be hard-working and wise, be willing to admit when they are wrong, and be intelligent and creative. They should be able to transcend but also connect on a human level, be able to connect with the least religious and most spiritual among us, and be in touch with the light within themselves and others.  They should also be open to all viewpoints, have healthy skepticism, have a scholarly knowledge of world religions, and be organized and good at communication.

As to our minister’s professional assets, you prioritized social justice, seeking someone who understands oppression, is experienced working for equity for all, sees climate action as an urgent priority, and is skilled at building relationships.  But you also want good and meaningful sermons that balance intellect and heart and are thoughtful and provoking. You want someone committed to our children’s religious education program, who can give creative “Time for All Ages” presentations and who gets to know our kids.  You want someone with good pastoral care skills who will help with our Care Team. You want someone involved in the music program. And you want a full-time minister who will include newer members in the services, stay involved with arranging non-preaching Sundays, and support strong lay involvement in our services.

You’d also like someone who understands that Wildflower is no longer a “wounded” congregation; who understands and aligns with Wildflower’s values and goals; who has a true vision for Wildflower and a passion and commitment to guiding the church; and who has knowledge and history to share!

Piece of cake!  🙂

Of course, we know as well as you do that perfection does not exist.  This project was merely to get all of us brainstorming and thinking about what is important to us.  As we move into the next phase — taking the survey and attending cottage meetings and focus groups — we will have the opportunity to narrow our focus and set priorities.  We can’t have it all, so we’ll need to figure out together what is most important, not to each of us personally, but to Wildflower Church as a whole.  We look forward to working with you through this process, and remember, feel free to email us at search@wildflowerchurch.org if you have any questions!

If you would like to see the summary of all the comments made on the person outline, you may do so here.

Some of you may know that we had a Search Team retreat with Rev. Phil last month.  This was a terrific and productive event! We learned more about each other and bonded together as a team.  We talked about how we wanted to communicate with each other, how we wanted to make decisions, and what we could do when conflicts arise.  And we set our meeting schedule through August and assigned a number of responsibilities. In all, we were grateful to have this opportunity to begin this important work together!

As for those responsibilities, here are some of the assignments we made:

Cathy will be chair of the team and update the blog.

Esmeralda and David will be in charge of communications and the Beyond Categorical Thinking workshop (more about that later).

Tommy will be our Treasurer and will be in charge of our Documents Packet (more about that later, too).

Michelle and Laurie will work together on the survey, cottage meetings, and focus groups (you guessed it — more later!).

Libby will be in charge of our Congregational Record (ditto!).

Michelle will be in charge of arranging neutral pulpits at which our pre-candidates will preach in the spring.

Laurie will be in charge of arranging for and providing hospitality at those pre-candidate weekends.

Cathy will be in charge of interviews and candidating week.

And those responsibilities don’t even take into account the tasks that all of us will be working on together — coming up with survey questions and questions for the cottage meetings and focus groups, helping to facilitate those meetings, analyzing the results of the survey and meetings, helping to answer questions for the congregational record, helping to find documents for the documents packet, reviewing our website and suggesting changes to it, and more!  Plus, of course, many of us continue to have other church responsibilities, which you can read more about in our bios.

In sum — we’re swamped!  In fact, the UUA’s Transitions Handbook recommends that none of us be actively involved in other areas of the church during this time, so that we can each devote all of our efforts to this work.  That’s why we may politely decline when asked to help out with other church responsibilities for the next year. Please understand that we do not do this lightly, but only so that we can maintain our focus on what is currently our primary responsibility.  Thank you for understanding!

If you were at church on May 12, you know that our Transition Coach, Rev. Phil, spoke to us about what UU’s believe.  He also discussed how important it is for us as a congregation to figure out what we believe in as we search for our new minister.

Cathy was the lay worship leader that day, and she gave a reflection about her perspective on the search process so far.  Here’s what she said:

When I first heard that Brian would be leaving us in August of 2020, I knew immediately that I wanted to be on the Search Team for a new minister — and not just because I’m a control freak.  I wanted to be a part of it because it’s something I’ve never done before, and I enjoy new experiences.  Plus, the work sounded interesting and meaningful.

What I didn’t appreciate back then was the awesome responsibility that I — we, the whole Search Team — would be undertaking.  I didn’t fully understand the immense trust and faith that you, the congregation, would be placing in us, to represent you and to make a decision that we feel will be best for Wildflower.

Now I do.  And to be honest, it’s a little overwhelming.

I’m scared.  I’m afraid of letting you down.  

At the same time, I’m grateful.  Grateful for your trust. Grateful for the six other wonderful people on the Search Team.  Grateful that the UUA has provided us with a really thorough handbook to help us. Grateful for Rev. Phil’s terrific guidance as we go through this process.  

And I’m especially grateful to Brian, for giving us the opportunity for a good ending to his ministry.  I don’t think any of us is happy that Brian is leaving next year — I’m certainly not. He has been such a wonderful minister to us these last four years.  But the fact that he has given us plenty of notice, and that he is leaving us on good terms, is truly a gift. We have time to process, to grieve, and to move on.  We need that, and we’re so fortunate to have it.

Now, we’ve got a lot of work ahead for the next year, and it’s a bit daunting.  And I need you to know that we, the team, cannot do this without you. We’re here to represent you, and we can’t do that if you don’t participate.  So please — after today’s service, if you haven’t already done so, write the qualities you’d like to have in a new minister on our person outline in the Community Room.  And when the time comes, answer the survey questions, and attend the forums. We all have to do our part for the next year to make this process effective and successful.

And yet, having said that, the truth is that, even if we do everything right, we could still come up empty-handed, if the team doesn’t feel that any of the candidates is right for Wildflower.  Please remember that, if that happens, it is not failure. The UUA has made very clear that it’s better to find nobody than to hire the wrong person. So if that should happen, don’t lose hope.  All it means is that we’ll be lay-led for a year while we enter the search process again, with a new Search Team and new ministerial candidates. Almost every year, this happens to one or two churches in the search process, and if it happens to us, we’ll be fine.  Really.

I am so very grateful for your trust and faith in me and this team.  We are committed to doing our very best for Wildflower. And, we might be a little stressed at times throughout the next year.  So when you see us, please don’t hesitate to offer words of encouragement to us, and maybe even a hug.