Ministerial Search Team

That’s right, it’s true — we’ve decided!

We spent the last two weeks contemplating, pondering, reading, and watching videos, all as individuals. Then, Tuesday night, we met as a team by Zoom. 

In order to make our group decision, we used a circle discussion format. We took turns sharing about anything on our minds regarding any of our three pre-candidates. Some of us had written remarks that we read; others of us just shared what we were feeling in the moment. We sometimes echoed each others’ thoughts and other times questioned others’ comments. If we had nothing to say, we passed. We did this, going around the circle repeatedly, until everyone had passed and had nothing left to say. That took us about an hour and a half.

One thing that was clear to us as we shared was that all three of our pre-candidates fell into the Yes category for us. We loved them all, and putting them in a particular order was going to require some discerning. Imagine, for example, a high school class of 600 students being ranked, and we were deciding upon a scholarship offer to give to either the first, second, or third place students. We weren’t dealing with any students in the bottom half of the class or even the second quarter — our three pre-candidates were the absolute cream of the crop, and each of them would be wonderful for Wildflower in different ways.

Still, a decision had to be made. After we concluded our circle discussion, we voted anonymously. We had an online form that Libby had created, and each of us went into the form and ranked the three pre-candidates in our preferred order. It was important to us that our vote be anonymous. 

We knew that our first vote would likely show some discrepancies in our rankings. Our plan, if that was the case, had been to continue to discuss, either Tuesday night or this Friday night, and then vote again. But once we were done voting, Libby showed us her screen, which reflected the results. And it was unanimous! All seven of us unanimously agreed on who our first choice was, who our second choice was, and who our third choice was!

This was not necessarily shocking, given how our discussion had gone, but it was still a tremendous relief to us all and cause for considerable joy! I have to say, we were an emotional bunch at that point, full of praise and gratitude for one another and this process as a whole!

So, we have sent our list to the UUA Transitions Office one week ahead of schedule, and now we have a week to relax while we wait to hear back from them. As a reminder, each of our pre-candidates are also ranking the churches they visited. The Transitions Office then acts as sort of a matchmaking entity. Once they get everyone’s lists, they may reply to us with a comment like, “You will be very happy when you reach out to your first option,” or “It looks like your first option is thinking elsewhere, but your next option is available.” And so on. Their intent is to make the overall process smoother for everyone. And again, even if we end up with our third option, we will be thrilled — all three of them are just wonderful.

Assuming we get a candidate — assuming we have an offer and acceptance, an agreed-upon contract, and a completed background check — the next part of the process, in normal times, would be to start planning Candidating Week, when they will come to Austin to meet everyone and the congregation will vote on hiring them. That is supposed to happen in late April or early May. But now, with the pandemic and shelter-in-place orders, it is unclear how or when Candidating Week will happen. 

Just please know that we, as a Search Team, are working on this. Regardless of whether Candidating Week gets postponed, or we do the entire thing online, or both, we are not alone as we work through these details. The Transitions Office has sent some suggestions to congregrations already, and may be sending more. Ultimately, the most important thing will be for us to settle upon a mutually satisfactory solution between us and our candidate. But we’ll figure it all out, and we’ll keep you informed every step of the way.

As always, thank you for your support of our work. If you have any questions, comments, or any ideas about Candidating Week, please feel free to email us at search@wildflowerchurch.org. We miss seeing you all in church and hope you will consider attending the Zoom service this Sunday if you haven’t attended one yet!

It’s been a whirlwind winter for the Ministerial Search Team, as we hosted our three pre-candidates for three different weekends. And what wonderful weekends they were! We so enjoyed getting to know each of the pre-candidates better, watching each of them lead a Sunday service, and giving them a tour of our facilities and of Austin. Each one of them made an even better impression on us in person than they had in their video interview. Each one of them has so much to offer Unitarian Universalism! It was very encouraging to see what these people will bring to the future of our faith.

Now that our pre-candidating weekends are complete, we enter into our discernment phase. For the next few weeks, we will be busy pondering and discussing. How do each of our pre-candidates score on our rubric? Which portions of the rubric are more important than others? How would each of the pre-candidates’ ministry differ, and where would each of them lead Wildflower? Where are our biases showing up? This will also be a time for us to review, again, their ministerial records, their websites, and their references.

At the end of March, we need to provide the UUA Transitions Office with our list. We are required to tell them whether each of our pre-candidates is a Yes, a No, or a Maybe. If we have more than one “yes,” we will need to rank them in order of first choice, second choice, and so on. Meanwhile, the pre-candidates are submitting the same type of list on their end — whether each church they visited is a Yes, No, or Maybe, and if they have more than one Yes, ranking those churches in their preferred order. All we can tell you right now is that we are highly satisfied with all three of our pre-candidates! Each of them is amazing in their own way, and our challenge will be deciding exactly which names to send to the UUA and in which order of preference.

Once the Transitions Office receives everyone’s list, they act as somewhat of a matchmaking entity. The Transitions Office will never interfere or force any church to choose anybody that they do not want. But they may reply to us with a comment like, “You will be very happy when you reach out to your first option,” or “It looks like your first option is thinking elsewhere, but your next option is available.” And so on. Their intent is to make the overall process smoother for everyone. But we can always pursue our first choice even if the Transitions Office cautions against it.

We should know by early April if we have a potential candidate. If we do, we won’t be able to share that person’s name with you until they pass a background check and we finalize the details of the contract. At that point, we will be able to introduce you to them via email and let you know when they will be coming to Wildflower for Candidating Week and the congregational vote.

If we end up without a candidate — if, for example, each of our three pre-candidates chooses another congregation — then we will be able to inform you of that, and it will be up to the Board and the Search Team to decide whether to enter the second phase of search or not. If that happens, we will let you know all the details about that phase.

So the work continues, but we are very close to the end of our process! Thank you so much for supporting our work and understanding our absence from church lately. We are grateful for the trust you have placed in us. And, as always, do not hesitate to email us at search@wildflowerchurch.org if you have any questions.

Wow, January has been a busy month for your Ministerial Search Team!

As you know, a lot of ministers expressed interest in coming to Wildflower. We worked hard to narrow the list, and ended up conducting video interviews of about half of them. That took us about a week, because we had to schedule days and times when the minister and all seven of us were available. Meanwhile, during this time, we were also contacting two references for each minister. As much as possible, we tried to conduct those by video as well, although we only had two team members on each of those calls instead of all seven of us.

After all that, we had to decide upon our three pre-candidates — the three people that we would invite to Austin for a weekend. This was quite difficult! We really liked everyone that we interviewed! But we returned to our rubric (a tool we designed to evaluate each minister by the same criteria), which helped us stay focused on the qualities that you told us were most important to you in a new minister — the ability to lead a strong Sunday service, be a leader in the community, lead the congregation in social action, exhibit strong interpersonal skills, provide quality pastoral care, and support multi-generational ministry. Using the rubric, we were able to reach consensus on which three people were strongest, across the board, in these areas.

We sent out our invitations, and all three accepted! This was such a joy to us. Each minister is permitted to express interest in fifteen different churches, and is only permitted to accept a pre-candidating invitation from three. So it was very possible that at least one of our top three would not be available to us, having chosen three other churches already. We were incredibly fortunate that all three of our choices accepted our invitations!

The next hurdle became scheduling. Last fall, we decided on which three weekends during this phase of our process would work best for our team, and we scheduled our “neutral pulpits” during those weekends. (As a reminder, when the pre-candidates come to Austin, they will not preach at Wildflower; instead, they will preach at other nearby churches). We managed to work two of our pre-candidates into that schedule, but the third was unable to make our third weekend work. And our previously arranged neutral pulpit was unable to move to another date. So we had to quickly find another church that could host our pre-candidate on a different weekend! We worked feverishly on this for several days and finally found a church that would work for our new weekend. Whew!

The weekends that the pre-candidates are here will be very busy ones for us. We will be having dinner with them and their partner on Friday night; interviewing them for three hours on Saturday morning; giving them a tour of our facilities and of Austin; watching them conduct a worship service on Sunday morning; and having a final lunch interview with them on Sunday afternoon before they leave. The purpose of all of this, among other things, is to give all of us lots of time with each other in different settings — to help us decide if they are right for us, and to help them decide if we are right for them.

Now you are probably wondering: Who are these three people? When will they be coming to Austin? Where will they preach? And unfortunately, we cannot answer any of these questions. Confidentiality is extremely important at this stage of the process. Sometimes, ministers are interns or associates and are looking for jobs, but  have not yet informed their current congregation. Also, two ministerial colleagues could unknowingly be applying for the same position. On top of that, we are competing with other churches in this process, and the knowledge of whom the competition is could be a negotiating issue.

Finally, it is also very important that you, the congregation, not get involved at this stage of the game. It could be devastating if the congregation got invested right now and people became divided as to which person they preferred. The fact is, all three of these people would be absolutely wonderful ministers to Wildflower — we would not have invited them to Austin otherwise. But you selected us as your Search Team, and it is our job to carefully discern which of the three — if any of them — we think would serve Wildflower best in the coming years. We very much appreciate the immense trust that you have placed in us to make what will likely be an incredibly difficult decision.

And then, of course, we will once again have to hope that they accept our offer! All three of our pre-candidates may receive offers from the other churches they are visiting, which means they will have to decide which offer to accept. In a perfect world, every church and every pre-candidate gets matched with their first choice, but we all know that this is not a perfect world. Again, though, we would be very fortunate to have any of our three pre-candidates as our next minister!

Thank you, as always, for following and supporting our work. We are very excited about this next phase of the process, and we will keep you updated with any news we are able to share!

As we’ve mentioned before, this month is a very exciting month for the Ministerial Search Team! We received the names and ministerial records of the candidates who are interested in Wildflower Church on Thursday, January 2nd. And what a list it was! The UUA Transitions Office has advised that we not reveal too many details to you at this stage of the game. But we can tell you this — on average, most churches in this process received 5 to 10 names, and we received well above that number!

What this tells us is not just that we have a very special congregation here at Wildflower, but also that our hard work, and your hard work, in preparing our congregational record really paid off! Our record does a good job of representing our congregation, and our congregation is a place that many candidates would like to call home!

This is, of course, both a blessing and a curse! We are gratified and honored by the many incredibly talented people who have expressed an interest in us. We are also a bit overwhelmed right now, as we simply cannot conduct video interviews of everyone. We are working hard — evaluating their ministerial records, watching videos and listening to audios of their sermons, and reviewing their websites — to narrow down the list to people who we think would serve our congregation best in the coming years. They all have varying strengths, and we want to find the candidates whose strongest qualities meet our biggest needs.

In addition, of course, even with all these wonderful candidates, we could ultimately come up empty-handed. As we learn more about them, we will slowly cull the list. Meanwhile, other churches are doing the same thing, and it may be that a candidate we like ultimately chooses another church. So there is much to keep in mind as the process progresses!

Thank you for continuing to follow our progress, and please offer us a hug or a supportive word or two when you see us! And, as always, direct any questions you have to search@wildflowerchurch.org.

If you’ve been following the news on our search for a new minister, you’ve been hearing a lot about this mysterious “congregational record.” We wanted to take a moment to describe that to you in more detail.


The congregational record is essentially a profile that tells interested ministerial candidates all about Wildflower. Every church seeking a minister fills one out. It has basic demographic and church information, such as our teams, programs, and surrounding community. But it also includes our detailed answers to substantive questions that are asked of us, such as our desired strengths in a minister, how we live our values, lessons we’ve learned about nurturing ministers, how we handle conflict, our expectations of a minister in different areas, and much, much more.


We have opted not to put our congregational record on our website, because it’s not the kind of information we necessarily want the public to read. It is available to all ministerial candidates through the UUA’s Ministerial Search website, and we are happy to make it available to any member of the congregation who is interested in reading it. But we don’t believe it is appropriate for the general public.


Beginning this Sunday, December 22, you will be able to find a copy of our congregational record in the Search Team book on the wall of the Community Room. If you would like to receive a PDF copy of it, please email us at search@wildflowerchurch.org and let us know. We would ask that you not share it with anyone outside the church.


You may have questions or comments for us after you read it; feel free to direct those to us at search@wildflowerchurch.org. Please know that the Search Team worked extremely hard to draft answers that represented Wildflower based on your answers in the congregational survey, the cottage meetings, and the focus groups. We understand the impossibility of providing a congregational record that perfectly represents every single person at Wildflower; we strove to write something that represents the church as a whole. We very much hope that you will be pleased with the result.

If you missed the Congregational Meeting last Sunday, December 8, then you missed our report, shared by Libby. Here it is:

Hopefully you’ve all been following the work of the Ministerial Search Team through the newsletter, Community Matters announcements, and the blog on our webpage. You should know that we conducted a congregational survey and hosted the Beyond Categorical Thinking workshop in September, and that we hosted cottage meetings and focus groups in October. We then spent the month of November consolidating all of that data into cohesive summaries for our congregational record. We submitted that record to our coach on the November 22, and he approved it. In fact, he said he had “never seen one as good,” and he was “particularly impressed” with Wildflower’s “maturity and resilience.” Right now, we’re finishing up our documents packet, which is due to our coach next Sunday. 

The next part of our work will begin in January, when we’ll start getting information about ministerial candidates who are interested in Wildflower. From January to March, we’ll be conducting interviews, both in phone and in person. You may find this phase frustrating, because we won’t be able to share with you the specifics of who we’re interviewing or when those interviews are happening. Confidentiality is a must during this stage of the process. But — generally — we will interview by phone anybody we choose to, and we’ll then select three people to come to Austin for us to meet them in person and watch them give a sermon at a neutral pulpit. Once we’ve evaluated those three individuals, we very much hope to announce a candidate to you in April. 

If that happens, the candidate will then visit Wildflower for Candidating Week at the end of April. That will be a busy 10 days in which the candidate will preach at two Sunday services and meet with various teams, church leaders, and staff throughout the week, as well as having at least one congregation-wide open session with the candidate. At the conclusion of the 10 days, after the second Sunday service, we will have a special congregational meeting to vote on whether the church wants to hire the candidate. As a reminder, a minimum of 90 percent approval is required to move forward, and most candidates prefer an approval vote of 95 percent. 

The Search Team would like to thank all of you for participating in this process with us. We have been gratified by how many of you answered the survey and attended various meetings. We thank you in advance for your patience for the next few months as we go about our work. And remember, if you ever have any questions, don’t hesitate to let us know at search@wildflowerchurch.org. Also, we will be having an “Ask the MST” forum next Sunday at 1:30 right here, so please feel free to come chat with us then.