Ministerial Search Team

Hello, I am Esmeralda. It has been an honor and privilege to work with Cathy, Tommy, Michelle, David, Laurie, and Libby. They are stellar. Sarah Skochko is an awesome person. Sarah is a great candidate that would be of outstanding benefit to Wildflower or wherever she may go. Wildflower has been a lovely spiritual home. It is time to move on from the MST, earlier than anticipated, because a truly inclusive culture doesn’t let a few people force the entire congregation or one ministerial candidate into a conversation about race framed by their particular view point.

Wildflower has room to grow in terms of centering the experiences of marginalized identities on certain matters. I have a favor to ask (on the way out, how rude.) When someone posts or references a work you find questionable, please question them publicly. It is important not just for your relationship with the person who posts but also for the Wildflowers on the sidelines. I have been disheartened by the lack of push back at harmful writing.

As a warning, I’m about to say the words white supremacy. Now you can’t tell but I am saying it out loud: WHITE SUPREMACY. I need to be at a church where I can describe my personal experiences of living within white supremacy culture without anyone clutching their pearls. Everyone is in a different place with social justice. I’m in a place where the need to feel safe and supported is paramount. I don’t feel that way at Wildflower.

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 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 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 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.

One thing we haven’t talked about yet on our blog is the financial impact to Wildflower of hiring a new minister. Since the congregation will be voting on these expenses at our December 8, 2019, congregational meeting, we’d like to take a moment to talk about that now, and explain the three different areas in which we are needing to spend money: the search process itself, the moving costs of a new minister, and the salary for a new minister.

Search Process

The search process itself is not an inexpensive proposition. But so far, we are pleased that our expenses have been right in line with what the UUA expects. The UUA suggests that churches budget about 5 to 7% of their annual budget on the search process. Wildflower’s annual budget for 2019 was $239,000, and the Search Team has set forth a search budget of $14,000, or 5.8%.

The primary expenses for our search are the following:

  • Costs during pre-candidating weekends, when we will be paying for the flight, hotel, rental car, gas, and food, of three ministerial candidates and their partners to come visit with the Search Team on three different weekends: $5,290;
  • Costs during candidating week, when our selected ministerial candidate, along with their partner/family, will be in Austin and visiting with Wildflowers for 10 days, ending in our congregational vote. We will be paying for their flight, hotel, rental car, gas, and food, as well as paying the candidate to preach on two Sundays in a row: $4,457;
  • Coaching/consulting services from the UUA to assist us in our search: $1,750;
  • Cost of our Beyond Categorical Thinking workshop: $500; and
  • Childcare for our BCT workshop, three cottage meetings, and seven focus groups: $780.

We’ve also had other miscellaneous expenses, such as food at our Team retreat, the cost of the survey website, attendance at a search-related workshop at General Assembly, and so on. If you would like more information about our expenses, please let us know at

While our entire search team budget is $14,000, that is split over two calendar years. The bulk of the expenses — $12,000 — will be in 2020, while $2,000 has been budgeted for 2019. So, at next month’s congregational meeting, you will only be voting on the 2020 expenses — $12,000. You should also know that we have over-budgeted our projected expenses, in an abundance of caution. We are very hopeful that we will spend less than the budgeted amount. (In fact, we have already spent less than anticipated in some areas; for example, most of our focus groups did not require childcare.)

Moving Costs

The UUA recommends that congregations budget $15,000 for moving costs, and our Negotiating Team (Tommy Lukens, Michael Heinich, and Carol Knight) has suggested following that recommendation. This amount will cover things like airfare and moving vans for the new minister and their family. Depending on where they currently live, this cost may be much less than the budgeted amount.


The new minister’s salary is the final expense in this process. For your information, Rev. Ferguson’s annual salary and housing payment for 2019 is $61,350. Added to that are income taxes, pension, insurance (health, dental, and disability), professional expenses, and the minister’s discretionary fund, for a grand total of $87,907.

For our new minister, our Negotiating Team would like to begin our negotiating by offering a salary and housing payment of $65,000. But, given the cost of living in Austin, we are very hopeful that the congregation will approve us ultimately offering a salary and housing amount of $70,000. Adding in all the other miscellanies may bring the total package to around $91,000, depending on the minister’s desired extras. Just for your information, the UUA recommended ministerial salary for churches of our size in our geographic area ranges from $49,900 to $75,000, but this does not take into account that Austin has a 30% higher cost of living than other cities in this area.


As you can see, we’ve got a lot of expenses coming up. But we on the Search Team consider these expenses to be an important investment in the future of Wildflower. We very much hope that you agree! Please plan on attending the December 8 congregational meeting to learn more about these costs and the search process in general, and to ask any questions you may have. We also recommend attending the Board’s Budget Forum this Sunday, November 10, at 1:30 p.m. in the Community Room, when Tommy Lukens will be present to discuss the Search Team portion of the budget. And, of course, you are always welcome to email us at Thank you so much for your continued involvement in our search process! 

We are so grateful to Holly Cooper for helping us to make sense of some of the data from our congregational survey! Below, you will find Holly’s wonderful summaries of the first three open-ended questions in the survey, regarding your favorite thing about the congregation, and the top three functions of the congregation and the minister. Enjoy!

What is your favorite thing about our congregation?

The strongest trend that emerged from the responses to this question were that respondents felt the congregation of Wildflower Church is warm and friendly. People also felt a strong sense of community in the church, and a bond with friends and others. A number of respondents cited the diversity of the congregation as a strength and a few specificity mentioned diversity including disability, age and race as important.

A strong feature of our congregation people cited was our commitment to social justice views and activities. Also cited was the importance of liberal views and values. Several respondents said the passion and commitment of members was an important part of Wildflower. A more general reference to values and the message from the minister or at the Sunday pulpit were also mentioned.

Church activities were cited as important, those that occurred outside of Sunday worship. Programs and activities for children and youth were considered a strength by many.

The minister was mentioned as being important and capable by many. A factor people appreciated was the message from the minister. In addition, a significant number of respondents cited the music and choir as something they valued.

Qualitative information can be counted and it is tempting to use the responses ranked by the number of times they were cited by respondents. However, counting the number of results in each category and ranking responses in this way is not statistically valid.

What do you perceive the top three functions of our congregation to be?

Different respondents interpreted this question along two different lines. Some people responded with answers indicating the term “congregation” meant the larger community of the church. They responded with answers such as provide Sunday services, a spiritual home, a safe space, community, a place for liberal or UU values. Others responded with answers relating to what they as individuals do being UU’s, such as social action, supporting the church with time and money, participating in running Sunday services, and similar ideas. I have included answers regarding both interpretations in this summary.

A strong theme relating to the congregation as a community was clear. The most single response was that the congregation was a community for its members. General statements about community and community support were submitted, along with ideas about mutual support, being a spiritual home, a place to recharge, and a safe space. The congregation as a place for spiritual growth was cited by many as an important function. Another strong trend in responses related to the congregation being a welcoming community and welcoming of diversity. Also mentioned by participants was the congregation being a place where liberal or UU values were shared, and where people could learn.

Some responses relating to specific church issues were submitted by participants, but these were very small in number compared to social justice and community ideas. The most frequently mentioned one was the importance of education and activities for children and youth, although education without mention of age was also cited. Activities and interest groups were listed as important. The least number of responses related to the importance of the pastoral support, financial support, and running the church.

The second theme of the congregation as part of the larger human community had more responses than the church taking care of its own. The idea that the congregation was a place or community supporting social justice and social justice activities was a significant idea in participants’ responses. A small number of respondents implied that they felt the emphasis on social justice wrongly outweighed the emphasis on meeting the needs of the congregation itself as a community. In addition to general statements about social justice, participants also mentioned reaching out to the larger community (to provide help) and helping or supporting those in need. Some respondents stated or implied that helping those in need of support related to fellow congregants, others that those in need were members of the larger community.

Overall, the responses to the question of “what are the top three functions of the congregation” were many and varied. The theme of social justice emerged slightly more strongly than the theme of the community or spiritual home. A minor theme of running the church, was included in some responses.

What do you perceive the top three functions of our minister to be?

The skills, talents and personality traits listed by respondents to this question were largely predictable, but also varied widely. Reading these responses at times seemed to indicate people were looking for a superhero, or a person with extraordinary abilities.

The theme that emerged as most important to the most participants related to Sunday services. Many indicate the importance of the message or sermon delivered. Others listed leading services, leading worship, and ability to provide a thought-provoking message as crucial. Many also wanted the minister or the message to be inspiring or be a good communicator. It was clear that being a good public speaker who can compose a good sermon and organize a good service was important to most people responding.

A small number of people specified growth of the church congregation as important. Some people want the message or Sunday service to attract new people, some expect the minister and inspirational teachings in general to lead more people to join. Also listed, as a practical matter was attracting members and growing the church financially.

Other abilities and skills related to commonly expected duties of a minister also made a strong showing in the responses. Primary among these was leadership. Respondents want a good leader, someone who will not only lead Sunday services, but lead and participate in other church activities such as study groups and social action. Many people also listed spiritual growth and being a spiritual guide, role model or providing guidance to the congregation and individuals as important.

Another important theme discussed by many participants pastoral care. A very large portion of responses listed this as important, second only to leadership skills. Most related this to pastoral care of individuals in the congregation, and counseling or supporting individuals. Some responses also specified pastoral care of the congregational community as important.
A major theme that emerged from responses to this question reflected similar ideas to the previous two questions, this was the importance of social action, social justice, and inclusivity. People want a minister welcoming and encouraging of diversity, one who speaks about and inspires listeners to social action. They want a minister who will challenge our ideas, speak about and educate us on liberal values, and UU values. They want a minister who can represent UU values to the larger community.

Again, similar to responses on the previous questions, people want a minister who is a part of the church community. A person who will serve and nurture the community, educate the community, and be a good role model for the larger community.

On a practical side, a number of respondents want a minister who is a good manager. The minister should be a capable manager of the church and the church staff, organized and able to organize activities and duties.
Some interesting comments related more to personality than skills were listed by some people. They want someone who is welcoming, loving, and has a good sense of humor. Someone felt it was important that the minister be unconventional, “weird” like Austin. Traits also listed were being helpful, supportive and friendly; able to make people feel comfortable, an advocate for the congregation’s needs. Someone who will talk and listen to individuals or small groups about important issues. Someone who is honest
and kind. Someone who will inspire unity, motivation, and enable us to better support one another.

In summary, valued skills included leadership, arranging Sunday services, and pastoral care were high on the list of areas of importance in a minister. Growing the congregation and managing the church was also an important skill. Participating in and inspiring the congregation to social action and social justice were also valued skills. Being part of the church community and teaching UU values were important in a minister. A kind, loving, and welcoming personality were also valued. Someone once said to me (I think it was my mother) that UU congregations either want a minister who is scholarly, one who is a good leader and manager, or one with good people skills. I’m sure there are other ways to define a minister, but it appears from these responses that a good minister for us is a capable leader and speaker who has good people skills.

We’re swamped with data!

Thank you again to all of you who filled out our congregational survey. We — along with our assistants (Terry Matula, Paul Patterson, and Holly Cooper) — have been hard at work analyzing the data and trying to figure out what it all means! In this blog post, we’d like to share with you some of the key findings. The full results are available here (pdf, 4MB). Please note that to protect respondents’ anonymity, we have removed open-ended and write-in responses from this version. Also, remember that, while 136 people filled out the survey, a number of people opted not to answer some questions. As a result, all of the statistics below are based simply on the people who chose to answer that question.

The results of the survey can be broken down into seven major categories: Participation in the Life of the Church, Our Feelings About Wildflower Generally, Our Unitarian Universalist Identity, Our Spiritual Lives and Practices, Our Involvement and Feelings Around our Anti-Racism Work, Our Feelings About the Minister’s Role, and Demographics.  Below are the highlights from each of those categories.

Participation in the Life of the Church

  • The vast majority of us — 86% — attend the Sunday worship service at least monthly, and 92% attend our after-church Fellowship Hour at least occasionally. Most of us — 69% — have attended Board meetings and congregational meetings, and most of us — 65%– have attended a social justice or climate justice activity or event.
  • Attendance at our other offerings has been fewer in numbers but still significant. Fifty-five percent of us have attended intergenerational activities, such as game nights and song circles. A little over half of us have attended an adult religious education class at least once, and 40% of us have participated in Connection Circles or other small-group ministries. And almost a third of us have participated in either the choir or other music offerings during the worship services.
  • Most of us have also volunteered at the church in some respect: 65% serve as a Sunday volunteer (sanctuary transitions, sound tech support, usher, greeter, welcome table, hospitality, counting the offering) at least a few times a year, and 64% serve on a committee, team, or task force at least occasionally. Further, 31% have been a lay worship leader.
  • Finally, it was no surprise that very few people have participated in our Young Adult Group (only 8%) and our youth ministry (14%), since both of those programs have been sporadic over the years. We’re excited to finally be getting both programs off the ground and look for more participation in both in the coming years!

Our Feelings About Wildflower Generally

  • There were a lot of positive feelings about the church in general. For a great many of us, our favorite thing about Wildflower is its friendliness and welcoming attitude. We love the people and the community! 
  • Additionally, most of us feel that the congregation is generally open to change, is flexible enough to implement new ideas easily, and that we do a good job of having difficult conversations and staying in relationship.
  • Most of us also felt that Wildflower focuses on its mission and the greater good, rather than the strong preference of some individuals, and that our mission and ministry continue to adapt to changing conditions in the world.
  • And, most of us felt that Wildflower has a core group of leaders able to lead change in a non-anxious way, and that there is a high level of trust in our leadership.
  • However, the majority of us do have some concerns about the church’s financial sustainability and believe that increasing membership should continue to be a focus.

Our Unitarian Universalist Identity

  • In terms of our Unitarian Universalist identity, we feel most U.U., and we’re given concrete tools to live a dynamic U.U. life, during the Sunday worship service and when we serve as a lay worship leader or other Sunday volunteer.
  • Those same three answers — the worship service, serving as a lay worship leader, and serving as another type of Sunday volunteer — are also the things that most inspire us to stretch and grow, give us the deepest sense of belonging, and are where we experience the most transcendence. 
  • In terms of broader U.U. offerings, 31% of us have attended regional U.U. offerings such as retreats and workshops, and 24% of us have attended General Assembly.

Our Spiritual Lives and Practices

– Most of us — 74% — rated our spiritual lives a 3 or a 4 on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “Spirituality is not important to me” and 5 being “Spirituality is integrated into all I do.”

–  Half of us have a regular spiritual practice or a routine centered on personal growth. 

Our Involvement and Feelings Around our Anti-Racism Work

– Given the amount of time and energy that Wildflower has put into becoming an anti-racist, anti-oppressive, multicultural congregation, we asked you a number of questions around this work. We learned that just over half of us — 54% — have participated in anti-racism and anti-oppression workshops and initiatives.

–  Our feelings about that work were overwhelmingly positive. Seventy-one percent felt that it was important or very important that we continue this work. 

– A number of folks also had suggestions on how to change or improve that work, and that information will be forwarded to the Board for its review. 

Our Feelings About the Minister’s Role

– Our feelings about the minister’s role at Wildflower were quite consistent. In terms of what is most important to each of us on a personal level, as well as what we felt was most important to the congregation as a whole, we prioritized presenting inspiring and challenging Sunday services, the pastoral role (providing pastoral care and by example showing us how to care for one another), leading the overall ministry,  fostering a sense of community, the prophetic role (helping us imagine our future and inspiring us), and encouraging and supporting social justice programs. 

– When looking at which ministerial roles would have the biggest impact on the next generation, we added “supporting families and multi-generational ministries” to the top of that list.


– In terms of demographics, 79% of those who completed the survey were church members, and 29% have attended Wildflower for over 11 years, while 22% have attended for less than a year. 

– Over half — 51% — of the people who answered the survey were age 60 and up, while 38% were between 30 and 50 years old. Only 6% were aged 18 to 29. 

– Racially, our church appears to be 87% white, 4% Latinx, 3% multi-racial, 2% Asian, and 1% Black. One person identified as Middle Eastern. Almost 20% of us are part of a multi-racial family.

– Regarding gender, we are 57% female, 29% male, 7% gender fluid, 2% transgender, and 2% agender. Additionally, two people identified as non-binary.

– Our sexual orientation is 69% heterosexual, 11% bisexual, 7% pansexual, 4% asexual, 3% lesbian, and 1% gay. – Fifty percent of us are married, and 21% of us live with one or more disabilities. Twenty-five percent of us have children under the age of 18, and 23% have children participating in our children’s religious education program.