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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 search@wildflowerchurch.org.

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.

Salary

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.

Conclusion

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 search@wildflowerchurch.org. 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.

Now that the survey is complete (many thanks to the 136 of you who filled it out!), the Search Team is excited to be moving on to the next phase of our search — Cottage Meetings and Focus Groups! The survey was a necessary first step, but it really just gave us broad outlines. Now it’s time to start filling in the blanks in more detail! The Cottage Meetings and Focus Groups are how we’ll do that.

Cottage Meetings are small group meetings. Each one will be led by two Search Team members who will ask you additional questions that were not on the survey. We hope everyone — members and non-members — will attend a cottage meeting. There are three cottage meetings scheduled, and childcare will be provided at each one:

  • Saturday, October 19, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., in both classrooms (Esmeralda and Libby)
  • Sunday, October 20, from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., in the Community Room (David and Laurie)
  • Tuesday, October 22, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., in the Community Room (Tommy and Cathy)

You can sign up for the Cottage Meeting of your choice in the Community Room, by adding your name to the relevant sheet, or by filling out the Google Form at the end of this post. There is no deadline to sign up, and you can attend a Cottage Meeting even if you don’t sign up. The sign-up process is just to give us a general idea of how many to expect at each one.

Focus Groups are also small group meetings, but they are geared toward specific populations within the congregation. We hope you will attend as many as apply to you. Childcare will be provided upon request. We will have a number of different focus groups, each one led by one or two Search Team members:

  • People 65 and up (Laurie)
  • Youth 5th grade and up (Libby)
  • Parents of children and youth (Michelle)
  • Kids 4th grade and under (Libby)
  • Young adults 18 to 30 (Cathy)
  • People of color (Esmeralda and Michelle)
  • People who identify as LGBTQ (Esmeralda)
  • Past Board members (David)
  • Staff (Tommy)
  • People with disabilities (Michelle) 
  • People affected by past ministries (Cathy)

The deadline to sign up for focus groups is October 20. This is because, once you have signed up, the leader of your group will contact everyone to decide upon a date and time that works. The meeting will then occur sometime between October 20 and November 3. Once the meeting is scheduled, you will have a better idea of whether you will need childcare, and you can request it at that time.

We believe that some of you may desire confidentiality in your participation in a focus group. As a result, the sign-ups in the Community Room will be different. Instead of putting your name on a piece of paper visible by all, we will provide envelopes and index cards. If you’re interested in attending a focus group, just put your name, email address, and phone number on an index card and drop it in the envelope of your choice. You may attend as many focus groups as apply to you.

Finally, if you prefer to sign up for these things electronically, this Google Form will allow you to sign up for the Cottage Meeting of your choice and any Focus Groups that apply to you: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScYKDOAuvBP4XTtPQIFQgN7TzyVC_o3FsiISp7-AUIB6Ce1cw/viewform.  But again, while there is no deadline to sign up for Cottage Meetings, the deadline to sign up for Focus Groups is October 20, so please sign up as soon as you can!

As always, we appreciate your participation in this process. The information you give us helps us answer important questions in our Congregational Record, all of which will be available to ministerial candidates and aid them in deciding whether Wildflower sounds like a good fit for them. The more information we can gather, the better position we are in to finding the right minister for us! And remember, if you have any questions at all, you can reach us at search@wildflowerchurch.org.

Thank you so much to the roughly 60 people who attended our Beyond Categorical Thinking workshop last Sunday after church! Gil said it was a very good turnout for such a small congregation, and we agree!


For those of who you weren’t able to make it, we’d like to share some of our big takeaways. First, Gil made clear that a successful search can result in a decision of “None of the Above.” We, the Search Team, will be working very hard in the next couple of months to analyze the data from the congregational survey, as well as the October cottage meetings and focus groups. Then, come January, we’ll be working very hard to find a minister that meets Wildflower’s needs and desires. We’ll be looking for the right fit. And it might simply be that nobody feels to us to be the right fit. If that happens, it is not a failure. It takes courage for a Search Team to face this truth if it happens, rather than offering the position to someone who isn’t ideal just so we can hire someone. It will also take courage from the entire congregation to accept that result and not see it as a failure but rather a valid step in the process.


Speaking of hiring — Gil also pointed out that calling a minister is really not like the kind of hiring that we think about in the working world. While there are obviously some contractual aspects to this agreement, matching a congregation with a minister is more like a marriage. We are entering into an arrangement with someone in which we both agree to do our part to make the relationship work. This is why it is so important that the person be the right fit for the church.


And speaking of doing our part — Gil asked us to think about what each of us would be willing to do to ensure a successful ministry. Please give that some thought. It takes all of us to make Wildflower Church what we want it to be; a minister cannot do anything alone. And we want to make sure that we give our minister all the support we can to help them help us.


In terms of biases, Gil asked us to consider ministers with specific racial/ethnic identities, sexual orientation/gender identities, and various disabilities. We wrote down whether we had any personal concerns as well as whether we thought there might exist any concerns in the congregation as a whole (either that we had heard of or might suspect). After a brief review of the answers, Gil said that we were in the range of normal responses that he has received in other workshops.


Our own review of the worksheets showed us that, with regard to race, gender, and sexual orientation, there were very few personal concerns; most concerns pertained to issues we thought might exist in the congregation. As to disabilities, however, our congregation had a number of personal concerns, primarily focused on the minister’s ability to do their job. Just as a reminder, any candidate that we interview will have already been vetted by the UUA’s Ministerial Fellowship Committee and will therefore be, in the opinion of the UUA Committee, physically and mentally capable of being a minister.


Another part of the workshop was that each table had the opportunity to discuss a hypothetical case study and then share their feelings about it with the group. There were some lively discussions during this time, as the case studies presented challenging fact patterns. Ultimately, some concerns were expressed that we, the Search Team, felt may have been based, at least in part, on some of Wildflower’s past ministerial experiences. As a result, we have decided that we will add an additional focus group to our current list — people who have been affected by past ministries. We encourage you to participate in this group if you have any concerns about past mistakes being repeated.


All in all, we thought the workshop went very well, and it revealed to us how many of you have much to share in this process but have not yet had the chance to do so verbally. We are eager to hear you, and we look forward to your participation in our October cottage (small group) meetings to give us additional feedback. Those meetings will be Saturday, October 19, from 9 to 11 a.m.; Sunday, October 20, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.; and Tuesday, October 22, from 7 to 9 p.m. Please make plans to attend one; childcare will be provided at all three.


Also, each of us will soon be approaching our assigned focus groups, so start thinking about whether you fall into any of the following groups: People 65 and up (Laurie), Youth 5th grade and up (Libby), Parents of children and youth (Michelle), Kids 4th grade and under (Libby), Young adults 18 to 30 (Cathy), People of color (Esmeralda and Michelle), People who identify as LGBTQ (Esmeralda), Past Board members (David), Staff (Tommy), People with disabilities (Michelle), and People affected by past ministries (Cathy). And feel free to contact the Search Team member covering your group if you want to make sure to be included.


As always, thank you for your participation in this process with us. If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact us at search@wildflowerchurch.org.

The Rev. Michael Dowd is Coming to Austin with a New Presentation

When: Thursday evening, March 28, 7-9 pm
Where: Faith Presbyterian Church Sanctuary, 1314 Oltorf, Austin TX 78704
Sponsor: Wildflower Church Adult Religious Education and Climate Action Teams
Donation Requested to Wildflower Church
Presenter: The Rev. Michael Dowd
Web: http://www.thegreatstory.org

Description: Are things progressing or degrading? Is it too late or can we turn things around? Rev. Dowd’s dynamic multimedia program sheds light on competing and often contradictory claims about our future. More importantly, he offers a reality-based perspective grounded in ecology as the heart of theology that can inspire us to work together across a wide range of differences in service of a just, healthy, and sustainably life-giving future

Rev. Michael Dowd is a bestselling eco-theologian, sustainability activist, and pro-science ‘evangelist’ whose work has been featured in The New York Times, LA Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Newsweek, Discover, and on television nationally. His book, Thank God for Evolution, was endorsed by 6 Nobel Prize-winning scientists, noted skeptics, and by religious leaders across the spectrum. Michael and his wife, Connie Barlowhave spoken to some 2,500 groups throughout North America since 2002, including nearly 500 UU churches.

Michael has delivered two TEDx talks and a program at the United Nations. He has also conducted an acclaimed online conversation series: “The Future Is Calling Us to Greatness. At the 2016 Unitarian Universalist General Assembly, Michael and Connie were honored asUU Religious Humanists of the Year”. Michael’s message, grounded in an ecological interpretation of the Epic of Evolution always centers on fidelity to the future and how to stay sane, sober, and inspired to act locally and become ever more resilient in chaotic and contracting times.