Assistant Minister's Corner - Rev. Monica Dobbins

31 May 2019

You may have heard by now that Rev. Tom has announced his retirement to the congregation – he’ll be stepping down at the end of the 2020-21 church year. You may also have heard, if you were present at the congregational meeting in May, that I’ve chosen not to succeed him as senior minister. There are many reasons why I’ve made that decision, but the most important one for you is that I would not deprive you of a golden opportunity: to have time between ministers to pause, breathe, reflect on 130 years of religious liberalism in Salt Lake City, and really think about where you’d like for your church to go next. 

It’s important for you to know that your Board of Trustees has already been working on this for almost a year, starting with their board retreat last summer, when they invited consultants from Unity Consulting to come spend time with them, and talk about what a retirement transition looks like. The board developed a detailed timeline for events, including building a transition team that will help the congregation discern the kinds of ministry it needs now; building a separate search committee to find a minister who will be able to lead the congregation in that ministry; and in managing the daily operations of the church while this important transition is going on. 

There are so many new movements afoot in Unitarian Universalism, and so many possibilities for our work together. It’s hard to know what to keep and what to let go of when you don’t know what else is possible! The next few years will give us time to consider that together. What are the strengths of this congregation, upon which we can build? What are the gaps that need to be filled? What opportunities for justice making and faith formation are available to us, and to which are our gifts suited? 

One question I’ve been asked is: what is involved in finding and calling a new minister? Here’s a quick overview of that process. 

The UUA provides an online settlement system for matching congregations with qualified, fellowshipped ministers. Although every UU congregation is independent and can do whatever it likes in terms of inviting a minister to serve it, following the UUA guidelines for this process gives us enormously greater chances for success. The settlement system is also intended to provide transparency and fairness in hiring, for both ministers and congregations. 

When we have determined what we want in a new minister and are ready to begin the search, we enter into the UUA search pool. The Transitions Office in Boston maintains a list of ministers who are looking for a new position, and a separate list of congregations who are looking for a minister. 

Each congregation creates an online “packet” that prospective ministers can examine, which includes our vital stats (demographics, financials, etc.); our history (good, bad, and ugly); and our dreams for the future. Each minister also prepares a packet, including their theological orientation, career ambition, strengths and growing edges, and their own dreams for ministry. In January every year, the search season officially opens, with congregations and ministers able to see one another for the first time and begin the process of discernment. 

This process may sound a bit like online dating – and speaking as one who has been through it, it feels like that too! It is a process that requires vulnerability, openness and honesty. Therefore, it’s important that we spend the next few years engaging in vulnerable and honest practices as a congregation, so that we can present our best selves to the prospective ministers under our consideration, and so that we can find a minister who best suits our mission and vision. 

I’m so excited to begin this journey with you as your minister. I encourage each of you to spend some time this summer imagining the First Church of the future, where we have been, and what we have yet to be.