Ministering in Transition
This past week I attended the second week of The Art of Transitional Ministry, otherwise known as Interim Training, at Montreat Conference Center in the mountains of North Carolina. There I met and studied with about forty other ministers training to become, or to become better, transitional ministers. As the name suggests, transitional ministers are challenged to lead congregations during periods of transition. It could be because the congregation is between pastors. Or the transition may be more general, like the trying times through which we’ve been traveling since March 2020 when the COVID pandemic shut down in-person worship all over the world. Or the transition may be from the familiar functioning of a vital in-town church to the unfamiliar and unwelcome realities of a struggling, small and aging congregation just trying to stay afloat.
The forty of us hailed from all over the eastern United States, from Arkansas to Wisconsin, from Michigan to Pittsburgh, from High Point to the Gulf Coast of Alabama. We came from large multi-staff congregations and from tiny 20-person congregations. We were full-time called and installed, full-time contracted, and part-time contracted pastors. We were women and men, black and white. Yet we had one thing in common: we were serving Christ by serving the Church in challenging times.
Our instructional team consisted of nine ministers with extensive experience leading both congregations and presbyteries through transitions. They taught us theory – family systems, genograms, trauma healing, appreciative inquiry, asset mapping – and allowed us to benefit from their very practical experience. We also learned from one another. One colleague told us about her church’s rummage sale, which had somehow become the most important event on the annual church calendar because it was just so doggone much FUN – for those who ran it – while being a (pain in the rear) point of contention for the rest of the congregation.
It seems there are endless possibilities for ways to mess up being the Church.
As we enter this next stage of preparation for calling the next installed pastor of Nacoochee Presbyterian Church, probably the most important thing for us to remember is to listen to one another. We don’t all have to agree. (As a matter of fact, I think it’s best if we go ahead and plan on uncovering differing opinions about what is most important and why.) But we all do need to listen. The vision that will lead Nacoochee into the next chapter of its life will reveal itself (will arise organically) from our discussions over the next several months about who we are, who we have been, and who we want to be. In Interim Training, I did not learn how to cast a vision for a church in transition. Rather, I learned how to lead conversations as I walk alongside a people on a journey to a future you will discover together, as you listen and remember, listen and imagine, listen and prepare, together.