Ministerial Transition

Friends, you may always reach me at vsafford@ucdsm.org or at 612-405-3318 (a cell number dedicated to church work). We can schedule a Zoom appointment when I am working remotely from St. Paul, or we can meet at church or in your home when I’m here in Des Moines., or simply talk by phone. If you’d like to meet in person during an upcoming visit, please reach out to schedule an appointment!

Please come if you have a pastoral concern (a sadness or some issue weighing on your heart), a spiritual query, a question or something you’d like me to know about congregational life (church programs, committees, or the ministry transition), or just come to introduce yourself and say hello!

Victoria’s Calendar

February 3, 2023

Update from the Board of Trustees

After the board and members made suggestions, all those names were considered, and calls were made. Many who were contacted were unable to serve at this time. We are very fortunate that this Interim Search Team is comprised of long-time members and people who have had leadership roles before, as well as people currently in leadership. They are all compassionate, thoughtful, and represent many aspects of our congregation. What stands out to me is that each of these people has a strong commitment to First Unitarian, and all bring good skills to the table. They are Scott Clair, Crystal Loving, Elliott Nassif, Steve Herwig, Doug Aupperle, and Shelly Kaldenberg.

The team is taking some time to meet, get oriented, and determine their agenda and timeline. Soon after, a time will be announced when they will meet with the congregation to hear your comments and/or concerns.

January 26, 2023

Update from the Board of Trustees

The interim search process that I described in my letter last week includes two rounds of search. This means that the church in the search process posts their information in the UUA portal and there are two opportunities to have potential ministers apply to that posting.

Last year when we found ourselves in the place of needing to find an interim minister there was very little time to prepare and, in fact, we were well past the first round of applications. In the second round we received only one applicant. That applicant had offers from six different churches and we did not make the cut. In some ways we are in a similar situation this year in that we continue to be one church in many searching for an Interim from a pool that is not as large as the churches seeking.

What this means is we have to have an excellent team in place that has as much time as possible to craft a posting that is well written, as optimistic as possible, and accurately represents not just the wishes and desires of the congregation but as many cohorts of the congregation as possible in order to be fair to every member.

While it may seem we have “lots” of time this year to discuss and debate all phases of the process, the truth is it takes many weeks of reading and meeting in order to give the posting that is created the best representation of our church so we draw the interest of candidates that will serve the needs we convey.

I have asked Greg Nichols, board representative and very familiar with the Interim Search process, and Scott Clair, representative of the Right Relations team as well as experienced serving on the Interim Search team last year, to help assemble this team. They are both long-time members of the church as well as fair in their approach. I asked them to take all the recommendations submitted by church members into consideration and put together a team that can represent our entire congregation.

I ask you all to remember this is not a settled minister search and differs in that Interims are appointed by the board rather than voted on by the whole congregation. For the time remaining, I ask the congregation to trust that your board is interested in full representation, not only by asking the whole congregation for names to be considered for the team but by the opportunity you will have to speak with this team regarding what you believe are the most important talents, skills and experience relevant to our current needs.

Reba Eagles, Board of Trustees President

January 19, 2023

Update from Rev. Victoria

Dear Friends,

It is an honor for me to be serving with you this year as Transitional Contract Minister. As you move through the unexpected and uncharted waters of change, I am continually inspired by your resilience, your care for one another, and your deep dedication to First Unitarian Church.

Back in July, your Board leaders and I agreed to review my one-year contract at mid-year, and decide then whether to renew it. In consultation with the Board, and after deep reflection on my own, we have decided that my ministry here will end in June 2023, when the one-year contract expires. Although we have many months ahead, I am saddened already at the thought of leaving… and yet I am convinced it is the right decision.

The work you’ve taken on this year to reinforce the foundations of community, to grieve losses and repair divisions, to reimagine the practice of good governance and re-establish the principles of right relation, is mighty work. It requires courage and compassion, and also energy, as you continue, so brightly, to welcome new members, shape faith formation for families and children, collaborate with community partners for justice, create inspiring Sunday services, and raise the money to fund all this (and so much more). You are well-positioned to move forward with a full-time Interim Minister who will come for two years, live in Des Moines, and partner with you to refine your shared mission, strengthen what’s working well, and continue lovingly to restore your trust in each other and in your leaders. This was my recommendation to the Board when we met this past week. More information will come from them soon, as will an open invitation to share your questions, concerns and hopes for next steps.

In the meantime, I am thankful for the months that lie ahead of us. I look forward to celebrating on Sundays with you, to gathering in groups or one-to-one, and to supporting you in every way as you lead with love. Your future is so bright, radiant with hope and promise – and I am glad and grateful to travel this small part of the journey with you.

With respect and gratitude,

Victoria

January 19, 2023

Update from the Board of Trustees

The Board of Trustees would like to thank Reverend Victoria for the time she has spent with us and her continued commitment through the end of this contract year. She has been encouraging and has held space for us to voice our concerns, our frustrations, and our grief so we can begin the process of looking to the future. We are grateful for all she has done and will continue to do during the rest of her time with us.

Now we begin the process of searching for what serves us best at this time. The types of ministers within the UUA are Interim, Developmental and Settled and there continues to be fewer ministers available than churches searching. Because with the Interim option we have the best chance of obtaining a really good minister for our needs at this time the Board has decided our best course of action is to immediately begin the search process for an interim minister. We will be discussing this at tonight’s board meeting. Please continue reading for an understanding of how we came to this decision, predominantly based on the time factor involved in obtaining a minister, as well as the guidance and recommendation of Rev Victoria.

What we all long for is a settled minister after all the changes in the last few years. The process of settled minister search is the longest process as well as being more labor-intensive. It usually takes one and a half to two years. Our by-laws require the process for calling a minister beginning with the selection of the Ministerial Search Committee by a vote of the members of the congregation the year prior to entering the UUA search. They are then charged with creating a congregational packet that will let potential ministers know who we are and what we are looking for in a new minister. They evaluate ministers interested in us, arrange to hear a few ministers speak at neutral pulpits early the following year, and ultimately offer the position to the minister that is an excellent match for our congregation. The candidate is then announced to the congregation, and they come for a week in which they speak at two Sunday services and attend many “get to know you” meetings. Following the second Sunday, the congregation votes on whether to call the candidate. Again, the timeline for this process, which others seeking 2023 candidates have long since begun, suggesting this is not an option likely to be successful for us this year.

A Developmental Minister comes to help a congregation that has determined three to four specific goals it wants to work on before calling its next long-term minister. They are normally with a church for three to five years. Currently we have yet to come to consensus on goals that would be appropriate for us to focus on. An example of work a Developmental Minister can help with is a church that had made the decision to go from two ministers to one and wants a Developmental Minster to help them work through the impact of this change.

The process to prepare for a Developmental Minster typically starts a year or more in advance of the spring selection process, meaning we are also not well positioned at this point to attract a candidate in 2023.

That leaves us with Interim Minister. This is a minister specifically trained to work with churches short term, one to two years, and help a congregation understand its strengths and weaknesses. While it is true that we are in the middle of a one-year transition minister, the contract we have with her was for one year and was designed, in part by specific direction of

the transition team of the UUA, to help us through the period after Rev Amy left too late for us to find an interim. And while it is true that this contract could have been renewed for a second year, and Rev Victoria has been instrumental in helping us heal from the last five to seven years, she has expressed on numerous occasions her feeling that we would be better served by having someone that can move here and really be present in ways a long-distance minister cannot. The UUA search process for an interim minister typically begins early in each calendar year, and concludes in May, with the contracts beginning in August. Unlike settled ministers, the board selects an Interim, often with an advisory committee to vet candidates. Starting this process now has us well placed to be a strong presence in the first round of Interim search this year, giving us our best chance to find a candidate that really fits our needs at this time.

Our community conversations this fall have really helped us to understand who we are and what our needs continue to be. However, we will be hosting conversations in February so everyone who wishes to have input into this search can express themselves. If you want to say anything privately you are always welcome to contact Rev Victoria or the Board at boardoftrustees@ucdsm.org.

While I have enjoyed the time we have had with Rev Victoria and will cherish it, I also look forward to our next chapter and what we will accomplish together.

Reba Eagles, Board President

August 2, 2022

Dear Friends,

 

I am honored to be serving with you this year at First Unitarian Church in Des Moines!

 

Guided by good companions from the Unitarian Universalist Association, your church leaders have coined a new term, “Transitional Contract Minister,” to describe the unique role I’ll fill from now through June 30, 2023. My work with you will be full-time, and that time will be divided between in-person presence in Des Moines and ministry with you from my home in St. Paul, Mn. I’m grateful for the technology that we’ve all learned can help us work together, and even “be” together even when we’re physically apart (and I’ll look for your patience and good humor as I continue to learn to use that technology gracefully!). On the church website, you’ll find the calendar showing when I’ll be here in Des Moines and when I’ll be working from St. Paul. Either way, I hope you’ll reach out and schedule a time to connect in person, by phone, or on Zoom, just to say “hello,” or for a more in-depth conversation about pastoral concerns that weigh on your heart right now, or spiritual needs, or congregational life. I’m only here for a year, but I really want to get to know you, and to help as I can.

 

As the fall opens, we’re planning to continue “multi-platform” Sunday services held in-person in the church building and simultaneously streamed on Zoom. Your Board and church staff will keep watching Covid trends to keep everyone as safe as possible and make changes as needed through the year. For now, I’ll be preaching and leading some services in person, and on other Sundays the sermon will Zoomed in to the live service. You’ll find the fall schedule on my ministry calendar. 

 

This Transitional Ministry will be different from ministries both you and I have known before. Normally, a new minister is preparing deep soil for long-term relationships and programs that evolve over time and endure. My work this year is different: to help you and your elected leaders prepare for your church’s bright future, sometimes by telling the stories of your recent past – grieving losses, healing hurt, celebrating milestones and achievements – and also by dreaming together of what’s possible, and needed now, as you move forward. Where normally I’d be leading classes and groups, building strong ties with justice partners in the wider community, and working closely with committees, in this interim year I’ll be attending more to thresholds. I’ll work with your leaders to strengthen the best practices of good governance and healthy policy, and constantly be asking you all to imagine what’s next for your beloved church community.  We’re learning as we go, you and I, and I’m excited to begin.

 

My work with UCDSM begins on August 17. I’ll be working at first from St. Paul, until my next Iowa visits (Sept. 1-5 and Sept. 8-12). Until August 17, please reach out to church president Reba Eagles with questions or concerns. In a future Intercom, we’ll list my email and phone number, both of which “go live” on August 17.

 

I’ve known for many years that UCDSM is known within the UUA and beyond as a strong, brave, steady beacon, shining the light of hope and the power of love, not only in our current, turbulent times but for more than a century. Amidst so many changes now, this is what will not change: your call as individuals and as a congregation to grow, not bigger necessarily, but deeper, in faith, in love, in hope. Together with your elected leaders and your amazing staff (Hannah, Emily, Alice, Bruce, Barb, Karen – a dream team, for sure), and with each of you, all of you, I’m ready to begin this year.

 

In gratitude,

 

Victoria

June 30, 2022

At the June 29 board of trustees meeting, our new transitional contract minister, Reverend Victoria Safford, was publicly introduced. She had previously been interviewed and recommended by our ministerial transitions advisory committee to the board, which accepted the recommendation.

Rev. Safford will serve UCDSM on a one-year basis, with an option to renew for a second year. She will be making an initial multi-day visit to Des Moines in mid-July, at which time multiple opportunities for her to meet congregants in person will be scheduled. She will begin her contracted service in mid-August.

Rev. Safford has over three decades of successful experience as a Unitarian Universalist minister, serving 10 years with the Northampton Massachusetts congregation, and over 20 years with the White Bear Lake congregation in Minnesota. She stepped back from full-time ministry in 2021 and was among those who agreed to come back into service recently to help address the shortage of UU ministers. Victoria and her husband live in St. Paul, Minnesota next door to their daughter, her wife, and the Safford’s grandchild.

Our agreement with Rev. Safford will provide us with full-time ministerial services in the upcoming church year, while allowing her to continue to reside with her family. Her duties will be structured in a blend between in-person and remote work. Like other transitional ministers, Rev. Safford will be responsible for oversight of all Sunday services, and perform 30 of them herself, but with the proviso that approximately a third of them can be provided from a remote location via video broadcast. This blended arrangement also avoids the need for our church to increase our budget to account for what is typically a $10,000-$15,000 expense for relocation of an interim minister.

We want to thank three people who helped us obtain this capable and experienced minister. Keith Kron from UUA Transitions and Rev. David Pyle from UUA MidAmerica region went the extra mile to help us find a person who is a good fit after the formal interim process ended. Victoria responded to the call for qualified ministers to make themselves available on short notice, listened carefully to what we were seeking and modified her initial plans accordingly as we discussed how best to create a distinct ministry arrangement to meet both our needs and hers.

We look forward to introducing Reverend Victoria Safford to everyone here in person in mid-July and working with her going forward come August. More information will be posted soon so members can begin to get to know more about this experienced and talented minister who soon will be with us.

June 20, 2022

Thanks to members who spent time on June 17-18 to meet with Rev. David Pyle, our UUA MidAmerica region lead staffer, to discuss many different aspects of ministerial transitions and how the UUA and regional staff will assist us in those processes. As Rev. Pyle proclaimed on Saturday, “this will not be the last time you see me.”
Among the specific topics discussed at the Saturday session was the evolution of congregational governance policies from the old “Carver” model to a more collaborative style of “Hotchkiss” governance which is designed more specifically for the shared governance in UU churches. This is one of the transitions already underway at UCDSM. An additional topic was the work ahead for the congregation in the upcoming transition year around issues of future goals and specific priorities, as well as how best to work together in a collaborative way. This was also a major part of the discussion the board of trustees held with Rev. Pyle earlier on Saturday morning.
The other “elephant in the room” Rev. Pyle addressed was the question of whether it was possible at this point that UCDSM would be able to attract a transitional minister for the coming church year. He described the current UU ministerial candidate shortage as “unprecedented since the 1920s,” and that it was particularly noticeable in the second round of interim search which concluded earlier this month. For the handful of desirable candidates in that competition, it was common to have offers from five or six churches.
However, Rev. Pyle also stated that he thought it possible that UCDSM could obtain the services of a well-qualified transitional minister for the coming church year. He reported that given the number of churches still searching that he and UUA colleagues have put out a call to ministers on sabbaticals, retired, or otherwise not connected to a congregation to ask them to make themselves available, and there was a good response from many who were not included in the previous round of searches.
Indeed, last week I received information from the UUA Transitions office regarding a minister who might be a fit for us who was among those responding to the recent call. After some initial inquiry, Board Vice President Reba Eagles and I had a lengthy call with that minister, and subsequently re-activated our transitional ministry advisory committee asking them to do a review and hold a conversation with the minister and report back to the board on their recommendations. The committee reported to the board on Monday night June 20, recommending the board leadership seek to reach an agreement to have this individual serve us as a transitional contract minister.
We are now preparing to engage further with this potential minister in the coming days to see what might be possible to meet our mutual needs. We will provide a further update once the direction of that effort becomes clear.
–Greg Nichols, Board President

June 9, 2022

The board president and vice president this afternoon conferred with UUA regional staff.  At that time, we confirmed that the candidate we sought as an interim minister has made the choice to go elsewhere. With the formal UUA interim process now concluded for the year, we will continue to work with UUA and the UUA MidAmerica staff to identify and consider various other options to best fulfill ministerial duties and plan for our future as we move toward the coming church year.

In that regard, we also confirmed today that lead UUA MidAmerica staff member, Rev. David Pyle, will be here in Des Moines on Friday June 17 and Saturday June 18 to engage in several planned meetings with groups of members, an all-congregation open forum and presentation, and will be available for other conversations as time permits.  Look for a tentative schedule of events planned with Rev. Pyle in the Friday June 10 Intercom.

June 7, 2022

Sunday evening, June 5, members of the board of trustees met with the members of the interim ministry advisory committee via zoom.  The subject of the meeting was to discuss the vetting the advisory committee had done of an interim minister candidate who indicated interest in our congregation in the UUA search process. Due to the topic being a review of potential personnel, and the expectations for privacy of candidates in the UUA process prior to final decisions being made, the session was not open beyond board and committee members’ participation.

The committee members reported unanimous agreement that the candidate under consideration would be a good fit for the needs of our congregation, and recommended we further pursue the candidate by indicating to the UUA the following day, pursuant to their process, we were affirmatively interested in having this individual as our interim minister.  After a discussion inclusive of participation by every person present the unanimous consensus was to accept the recommendation.

Monday morning June 6, I contacted the UUA transitions office and indicated our affirmative interest in the candidate, as the process requires. Late in the day, I received a message from the UUA transitions office that the candidate was planning to submit their preferences among competing congregations late that evening, or the following morning, June 7.  Based on a communication late this afternoon, Tuesday June 7, with UUA transitions staff it appears likely the candidate will choose to prioritize a different option, although that is not yet a final and accomplished fact.

While awaiting final word from UUA and the candidate, Vice President Reba Eagles and I have reviewed the UUA standard interim contract, and are prepared, should we have an opportunity to do so, to proceed with that process very quickly.  There are relatively few edits or modifications necessary to that document to work for our purposes. The UUA process specifies that formal contract offers can be extended at noon tomorrow, June 8.  To that end, I am asking tonight for adoption of the following motion to authorize such action if circumstances permit, and the candidate does make themselves available.

“The board of trustees hereby authorizes the Board President to finalize and approve a contract with a transitional minister after consultation with the board.”

If we do have an opportunity to pursue an interim contract with the identified candidate, once completed, we will be able to share information about them publicly.

If we are unable to pursue an interim contract based on the candidate’s decisions, we will immediately enter discussions with UUA transitions staff members and MidAmerica region staff about alternative possibilities our congregation might pursue with their assistance.

 

–Greg Nichols, Board President

June 3, 2022

Our interim ministry search advisory committee, made up of members Scott Clair, Sally Boeckholt, Liz Bredeson, Mike Merritt, and Birch Spick have been working diligently in the past week to prepare to make recommendations to the board on whether they feel any of the applicants reviewed could be a fit for our congregation.

The board of trustees, which is charged with the responsibility to make a final decision on interim contracts, will meet in a private “executive session” on Sunday evening June 5 with advisory committee members to discuss the candidate(s) the committee has vetted, and their recommendations.  This meeting, due to the discussion of personal information regarding candidates and the privacy expectations of candidates at this stage of the process, will be open only to members of the board and the advisory committee.  However, the decision on whether we have identified a potential fit, based on that conversation, will be communicated publicly after the discussion ends.

The next steps in the UUA interim ministry process calls for churches to declare their interest in any candidates privately in the UUA secure portal on Monday June 6…and for interim minister candidates to express their interest in any churches with whom they have communicated to UUA staff. In cases where there is a matching interest, formal contract offers are expected to be extended by mid-day on Wednesday June 8.  Standard interim minister contracts establish a start date in early August on a one-year basis, with a one-year renewal option.

If we determine that there was not a potential fit among the applicants reviewed, that will be known by Monday June 6. If we have identified a potential fit, the final result of the process will be known as soon as Wednesday June 8 and no later than Friday June 10.  In any event, we should know by the end of next week whether we have an agreement with an interim minister in place for the coming church year OR if we will need to further discuss in the coming weeks other alternatives to fulfill ministerial duties for the church program year beginning at the end of summer.

May 29, 2022

Members have now been appointed to the interim ministry selection advisory committee.

The five members of this committee will make recommendations to the board after review of available information on candidates expressing interest in serving our congregation on an interim basis.

Committee members appointed are Scott Clair, chair; Liz Bredeson; Sally Boeckholt; Mike Merritt; Birch Spick.

May 26, 2022

  • As previously noted, Rev. Shaw’s last Sunday service will be given on June 12 — and they will be participating in UUA GA and available on call the balance of June, also taking some accrued leave time, and in July will be taking the balance of accrued leave and study time and available as needed for critical ministerial duties.
  • Information on behalf of our congregation has now been placed in the UUA ministerial search process portal, to let UU ministers considering new positions know that UCDSM would be open to interest from potential candidates for some type of interim, contract, or targeted ministry for next church year.
  • At the May 26 board meeting, Rev. David Pyle, lead staffer for the MidAmerica region of the UUA spoke and answered board and congregant questions about issues in congregational transitions and UUA processes to help congregations, boards, staff, and members navigate through consideration of options for the year ahead.
  • Also at the board meeting May 26, the board adopted two motions relating to our operations during the upcoming transition period, and one recognizing the support of UUA MidAmerica region staff in assisting our efforts:
  • Alice Stewart was designated as the interim administrative head of staff, effective June 13, 2022
  • Birch Spick was designated as the interim celebrant team coordinator, effective June 13, 2022
  • A contribution from unexpended funds in the current year church budget that was allocated for board of trustees expenses (approximately $1000) will be made to the Friends of the UUA MidAmerica region.
  • The board also decided on May 26 to create an interim ministry selection advisory committee of five members to review candidates expressing interest and make recommendation(s) to the board regarding those options. Scott Clair was chosen as the initial member and chair of the committee, and four congregants not on the board are being asked to join, and when their willingness to serve is confirmed, all committee members will be promptly and publicly announced.
  •  Board Q & A sessions, at which questions about items on the June 5 annual meeting agenda, or ministerial transition issues, will be held on May 29 at 11 AM and on June 4 at 10 AM.
  • Rev. David Pyle will be here in Des Moines the weekend of June 17-19 to provide on site information and assistance to the congregation regarding ministerial transitions and how we best prepare for our future—watch our website and weekly Intercom for details on plans for the weekend and opportunities to participate.