The Definitions of Interim Pastors Within the UCC

A Look at The Interim Pastorate

As St. John’s begins a new chapter with Reverend Katherine Beckett as our interim pastor, curiosity piqued about interim pastorates and the roles interim pastors play within the life of UCC congregations. The following questions were explored with Pastor Katherine and, we thank her for taking the time to answer in detail the questions presented in this article.

What is the role of an Interim Pastor as defined within the UCC?

In the United Church of Christ, interim ministry is the ministry provided to a local church or other ministry setting during a pastoral vacancy. Interim ministers are ordained pastors with special training and experience to minister to the needs and challenges of the time between pastors. They fulfill the usual pastoral duties of preaching, teaching, calling, and administering the sacraments. They also help the church explore and reclaim its past and sort out and understand feelings. They help the church discover its mission before the church prepares a profile to use in the search process for a pastor. 

Because the interim is time-limited (usually 12 to 14 months) church members are usually willing to experience various forms of leadership and to risk changes because they won’t be committed forever. Because the interim minister is not available as a candidate for the settled position, she or he can help the congregation examine the role of pastor and discover what attributes are really needed or desired. (provided by Parish Life and Leadership of Local Church Ministries Team from the National setting.)

What training is necessary to be an interim? How does the training differ from a “called” pastor?

There is no required training for interims beyond what is required to be an authorized minister. However, there are training opportunities available for those who want more specialized training. The Heartland Conference of the UCC and the Ohio Region of the Christian Church Disciples of Christ have a joint Interim Ministry Network that, among other things, co-sponsors basic interim training, usually every other year. This training is designed to prepare leaders to help congregations make the most of the time between the departure of one pastor and the calling of another.

There also is the Interim Ministry Network (IMN). IMN is an ecumenical organization that works to strengthen the spiritual and organizational health of faith communities by equipping and supporting those who lead during times of transition. As a result of this work, faith communities are stronger because they have effectively managed transition and are better able to share with their members and society God’s love that brings hope and joy in times of change. (from IMN website)

I have been through both the Ohio Interim Ministry Network’s training and IMNs training.

What types of continuing education courses are required for an interim? How often do interims participate in continuing education courses?

In the UCC, ministers are not required to participate in continuing education. However, there are continuing education courses and workshops available in all areas of ministry, including interim ministry. The Ohio Interim Ministry Network usually offers at least one or two continuing education opportunities a year and IMN offers several opportunities as well.

The opportunities offered by these two organizations address some of the issues unique to interim ministry.

Are there specific backgrounds in certain fields which are helpful to interims? For example, counseling, teaching, human relations?

It depends. Each church is different. I have found that my background in grief care has been especially helpful in interim ministry. My prior career as a probate paralegal involved a significant amount of grief care. I also have a MA in Counseling Ministries and 4 ½ units of Clinical Pastoral Education which was done in a hospital in Columbus. Both of these have proven very helpful in interim ministry.  Conflict management is another area that is helpful.

What are the expectations of an interim in a church setting? (For example, what is the role of an interim pastor within a congregational setting?) Is the protocol usually listed in the Covenant between the pastor, congregation, and Association?

The interim pastor fulfills the usual pastoral duties, i.e. preaching, teaching, administering sacraments, pastoral care. The expectation of the church is to work with the interim on the focal points of interim ministry which are:

Working on these focal points helps the congregation in writing their profile.

These expectations are listed in the Covenant between the pastor, congregation, and Association.

HERITAGE–Reviewing how the congregation has been shaped and formed.

LEADERSHIP–Reviewing the member needs and its ways of organizing and developing new and effective leadership

MISSION–Defining and redefining sense of purpose and direction

CONNECTIONS–Discovering all the relationships a faith community builds outside of itself

FUTURE–Developing congregational and pastoral profiles

Are there specific boundaries required of an interim as opposed to a “called” pastor?

Interims have the same boundaries as settled pastors.

What are the different types of interims, and how do their roles differ?

Interim Minister is a called position for a temporary term of congregational preparation for a settled pastor search, in which the minister does not typically move church membership to the congregation served or move standing to the related association.

There are three basic types of interim ministers:

  1.  Interim Minister or Transitioning Pastor: an interim pastor who fulfills the pastoral role and who also facilitates intentional transitional work with the congregation preparing for a settled pastorate.
  2. Professional Interim or Transition Ministry Specialist: an interim pastor whose career consists predominantly of such settings; may have specializations such as head-of-staff, after-pastor, or conflict facilitation.
  3. Transitional Consultant: a resource person who facilitates intentional transitional work with the congregation while the congregation is served by a different pastor; may bring specialization such as seamless transition, pastoral succession, or other skills.

There is also a Designated-term Pastor which is a called position for a designated time period for a defined purpose, in which the pastor may move church membership to the congregation served and may move standing to the related association.

Types of Designated-term Pastor:

What are the time limits for an interim to serve in a congregation? Can the time be extended if a “called” pastor is not found within a designated time limit?

  1. Revitalization or Turnaround Pastor: a designated-term pastor who is called for a specific time period and for a specific purpose: the revitalization of the congregation; after the initial designated term, the pastor is potentially eligible for the settled pastor position.
  2. Hospice or Legacy Pastor: a designated-term pastor who is called for a specific time period and for a specific purpose: the closure tasks of a congregation.
  3. Redevelopment or Repositioning Pastor: a designated-term pastor who is called for a specific time period and for a specific purpose: the creation of an identified new ministry within or alongside a current congregation; after the initial designated term, the pastor is potentially eligible for the settled pastor position.
  4. New Church Start Pastor: a designated-term pastor who is called for a specific time period and for a specific purpose: the gathering of a new church; after the initial designated term, the pastor is potentially eligible for the settled pastor position
  5. Other: a designated-term pastor who is called for a specific time period and for a specific purpose: such as merger, relocation, reunification, cultural reassessment, staff transition, selling a building, or healing a crisis; may be eligible for the settled position or for a renewed designated position.

(Developed by the Ministerial Excellence, Support &Authorization (MESA)Ministry Team with judicatory staff. 12/1/2014)

An interim can be called for any period of time. Typically, the initial call is for one year.  The interim covenant can be extended beyond that first year, if needed.

What specific interims may elect to become a regular pastor for a congregation when the search committee invites the interim to be their “called” pastor?

Interims cannot become the “called” pastor at the church where they are an interim. Designated pastors can.

Are many interims second career pastors having been in other careers prior to entering the interim ministry? Are most interims nudged by an internal spiritual call, rather than consciously choosing to be an interim?

I don’t have any specific statistics on either question. I know interims who became interims going the route of high school, college, seminary, so are in their mid-twenties when they start interim ministry. I also know interims (like me) who are second career ministers. A minister’s life experiences are helpful in interim ministry, so being a bit more seasoned is helpful. Some ministers go into interim ministry after they retire.

There is a greater need for interim ministers than there are trained interims.

I have been nudged by the Spirit into interim ministry. I originally felt called to chaplaincy but as I progressed through my clinical work and employment at a hospital, I didn’t feel that was the right call for me. I was working on a call as a missionary – which takes considerable time – and a church in my association was in need of an interim. At the Association meeting, one of their deacons was asking around for someone to at least do pulpit supply for Advent and Christmas. I offered as I knew the missionary position would not be worked out before the end of the year. My missionary position fell through and I ended up staying at that church as their interim for 13 months. When that term was finished, I was offered another interim, and another. after that.

October 2020

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