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  • Writer's pictureNancy Rexford

Forward Chats #12 - July 7, 2019

Preparing to Interview Interim Candidates

20 people attended this Forward Chat. The members of the Interim Selection Committee (Elsie Jacobson, John Brenan and Andrea Trefry) requested the topic and facilitated the conversation.

Conflict – setting up the question

The Committee began by referring to a set of questions about conflict in the UCC Church Profile used in pastoral searches. Our answers in spring 2019 were more or less the same as those submitted in the pastoral search conducted in 2017. The Profile questions, and our answers as submitted, are as follows:

Is there unresolved Conflict in Church? X Yes

Level of Conflict in Your Church (Low 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 High): 3 (bolded below)

(As identified by Speed Leas, in a Leadership Magazine article in 1989:

1. “We have problems to solve, but we can do it!”

2. “We’re not communicating. There seems to be a low level of trust…but we are talking!

3. The focus has changed to “winners/losers!” Emotions are escalating. Some folks are leaving. At this level it is wise to seek outside help!

4. The goal is “divorce,” and getting people to quit. There are active attempts to manipulate or sabotage processes. Open communication is not being practiced.

5. Not only wanting others to leave, but seeking to hurt others in revenge!

Were the previous leaders contributors to the conflict? X No

What has the congregation and leadership learned about its role in the creation and resolution of the conflict?

We have learned that we are a work in progress and need assistance to reach a true resolution from conflicts we have experienced. We have learned that our congregation is susceptible to division and struggles to come together in a unified fashion.

The committee then asked the group, “What is the conflict we are experiencing? How do we explain these answers to the candidate?”

Conflict – discussion in Forward Chats

The first part of the group’s response questioned whether the Profile assessment was still true.

· Did we/do we really have more conflict than is normal and typical in a UCC church?

· Although some members seem to have drifted away, maybe Level 1 or Level 2 would me a truer answer now

· We didn’t really have a process for dealing with conflict before, of bringing people together and understanding other points of view, but now with Forward Chats, there is some improvement.

· But some people are still talking in the Parking Lot, spreading rumors, without accurate information. Wendy noted that we all have different styles of talk. Some people come to Forward Chats, others talk in the parking lot. Some speak lovingly, others less so.

· Not everyone is on board with Forward Chats and the new bylaws (which create (1) a central board with clear authority to make decisions and (2) structures to improve communication between various groups).

o Doug said “we need someone who understands concise communication – who identifies the main points and reiterates them frequently rather than giving long- winded explanations

o Can we get more people to come to Forward Chats? Can we model Forward Chats at a service? Maybe at Sunday One, which is a Lay Sunday?

o Charles said that meetings like this one should model the society we want to create. Meetings like this actually change/create the culture, to focus on what is good for the church instead of what we like as individuals.

· Nancy noted that some people emphasize the need for nurturing inside the church community while others push for more engagement with the outside community. This topic begs more discussion in the future to find a middle ground appropriate to this church.

How do we treat our pastors?

· We have a history of forcing out pastors [names and circumstances omitted in these notes]

· How do we support our pastoral staff and respond productively to the more difficult decisions that must be made from time to time? Interim could provide guidance.

o Ruth reminded us that there was a LOT of communication that preceded the break-up with Fred in March

o Doug reminded us to remember that people in this church have good intentions, even when they make decisions that we don’t agree with

o Several people said that Wendy’s good sermon on the 23rd was not heard by the people who need to hear it. This led to a discussion of the need to make regular audio recordings of sermons and also to publicize where to find them

· On their part, several pastors have said that there is too much kibitzing and complaining at 2nd Church.

o Would having more Council meetings help?

o Where and how should congregational concerns be expressed?


Andrea pushed back against the oft-repeated complaint that we talk and talk but always fail to change. She says we HAVE changed a LOT in the past few years. As note-taker, Nancy R here adds an initial list of such changes:

o We made the transition from two pastors to one (a big change)

o We improved our financial situation by selling the second parsonage and reducing expenses

o We went through Crossroads, which at the very least, started us talking about our mission

o We agreed to focus on four mission initiatives, of which three succeeded (though deeper support is needed, especially for Family Promise)

o We addressed problems with the music program, which is now working well

o We created Forward Chats as a place to bring parking lot conversations inside to a setting where various views can be aired respectfully, providing an opportunity to build consensus and a basis for solutions to contentious issues

o In Forward Chats, we have begun to analyze our habits of communication and to improve them.

o We are soon to vote on new bylaws that will change a governing system that has often made our problems worse in the past

o Central Board rather than several boards with unclear authority

o New clarity about who has authority for making what decisions

o New structures that encourage productive communication

o There is a sense of optimism about our capacity to solve the problems that remain

Summary of information to convey to Interim Candidates

· Church profile overstates the conflict level. We still have problems to solve, but now we have better tools to deal with it. Good things are happening in this church and there is a good spirit here.

· We actually have completed some of the first important changes. Candidates should see us not as a church in dire trouble but as a positive opportunity.

· Interim will need to implement the new bylaws – that will be a major project.

· We want someone who takes time to get to know us and to listen before imposing changes that reflect their personal history more than our needs. We need someone who will be sensitive to us, and kind, but who can see things about us that we may be blind to.

· We need someone who can:

o Deal with dominant voices, not by kicking out them out (as has effectively happened in the past) but by harnessing that energy in a productive way

o Bring techniques to draw out the quieter voices so they have a chance to be heard.

o Desire is for consensus.

Upcoming Chats:

· Forward Chats will be held every Sunday this summer except August 4 (Homecoming, because services are held in Lynch Park)

· The Bylaw Committee is likely to bring points before the group from time to time

· Patty Boynton said we need to talk about the church’s mission – what it even means, to have a mission

· Please feel free to suggest other topics for discussion in upcoming meetings. You can do so through the email tool on the main blog page.

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