Every so often I return to a particular article I read while in seminary, still dreaming, still curious what congregational life would entail. The piece, published by the Alban Institute, a highly acclaimed resource out of Duke Divinity School that speaks to ministers of all denominations about leadership and church life, boldly and concisely lays out what to expect in the first ten years of pastoring a congregation as a solo minister.
I most recently pulled up this bookmarked article after a stranger approached me in a local parking lot asking if I was the new minister at the Unitarian church? Having just wrestled my child into daycare and with my eyes set on a cup of coffee, I’ll just say I wasn’t the marketable version of myself I wish I could have been.
“New? Well. No. I mean, I’m the minister there, Yes!” She had come during the interim time, stopped before my arrival. I tried to make pleasantries but, I think I had made my impression already.
Fifth Year: The Latency Year
For most pastors the fifth year of ministry seems to be a latency year. People begin to trust you; some even like you. By now, a core group of members has come to love you. You begin to make your mark as the neighborhood pastor and find your niche in your local professional network. Having handled most administrative problems and basking in the renewed good will of a less anxious congregation, you coast a bit. You initiate creative programs or ministries and institute challenging changes. Because you enjoy by now a certain level of congregational trust, these are accepted with little resistance.
It goes on…
My time with you all at UUCWC has never once matched up with this article; no year has ever had the tone or sentiment that my colleagues swear is universally experienced in year 1, 2, 3… through 10.
I have felt your hopeful trust since I first met many of you in candidating week and have worked hard to maintain and grow that trust; to deserve it. Where I have felt loved, I have known that to be a reflection of our shared relationship – individually and collectively; a marker of the losses we’ve carried one another through; and the hard work, creative changes, and challenging initiatives we’ve been brave enough to take on, knowing the urgency and worth of ministry before we felt safe enough in this odd experiment of minister and congregation.
I haven’t handled a fraction of the administrative problems that I named with ease in my first months with you five years ago; rather we have worked together on other issues that have arisen as part of our congregational life. And I ache to find the time to be a part of an interfaith group, let alone my own UU clergy meetings.
All that to say, what we’ve done here together in the last five years has been anything but typical.
Five years later, I remain in awe of this congregation, and mean it when I say it each Sunday that I am privileged to serve here as one of the ministers. But I haven’t been good about taking my study leave (or my vacation for that matter) during this time, and that serves no one well.
At the end of January I’ll be taking a week of Study Leave and two Sundays in a row out of the pulpit. Rev. Charles Stephens will lead worship one Sunday, and then Hannah Gallo the week after. Whether some article says it or not, I know that it’s a necessary time in my ministry and ours, for me to create space within my months, to think deeply about where we are called next, how to lead or follow, and what we need in order to help get us there.
Come February, I look forward to sharing with you how a little space away can help the spirit speak.
Until then, thank you. Perhaps all of this is still quite new.
Rev. Kim Wildszewski