September is a season of transition and change, as our lives return to a more rapid pace after the slowness of the summer. We are definitely in a season of transition and change at First Parish, with Russ’ arrival and Sadie’s leaving being two obvious examples. These times are naturally stressful as we can no longer work on “auto-pilot.” We have to pay attention to what we are doing and saying, both in helping new people understand what is going on and seeing what we need to cover when a professional leader moves on. We can’t take things for granted. Naturally, the first reaction is to make it stop being more complicated, to rush to fill the holes. But a time of transition and change is also a time of opportunity and discernment. It offers us a chance to pay attention to how what we have been doing contributes or detracts from what we want or need. It offers us an opportunity to name and even challenge unspoken assumptions and learn better what is required for us to live out this aspect of congregational life well. It offers us the opportunity to dream, to envision, to imagine. The key, to quote congregational systems guru Murray Bowen, “Don’t just do something Stand there.”
I have talked with members of the RE Council, the Standing Committee and the Human Resources Committee, with Jill and Sadie, and with Clara Barton District staff. From these conversations, we are developing a process that will give us time to say good-bye to Sadie well, and also the time to discern the gifts and needs of our religious education program, and therefore to clarify together what we feel we need in professional leadership in RE.
First and foremost, we need to honor Sadie, and her work and ministry with us. Sadie has been with us for 8 years and we love her. Her leaving brings with it a time of loss but also celebration. She and we built a solid religious education program for our children and youth, and we have much to celebrate in our shared accomplishments. We are taking time while Sadie is still with us to reflect on these accomplishments and our work together. We will close this time with a special intergenerational service and social hour on October 2nd, Sadie’s last day.
Then, the religious education and congregational leadership, with input from the congregation, needs to look at where we are and imagine where we want to be. This will be a time for discernment. Discernment is a kind of deep listening where we ask powerful questions about what really matters. In this case, our leadership will be asking and imagining how to bring our Unitarian Universalist faith to life and into practice for our children, youth, and adults. To be a deliberate and inclusive conversation, it will take time. The goal is to make sure we know what we have and what we need, so we can articulate to the next Director of Religious Education our expectations and ideas. We have a much better chance of success if we are clear. Then we can put together a search committee who will be searching for the next religious professional who can bring their own gifts and skills. The search committee will interview and recommend to the Standing Committee, who will then vote to accept the hire. In all of this, time is an ally, not an enemy. If we do follow this plan, it will probably be next fall before we hire a new Director of Religious Education.
So, what happens in the meantime, in the transition? Sadie leaves us with a strong religious education program and well-trained and committed volunteers. The Religious Education Council, having experienced and learned from Sadie’s maternity leave last year, feels they can run the Sunday morning program for this year, using curricula that was successful in the past, and simplifying some of the more complex projects, like the pageant. We will run the “Our Whole Lives” sexuality education course, but only for our own eighth grade youth, and not with two other churches as originally planned. The “Coming of Age” program will run as usual, led by Tom Coffey, Bryan Grad, and myself. The Standing Committee voted to increase the hours of the Religious Education Administrative Assistant, Jill Hayes, to 15 to 20 hours. She will take on some of the administrative tasks that Sadie handled, and will work with me and RE Council to coordinate things like the chapel services and the For All Ages. Jill can be a resource for new families coming in to our Religious Education program. Confidential issues and concerns related to the RE program can come to me.
We will have professional support and advice in our discernment process. Karen Bellavance-Grace, the District Consultant for Faith Formation will, well, consult with me, Jill, and representatives from the RE Council, the Standing Committee, and the Human Resources to help better define our process and to figure out what conversations we need to have. Karen served as a DRE for a few years in New Hampshire and then eight years as the assistant to the mayor of Northampton. I was on her interview team, so I have met her and am very impressed with her thoughtfulness, competence and composure.
If you have any questions or thoughts, please feel free to contact me.