2015 Annual Report – Rick Wagner, Associate Conference Minister

Search & Call:  Approximately half of my work consists of Search & Call matters, which I handle throughout the Conference, with one current exception.  At any given time, approximately 30% of our churches are in some stage of pastoral transition. Over the past year, I have worked with 40 different congregations on transition issues.  This work includes consulting with governing boards about the process, helping churches secure interim or supply pastors, presenting options for pastoral leadership that are not ‘called’ positions, addressing compensation questions from applicants as well as search committees and other parties authorized to negotiate contracts or call agreements, helping committees write want ads, consulting on and approving local church profiles, recruiting applicants, evaluating and validating ministerial profiles, offering resources and training to search committees on how to interview and evaluate applicants, doing reference checks on finalists for church positions (both UCC and non-UCC), reviewing call agreements, etc. Two recommended “best practices” that are often neglected at the end of a search process are setting up a six-month performance review of the new pastor and including at least 2 people from the Search Committee on the next Pastoral Relations Committee.  I mention these practices here simply as a reminder to churches that are currently in search or have recently completed a pastoral search.

Committee on Ministry: Another significant part of my work is staffing parts of the Conference’s Committee on Ministry, specifically DPAM (Discernment and Preparation for Authorized Ministry subcommittee), and the Professional Development subcommittee.  DPAM is the subcommittee that people who feel called to ordained ministry must work with, first as Members in Discernment (MIDs), then as candidates for ordination (though they are still called members in discernment until they are ordained).  At any given time, we have about 30 MIDs, each of whom is assigned an advisor.  All MIDs, along with their advisors and pastors, submit annual progress reports.  DPAM also reads psychological assessments, internship evaluations, CPE evaluations, ordination papers, letters of reference, academic transcripts, sermons, draft ministerial profiles and more.  Some candidate portfolios may have 140 pages of written materials which DPAM members read prior to conducting an ordination interview.  DPAM also handles requests from ministers who want to become UCC but who were ordained in another denomination.  This process, called Privilege of Call, can be, in a word, complicated.

My other COM duties pertain to the Professional Development Subcommittee which bears some responsibility for clergy Compensation Guidelines, boundary training, new clergy orientation, scholarship recommendations, and clergy continuing education.  Some of this subcommittee’s responsibilities overlap with other groups.  We are therefore assessing how to function most efficiently and effectively.

Local churches: Although I handle Search & Call matters throughout the Conference, Associate Conference Minister Rev. Steve Boorsma and I split other common duties associated with local churches according to northern/southern geographic areas.  These duties typically come in the form of requests for advice or resources for doing performance reviews, setting up Pastoral Relations Committees, ensuring or establishing healthy patterns of  communication in the church, doing organizational restructuring (new bylaws and constitutions), and fielding questions about possible church closings, long-range planning, selling or remodeling parsonages, and demographic research.  We also attend church closings, farewell services for pastors, installations and ordinations based on geography or our availability.

As I look back over the past year, there are three other things I have had some professional involvement in.  They are the “Church on the Move” events, stewardship workshops (i.e., “Best Practices in Local Church Stewardship”) tailored to specific congregations, and Ministerial Excellence Groups.  We currently have a few of these Ministerial Excellence Groups, also called “communities of practice” in the Minnesota Conference, and I facilitate two similar groups for Associate Conference Ministers in other parts of the UCC by video conferencing.  That is the only wider church responsibility I have at the present time.

I find this work both challenging and rewarding, and I am grateful for the support of our authorized ministers, local churches, and the excellent staff who are part of the Minnesota Conference UCC.