For those of you who missed it Sunday, at our special Congregational Meeting we elected five members of Plymouth to serve on the interim associate minister Search Committee. Thanks to Sara Myers, Harmony Tucker, Curtis Wray, and Denise Morrison for serving along with me, ex officio!
This search process has been underway with national advertising through the UCC and the Rocky Mountain Conference, and we already have some names collected by Erin Gilmore, our associate conference minister. In fact, by the time you read this on Tuesday, the search committee will have had its first meeting. When we have a candidate to present to the congregation, you’ll receive notice of another special Congregational Meeting.
While this stage of transition moves rapidly, so that we can ensure coverage as soon as possible after Jake’s departure on August 1, the Leadership Council and Personnel Committee will take a step back and consider the overall staffing configuration at Plymouth and ensure that our current associate minister job description is in line with what Plymouth needs in the coming years. Then we will form a new Search Committee for the settled associate minister (along with another special Congregational Meeting), and when they have found a candidate, we’ll have a “candidating weekend” when the congregation can meet the candidate, and that weekend will include…wait for it… another special Congregational Meeting!
One of the things I addressed yesterday at our meeting was a great question Fred Frantz asked me a week ago: Why is it that ministers have to sever relationships when they accept a new call? Clergy in the UCC are responsible for setting and maintaining good professional boundaries, and part of the ordained minister’s code says “I will not, upon my termination and departure from a ministry position, interfere with nor intrude upon the ministry of my successor.” How each minister deals with setting that boundary is up to her or him. When Sharon Benton left, she kept very tight professional boundaries, which for Sharon involved “unfriending” Plymouth members on social media…not to be hurtful or cold, but to set a professional boundary. Jake is interpreting that somewhat differently and said in his letter to the congregation that he would not “unfriend” people, but that he would not perform sacraments, rites, or counseling for Plymouth members or talk about our congregation. That, too, is setting a professional boundary, one that allows his successor the space to move into relationship with our members, and it allows Jake to move into relationship with his congregation in Connecticut. On Jake’s last Sunday, July 28, we will engage in a formal rite of releasing Jake from the vows he took when he was installed as our associate minister, and Jake will “release this local church from turning to [him] and depending on [him].”
Transitions are seldom easy…but they can be done with grace, and I trust that this will be the case for us this summer. Yesterday, one of our members commented to me, “You know, we loved Sharon, and I was really upset when she left…but then we got Jake. And Jieun was amazing, and I was really sad when she left…but then we got Mark.” I have no idea who will succeed Jake, but I do know that Plymouth will offer a warm and supportive welcome.
Thanks for being a congregation that communicates well, open, and warmly with your staff!
P.S. At a recent staff meeting, I shared one of my spiritual practices: writing out a poem or prayer and adding some (unschooled) watercolor around the edges, and several staff encouraged me to share these with the congregation, so here is poem by William Stafford called “The Way It Is,” which may be helpful in this time of transition.
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.