Transitory Talk: Process, Process, Process
from Pastor Conley Zomermaand

I’ve included a “wishful thinking” photo with this post. In Florida, where I endured the last three summers, bike riding is limited at this time of the year. Just too bloomin’ hot!! But in Rochester? Golden days! So I hope to get some long rides in over the course of the next few months. The trade-off: riding in Florida is great November through March. Rochester?!?

This will be a longish, geeky, process-focused article, so bear with me. I am a career interim pastor, as opposed to someone who simply happens to be available to fill in for a while. Nothing wrong with the “fill-in” sort; but my process is more intentional and intense—though (I contend) not burdensome. My approach serves well after a longer-term pastor or in times of significant transition. Third Church wears both of those situational garments.

Two sets of questions need to be asked at Third Church: 1) What kind of a church are we and do we desire to become? 2) What kind of leadership do we need to walk with us in the next chapter of our life together? Answers for both sets of inquiries are sought somewhat simultaneously; however, conclusions to the first set need to be established before the second grouping. We are entering the question-asking phase of our interim time. Relax: this does not need to be a long, drawn-out affair. We can get about this work as quickly as we desire. We do have to allow that COVID-19 has thrown a never-before-experienced wrench into the timeline. We’ll deal with it!

So where are we and what are we doing?!? We are somewhere near Square 1. I am meeting with and listening to a multitude of groups related to Third Church. Your stories fascinate me! I will keep doing this for my entire sojourn in Western NY. You all hold the information I seek and the keys to the future of this congregation. You’ve employed me to pry it out of you.

Relatively soon, I will ask the Session to empower a small group of members to serve on the Mission Study Team. Five to seven of you will undertake with me the task of digging into the past and present activities of Third Church and produce an honest assessment of your life together. That group will write a mission study report, which will provide the ingredients for the Pastor Nominating Committee (PNC) to knead and mold into the church’s resumé, called the Ministry Information Form (MIF—get accustomed to the acronyms!!). The MIF serves as the connective tool between the church and pastoral candidates, who produce their own resumés called Pastor Information Forms (PIFs). The PCUSA’s Church Leadership Connection (CLC) provides a clearing-house function in matching those documents. The PNC reviews PIFs, communicates with candidates, and in due time makes a recommendation to the congregation for your next head of staff. That’s a far piece down the road, so I think I will let all of that settle in before I dump more acronyms on you.

The first response usually can be summed up by saying, Holy smoley, how long?!? I answer with, I don’t know exactly; usually not as long as you fear. I guarantee that we will make good use of the time. We won’t be twiddling thumbs and waiting for the future to embrace us. We will keep doing ministry in this place and asking what else God is calling us to be and do WHILE we are searching for new leadership. I plan to give you a progress report in the September newsletter. 

So…a PNC does not now exist and no candidates for this position are presently being considered. YOU, the members of Third Church, elect a PNC—not the Session, not the Nominating Committee, not the Presbytery of Genesee Valley, and not ME!! You will receive regular updates from me and others all along the way. AND if you have questions about what is happening, contact me. There is nothing secret or secretive about how we accomplish this task. Thus, I will give you the straight-up facts at every step along the way. We Presbies are process-oriented; and I am a process guy. I even have T-shirts that say, Trust the process! Another guarantee: at the end of it all, almost all of you will declare that it has been a worthwhile endeavor.

Last thing (for now): I will not be a candidate for the position. That’s how the interim thing works. My job is to work myself out of a job—in such a way, I hope, that lands me another job down the road. I will throw myself wholeheartedly into the life and work of Third Church; but I keep just a sliver of outsider status in the meantime. That slight distance is essential in serving as an effective interim pastor. 

I’ve been overjoyed at the level of continuing participation in church life during these odd and challenging times. Your overall spirit remains vibrant, even as I hear the occasional complaint that comes with changes in leadership personalities. I especially appreciate hearing your grumblings directly from the grumblers. You provide essential feedback as we move along this transition path. I value your honesty! And thanks for the affirmation I have received over the past several weeks. You have been kind and gracious in your welcome, and I appreciate it.

Blessings,

Pastor Z