When to Contact the Minister

My wife and I are about to close on a house in Salisbury. It is halfway between her place of ministry in Charlotte and mine here! It is an older home, in a historic district. I am imagining I am going to learn very quickly where the home improvement stores are in that town! I am already acquainted with some of the home improvement “experts” there. Friends who live there now, some in older homes, are already offering advice.

I am not shy about trying to learn what they know, about asking “how do you go about doing…? … Whatever comes up that we might need to know to make this old house more live-able for us. Make it do what we want it do while we live there. How can we make it fit us? And be fit for us?

You have some of that to do with me and me with you. How will we learn over time to fit, how to be fit for each other?

Just like I do in approaching others, sometimes you will come to me as an “expert” on something. Other times, I will help you see how you are the expert. That is what is meant by “shared ministry”. We are all talented and wise and have gifts to share.

A week from tomorrow, I will be traveling to Minneapolis for the annual Interim and Developmental Ministry training. I plan to ask lots of questions of those who have been doing interim ministry for a while.

There will be some “developmental” ministers like me there too. I plan to especially corner them and seek out their wisdom.

But, I can tell you there aren’t that many of us and no one has been doing Developmental Ministry very long.

This thing you and I are doing together is like an interim ministry, what Rev. Eric did, only different! There aren’t any “experts” yet!

Developmental ministers partner with congregations for 3-5 years, to get them ready to settle a called minister, and they might even become that called minister. We stay longer than an interim, to help your leaders really move your congregation into a new way of being together.

Interims are around to give you time to grieve, or at least shift your loyalty from a past leader, to pause and breath and allow the space to let in a new called minister…

We are on a different kind of journey together, you and I. It has less to do with pause and breath and more to do with CHANGE and grow…

It is a path that ought to lead UU Greensboro into becoming a highly functioning, efficient, live-able, fun, safe, “make a difference in the world” kind of place…

Are you ready?

We will be building not only a new way of being together, but re-building trust, and that will take time.

In the meantime, life goes on. In the meantime, whether we get to that place we are going or not, life will happen. Life, and marriages, and children born. Illness and death, and getting up again the next morning with a loss to live with. In the meantime, maybe you aren’t a leader and you don’t care about all that was or what will be. You are here now. Maybe you just came in the door this morning, or in the last few months. Maybe you came in the door 20 years ago, or 10. And you just want a minister to be a minister. For you a minister is not just to manage a journey to the great transformation in the sky, but for the meantime.

Being your minister is not just about standing and talking to you on Sundays… [although that’s very important!]…

It is about being for you and with you in the meantime. …as life happens.

I am here to help you celebrate, to comfort you, to challenge and inspire you, to just be present so you can hear yourself, so you can be your own expert.

Call me, send me an e-mail, do what ever it takes to initiate contact with me when you need me to be your minister.

In these first few months, I would love just to get to know you better. Ask me out for coffee, or lunch or dinner. Invite me over, or in, or come by just to visit.

I will do the same. You may learn that I will seek you out if I sense you have a ministerial need. A life or death major event is happening in your life, or you are struggling with how to find meaning or purpose…in the midst of a terminal diagnosis, or a move or a separation…

The UUCG grapevine will keep me somewhat informed about some of your concerns that call for a pastoral response. I will be listening for your needs during joys and sorrows, and during our “casual” conversations. You may not know I am listening to you that way, but I am. You may not yet be ready to seek me out, yet. But I hope you will when you are ready. I hope you will act as if, I can be your minister! Sometimes, I will be the one who comes to you. I promise I am listening for the metaphorical door to open. If it does I promise I will walk through it.

When that happens I hope I help you see/experience, what I am here for as your pastor.

You don’t have to rely on the grapevine to let me know something I should know. I’m good, but I am not psychic! Contact me. My phone works, my e-mail works, my office times are posted.
Call me, come by. Call me first, then come by!

Sometimes, some of you may come by…eager to me to tell me what some one else needs from me. That’s OK. But sometimes, some of you will come by or call to tell me not what someone else needs, but about a “concern” or an issue that some third person has with me.

It would serve us all so much better if you would take that person’s hand and offer to come with them, so that I can hear directly from the person who has a concern clearly and exactly what their concern is! If you come tell me alone, I am very likely to hear what you have to say not as an expression of their concern, but as yours! That’s OK, too. But you need to know I am hearing what you say as your concern.

Let’s choose to be direct! I will be direct with you! And gentle. If you are bold, I will be gentle in hearing what must have taken a lot of guts to say. That’s my promise to you!

If you are a member here, I will officiate your marriage ceremony or your memorial service at no charge! If you are a friend, a friend of a friend, a relative…I will make you a deal!

If you are ready for your child to be dedicated, here or in a sacred space of your choosing, come see me.

If you want to talk about your ceremony of life and how you’d want to be remembered come see me. Let’s talk.

If you want to talk about theology or polity or something thrilling or confusing that’s happening in the UU World or in the world that has a spiritual, ethical, justice-making dimension come see me.

If you can’t figure out how to be a UU at work, let’s talk.

I am always ready to hear what you are excited about learning next. I am here to help you explore religion and spirituality, to help you widen your horizons, to deepen your knowledge, to grow in understanding, to help connect with others who have your same interests or concerns, to help you to understand those in this community who are different in their faith orientation and practice from you.

It is appropriate to call me for comfort or guidance, or help with hearing yourself think, for a confidential place to express your feelings, to talk about illness, death, transitions. Call me to be present during a crisis or trauma…

Pastoral care is about deep listening, providing comfort, recognizing when the door is open for spiritual growth, and being present with you as you walk through that door.

Most UU ministers are trained in “brief counseling”, knowing how to identify growing edges, to comfort and to be present during times of crisis. We are trained to make appropriate referrals especially when the need to be addressed goes beyond our skill set, or the kind of time that is needed is far beyond what we have to offer.

Ministers are trained to listen for and explore what role your faith or your core beliefs are taking in helping or hindering your move through a transitional point in your life.

Part of pastoral care is to be available to you when you are upset or disappointed with me. You can expect to receive a good listen. You can expect that what you have to express will be kept within the bounds of confidentiality. When I am engaged in giving pastoral care, my focus will be on you and your needs.

I am your minister, yet…I am also human! Like with all human interactions, you may come to me at a time when I am distracted, defensive, reactive, and am not able to offer you a good listen. Even when you’ve done your part and initiated contact and have been clear that you are looking for pastoral care, there will be times when my needs will get in the way of meeting your needs. I will tell you when we need to arrange for another time, so that I can get myself out of the way!…and be able to listen to you without getting defensive, without rushing to “fix” the problem, without trying to end your discomfort…. Coming up to me after a Sunday Service in the crowed foyer is not the best time to seek pastoral care from me! It is OK to arrange a time then, but it dishonors both of us for you to ask for or me to offer pastoral car in the middle of a crowd!

When I am present to you and for you, I will do my best to listen to you…to listen to whatever you have to say, whatever you feel, with respect that you are coming to me to be heard, to be companioned until you find your way again. I promise to give the space for you to say whatever you need to say.

When I am present with you I will create space for you to hear your own wisdom; for you to find your own way to continue to be in loving relationship with yourself.

I am here ready for your call. I am here to be your minister…to celebrate life with you, to help you grow, to hold you through change….

There are so many of you that I don’t yet know. Call me. I would love to visit you in your homes, or at your place of work. I want to know what motivates you to be a part of this community. I want to know what you are expert at, what you struggle with, who or what is important to you and why.

I want to know what your hopes and dreams are for yourself as an individual, for your family, for this congregation and this community.

Call me!

Many years ago UU minister Peter Lee Scott wrote a column called “When to Call the Minister.” In the intervening years, his column has been adapted, messaged and added to by others. Here’s a version:


When you don’t know me, but would like to.

When you have problems you would like to discuss with your job, children, marriage, or anything else where a sympathetic ear might help.

When you are going to the hospital or know of someone else in the congregation who is.

When someone close to you has died or is critically ill or you’re dealing with a significant loss of some kind.

When you are planning to be married or divorced.

When you would like your child dedicated.

When you are pregnant and glad you are or wish you weren’t, also if you want to be pregnant but aren’t.

When you feel ready to join the congregation.

When you have concerns or suggestions.

When you have religious or spiritual questions.

When you are seeking to deepen your spiritual life.

When you are upset with me or would like to express appreciation.

When you have won the lottery and want to make a large donation to the church.

To add a little humor, Rev. Marilyn Sewell (retired minister who was with the First Unitarian Church in Portland, Oregon) added several reasons NOT to call the minister:

Don’t call the minister when:

You want to give her “the real scoop” on another member.

You want to explain that you’ll have to cut your pledge in half because you are spending the summer in the south of France.

You want to tell her you didn’t like what she wore in the pulpit last Sunday.

You want to tell her that one of the reasons you are a UU is that you have always distrusted organized religion. (Our church is, after all, a part of organized religion).

Your leaders have wisely organized this place so that you have a minister who is a pastor, too.

Call me!

– Rev. Ann Marie Alderman


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