by Carol Lloyd
How’s this for a job: Every two years or so you pack up all your earthly belongings and head to a brand new place—maybe halfway across the country—where your task is to help people get ready for someone else to assume your position. Their leader has recently left and you’re the new guy/gal in town. Your job: size up the operation, checking to see if they’re headed in a good direction, thriving and growing. Then you pack up and leave for somewhere else to do it all over again, with a different cast of characters and a new set of challenges.
That’s the charge for the Rev. Benjamin Maucere (Ma chair ah) as an Accredited Interim Minister at First Unitarian Church of Cincinnati. Recently he and his wife, the Rev. Dr. Holly Horn, moved from Kansas where Benjamin was the interim minister at Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church. That was just the last in a string of interim assignments in Houston, TX; Iowa City, IA; White Plains, NY; and Gainesville, FL.
Of the succession of moves during that period, Benjamin says “Two years is just about long enough to forget what a hassle it is to move.”
His inaugural stint in interim ministry came after 13 years as the settled minister at the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia. Eight of those years Benjamin co-pastored with his wife.
“When we completed our long ministry in Philadelphia, we decided to try a different type of ministry and I entered the interim program,” he says.
An outsider’s perspective
As the interim, he found a new strength. “I like coming into a situation in a church, getting a sense of the dynamics and picking out the issues that the congregation is facing–or needs to face,” he says. He adopts an outsider’s perspective to see the system, help the congregation get stronger and improve its odds of getting a successful settled minister. In the process, he stimulates questions about a church’s identity, direction and purpose.
“My job as an interim is to help the church make itself better, shake things up and get the congregation used to doing things differently.” He wants people to begin to ask, ‘Are we doing this because it’s what we’ve always done or because it’s what we want to do to accomplish our mission?’
A church in transition for people in transition
“Usually some kind of life change prompts people to walk through the doors [of a church],” says Benjamin. During the transition between settled ministers, “visitors will see a congregation having conversations about what they are here for, what their mission is. Newcomers may see that as invigorating – a sense of opening possibilities.”
Just as the church is in transition, visitors may also find themselves between jobs or relationships or in the midst of other life changes. They can relate to the ‘no longer and not yet’ stage and find strength and/or comfort from a group of people going through a similar passage.
The betwixt-and-between time for a church can also present opportunities, he says. “Although many things will stay the same, the fact that the church is in some degree of flux means that there are opportunities for new people to step forward,” says Benjamin. “This is the liminal period,” he explains, “the time at the threshold of change.”
Joys and challenges of interim ministry
In his posts across the country, Benjamin and Holly have gotten to know interesting places and people. Benjamin loves the experience of being what he terms an “ethnic minority” while visiting the neighborhoods of cities. As self-proclaimed foodies, they enjoy learning about and sampling a variety of cuisines in different locales.
The time-limited nature of the interim means he misses the deeper relationships. “I purposefully don’t get as deeply involved. But it’s not about me. It’s about helping the congregation. There’s an art to keeping a distance, but not too much distance.”
by Carol Lloyd