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Frank W Carpenter

Frank W Carpenter

Minister, retired from: St John’s Unitarian Universalist Church


eMail: fcarpenter (at)

Reflections on my practice as an Interim Minister
Rev. Dr. Frank Carpenter, D.Min.

The high point for many during a year of my Interim Ministry at a large Ohio Unitarian Universalist church occurred when the Children=s Choir and the Adult Choir sang together.  Afterward several people told me that the two choirs had never sung together before.  Nor had they had a Holiday Pageant on the Sunday before Christmas.  Never!  I was surprised to hear it, even though I had been there as an Interim for over a year.

My role in that Sunday service had been brief: just a brief children=s homily.  I bah-humbugged Christmas in good old fashioned Puritan style, and pointed out how Hanukkah is another illustration of the theme of lights to set up the pageant.  I then sat down and enjoyed the children dressed as sheep, angels and wisemen.  A number of people cried, seeing the joint choirs singing together.

My main role was facilitating this service.  There was a long legacy of children and adults doing different things on Sunday morning.  This was an expression of a number of the tensions in the church.  I wanted everybody to do something together and to be seen doing it together.  The Director of Religious Education, the Director of Music and I had numerous planning discussions. What could be more customary than a holiday pageant? But it was a novel concept for this congregation.

An Interim Minister brings different ideas to a church.  She/He models a different style of ministry.  Because he is not running for reelection all the time, he can do things that a called minister might feel too risky.  For me, the interim year is a time to focus on the congregation.  The minister is not the topic, so we can talk about what it means to be a community of faith.  What does it mean to be in conflict when we call ourselves a beloved community?  Today ministry calls not only for excellence in preaching, but also caring for the network of relationships which is the church.  There seems to me to be a growing desire for this, as we realize that in the 21st century vitality lies in connection and social networking.

Interim Ministers enter a congregation in a time of pastoral transitions.  The time between two called ministers is a time of great change.  Integral to changes and transitions in our lives is letting go, grieving, as well as reaching out and welcoming.  An Interim Minister is a change agent. I understand my role as facilitating change: helping you identify sources of anxiety in your congregation and finding creative ways of dealing with it. The areas are several: finding new identity and vision, enhancing lay as well as staff leadership, exploring resources from the UUA and beyond.  Helping the congregation to mourn and celebrate.

By the end of the first year of my most recent two year interim, money seemed a source of anxiety in ways quite different from other churches I had served. Pledging was low.  Indeed, many members asked why they should pledge as the church had so much money.  Its vision and identity seemed entangled with its endowment.  My approach to issues is not to develop solutions, but to disentangle the threads making for creative discussion.  In conversations with a staff member of the UUA’s Development Office, I realized that some of what I saw appears common to churches with large endowments.

With interest in the Board and Search Committee, I invited the UUA Staff person to come to the church and lead a workshop on the role of money in the decision making of the congregation.  Over twenty-five leaders showed up, some life long members, others new to the congregation.  The UUA staff member led a discussion about the history of the endowment and finances.  Many people heard things new to them.  Some areas of interest were identified.

Where problems solved?  Obstacles were transcended, the discussion changed. Church leaders felt more empowered in the understanding of the finances. One Board member said “The Church is unfolding as it should.” I want to help a church unfold according to its path.


“Inclusive Excellence”

Easter: Celebrating Rebirth


Memorial Service for a Nineteen Day Old Child


REPORTER March 22, 2009.

REFERENCES on request.


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