Interim Ministers Find Full-Time Need

By Fenning, Esther Talbot | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), December 8, 1995 | Go to article overview

Interim Ministers Find Full-Time Need


Fenning, Esther Talbot, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


When a minister moves on, retires or dies, congregations frequently are left with grief, conflict and uncertainty about the church's future. Enter the interim minister, a transitional pastor who provides an objective link between past, present and future.

Interim ministers usually serve a church for no more than 12 to 18 months and rarely if ever take over the permanent position. The interim minister helps the congregation look at its relationship with the former pastor and provides guidance in the hiring of a new pastor. The interim pastor helps resolve conflict within the church through listening and counseling. Most interim ministers conduct surveys to help the congregation in defining its goals and missions.

The concept of an interim pastor started 15 years ago with semiretired clergy. It has become increasingly popular in mainline Protestant churches with younger interims taking on transitional pastorates as full careers.

The Rev. Diane Windler serves as interim minister at Friedens United Church of Christ at Zumbehl Road and Highway 94 South, St. Charles. Windler, 46, took over in March after the Rev. Don Becker left Friedens UCC after 25 years. Becker currently serves as an interim pastor at a church in Wright City.

Windler, who lives in Ballwin, is a graduate of Eden Theological Seminary and is in training to become an intentional interim minister. She explained that one of the things an intentional interim is taught is to bring congregational conflict to the surface and to hold the church together during a vulnerable period.

"Any change brings some grief no matter what the circumstance because of the tremendous adjustments that occur when a pastor leaves," Windler said.

Windler says an interim pastor should be assertive, a quick study and an extrovert who isn't afraid to take a strong stance.

"Often the interim pastor must stir up trouble to get the congregation's blood going, to stimulate them to think and talk," she said. "We must be as prophetic and realistic as possible without alienating folks and must not mind being the scapegoat."

In the past nine months Windler has inspired the Friedens UCC congregation to organize lay readers, install acolytes, recruit instrumentalists and station door greeters - all resulting in increased attendance, she says.

"I jumped right in, assessed the situation on a gut-feeling level and said, `Come on, you guys, let's get going here,' " Windler said. "It gives you a real sense of freedom to know that you're here just a year."

Adjustment to an interim pastor can be trying. The Rev. Tamsen Whistler took over in May as pastor of Trinity Episcopal Church on South Duchesne Drive in St. …

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