chalice with rainbow flame
First Unitarian Universalist Church of Essex County

From Darrell's Desk

--by Rev. Darrell Berger

The Final Chapter

As many of you know, I have accepted the position of Interim Minister at the First Unitarian Church in Staten Island as of August 15. The Board and I have, however, agreed to retain my ministerial services at the rate of ten hours per week beginning September 1, to focus on our community partnerships, as well as continue some staff supervision and pastoral care. This arrangement is primarily to allow continuity in our several developing relationships with community groups as the congregation looks to its next chapter of service.

It has not been easy for me to make this decision. Perhaps surprisingly for a minister that places a high value on reason, this was mostly an emotional decision. That is, attendance at Sunday worship had dwindled to the point that I no longer felt encouraged about what we were doing. While I always appreciated those who were in attendance, and I was often amazed at how meaningful and even rousing even a few of us could be, I did not think it augured well for our future together.

I think in a way we may have fallen victim to how well we got along. As I I have stated many times, I have never been treated better by a congregation. I always felt that what I had to offer was very well received and appreciated. Yet during my six years, membership fell slowly but surely and nothing we tried stemmed the tide.

We are now in the process of a fundamental re-visioning of the future of the UU presence in Orange. While it may be difficult for some members to understand, this process will proceed better and more completely without my being in the center of it. A minister who has been with a congregation more than a couple of years quickly takes on the group's emotional and institutional coloration. It would be very difficult for me to ask the hard questions, or even to recognize what they are. It would also have been very difficult for the congregation objectively to assess what it may now need in professional leadership.

The position in Staten Island, an opportunity which presented itself late in the spring, allows me to continue to work, yet get out of the way of what needs to be done in Orange.

I have no idea how useful my ten hours per week will be, nor how long we will want it to continue. I do think it buys the membership some time and continuity. I am open to various ways of proceeding with this, including ending it with two weeks notice, as the Board and I have agreed. Or, it might open up some possibilities that we would want to continue for some time.

In any case, I wanted everyone to know that this decision was not motivated by any ill feeling or negative experience with the Board or any members. On the contrary, it was motivated by the realization that the circumstances under which I was hired had changed, and that the congregation needed to be free to create its future without the encumbrance of incumbency.

Please do feel free to contact me on this or any other issue. I look forward to deepening and making our community outreach partnerships a more active and vital part of our ministry. I also, in the future, very much look forward to transitioning my role in the many wonderful relationships we have developed from that of minister to that of friend.

- Sept. 2013

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