Senior Minister Search Committee Updates



April 2016: The Yes Keeps Getting Bigger

By The Rev. Dena McPhetres, Associate Minister


Each time I talk with Jennifer, my “yes” gets bigger. Jennifer who? The Rev. Jennifer Nordstrom, of course: our Senior Minister Candidate! Some of you may be wondering what I think about our Candidate and if I feel good about our Search Committee’s choice. The answer is “Yes.” Our Search Committee made a bold and smart choice when they selected Jennifer to be our Candidate.

Bold because she is young and has few years of experience in the parish ministry. Smart because she is intelligent, articulate, caring, creative, visionary, perceptive and listens well to hear what people are saying between the lines. Jennifer brings excellent and transferable skills from ten years of experience in her prior career as a Social Justice organizer.

Each time I talk with Jennifer, I find myself “going somewhere new” in our conversation. We both thrive on metaphor, are perfectionists and hard workers. We both care deeply about nourishing the river of compassion that runs through congregational life. As serendipity would have it, Jennifer served her internship at the church I grew up in, which is a flagship congregation in our Unitarian Universalist Association, where the members, staff and ministry are doing bold, creative, joyous and deeply meaningful work together.

My “Yes” grows bigger each time I talk with Jennifer. I hope and trust the same will happen for you during Candidate Week April 24 – May 1. I cannot emphasize strongly enough how important it is for every member of First Church to engage in Candidate Week, meet Jennifer, come to a gathering for conversation, so that you are ready to vote on May 1. I sincerely hope you find yourself voting with an informed and enthusiastic YES by the end of the week.

Although our bylaws stipulate that a successful call must have an 85% affirmative vote, we really want to see something much higher than that. We do not want Jennifer sitting in her hotel room on Sunday afternoon of May 1 deciding that an 89% affirmative vote is not enough. The vote you gave me in the call to serve as your Associate Minister in 2009 was 96% affirmative. I’d like to see something even higher for Jennifer. But only if you mean it. Only if your “YES” is growing as big as mine.

April 2016: The End of the Beginning

By Michelle Boehm

We are on the final leg of our almost year-long journey to welcome a new Senior Minister to First Church! For the past four weeks, your Senior Minister Search Com-mittee has been busy meeting with pre-candidates to learn more about who they are and what skills and ex-perience they would bring to the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee if they were to become our new Senior Minister. We have met with each of them in both for-mal and informal settings, and watched them each preach.

We have learned so much! And, like any worthwhile journey, we have learned much more than we original-ly anticipated. We have learned that welcoming our new Senior Minister will involve so much more than simply saying hello. We have learned that we must be open, honest, trusting, willing to listen, and also willing to be changed – by each other, by our new experienc-es, and by our new Senior Minister.

In addition to watching each pre-candidate give a ser-mon in a neutral pulpit, we have experienced two en-tire services in four different UU churches. We found that each congregation has adopted a beloved worship service that is meaningful to them, but is different from ours. This has had an unexpected effect on us. Not only have we experienced new rituals that we have found meaningful, but we have also been reminded of the very nature of change and transition. Yes, it can feel odd and strange, but it can also be surprisingly satisfy-ing and deepening.

While every one of our pre-candidates brings with them a treasure trove of talents and experiences, every one of them is also different from both our previous Senior Minister and our current Interim Minister. How-ever, none of them possess every single quality that each member would want. We are thrilled by the po-tential in our final candidates! Rest assured that every one of them is extremely thoughtful and deeply inten-tional about their ministry, and want to embark on their journey with us by first getting to know us.

As a committee, we recognize the importance of the task we are charged with. We are in the process of se-riously evaluating, discussing and deciding on one can-didate to recommend as our new Senior Minister. In addition to reviewing our notes and experiences from numerous interviews, we are reviewing the congrega-tional survey, Town Hall meeting comments, Ministeri-al Records, candidate websites and references.

As we prepare to conclude our search committee jour-ney, we are all keenly aware that the real journey – the journey of each of us with our new Senior Minister – is still to come. If we are prepared to welcome them into our hearts and minds and walk with them by being open and trusting, our future together will be compel-ling. As a committee, we will select the one candidate that we feel can best match the skills and qualities that our congregation voiced as priorities. The next part is up to all of us. We hope that you will be open and wel-come the candidate with open arms when you get a chance to meet him or her during Candidating Week, April 24-May 1.


March 2016: Milestones in the Senior Minister Search Process

By Lianna Bishop

We’ve reached another milestone! Your Senior Minister Search Committee has selected our pre-candidates and will be conducting in-person interviews with them over the next few weeks. Getting to know our applicants has been a fascinating process. We are im-pressed by their willingness to share openly with us, and are encouraged by the variety of skills, experience and energy that they could bring to the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee.

After meeting with each pre-candidate, and after much reference-checking, consensus building and discernment, we will present one candidate to the congregation for Candidating Week, which is con-firmed for April 24-May 1.

Candidating Week is when the proposed candidate comes to Milwaukee to meet the congregation. The candidate will preach at two Sunday services and be available during the week in-between to meet with members of the congregation and our staff. The vote to call our new Senior Minister will take place on May 1. It’s important to know that members not present on May 1 will be able to vote by ab-sentee ballot. You will receive more information about Candidating Week, including instructions for voting by absentee ballot, at the beginning of April.

As a congregation, we have a big task ahead. It is impossible for one human being to embody every characteristic our members have told us that they would like the Senior Minister to possess. The com-mittee will present the one candidate that we feel is best suited to walk with us into the future. Each of you–the members of our congregation–must commit to being open to building a relationship with our new Senior Minister. It will take openness, honesty, integrity and forbearance, so the mutual rela-tionship has time to deepen and flourish. We hope everyone will reflect deeply on our next milestone ahead, as a chance to open our hearts and minds to welcoming a new minister. We look forward with great anticipation to what the future holds for the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee.


February 2016: Search Committee Reflection – Prepare Ye for the Coming of the New Senior Minister

By Co-Chair Nancy Pajewski

Getting to know our Senior Minister applicants has been a fascinating and reflective process. I react one way as I read each applicant’s lengthy Ministerial Record. I see other dimensions of each minister as I dive into his or her website. I experience sometimes deeper or different responses when the committee does the Skype interview with the applicant. Yet another layer is revealed during pre-candidating weekend visits. It takes time and a variety of experiences to get to know another person, and for us as a congregation, we will begin that process, together, during Candidating Week.

We are all changing, growing people. What I want and what I need from a senior minister is not the same today as it was when I said goodbye to Drew and welcomed Elaine. A year ago I felt most strongly attracted to intellectual sermons that added new knowledge to my worldview. Today, due to unexpected changes in my personal life, I find myself needing sermons of a more spiritual nature. During our interim, it may be that each of us has discovered something about ourselves that we didn’t know before.

We will soon be entering into a relationship with a new senior minister that will take openness, honesty, integrity, and time to deepen and flourish. We expect our new minister to call forth our best selves, and we commit to helping our new minister to be his or her best self. Although we cannot see clearly into our congregation’s future, the Senior Minister Search Committee is confident that the candidate we present will be the right person to take the next steps with us.

May it be so.

December 2015: Congregational Record Posted Online

Are you anxious about welcoming a new Senior Minister? Unclear about the Senior Minister Search Committee’s process? Here’s some information about where things stand.

As you may recall, your search committee has completed a comprehensive document about our congregation called a Congregational Record. Our Congregational Record has been uploaded to the online system maintained by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and became available to interested ministers in search on December 1, 2015 (it will also be posted on FUSM’s website – stay tuned!). Interested candidates can review the document and decide if they are interested in applying for our open position. The UUA will give us a list of interested candidates in early January, when we will be able to review the Ministerial Record for each of these candidates, and move to the interview phase of the search process.

After conducting interviews and reviewing information about the interested applicants, we will settle on three or four, whom we will get to meet in person and hear preach. We hope to have our preferred candidate selected (and announced to all of you) in early April.

The process is very thorough and vetted by the UUA. It may feel long and arduous, but your search committee is approaching each step with thoughtfulness and attention.

Please reach out to us with any questions you may have. Find a search committee member (with a green name tag!) in Coffee Hour on Sundays.


November 2015: Congregational Record and Ministerial Packets

The Senior Minister Search Committee has been working hard to get the Congregational Record and packet materials ready for prospective ministers! You can find the results of their congregational survey here.


October 2015: Beyond Categorical Thinking Workshop was a success!

Beyond Categorical Thinking Workshop 10-3-15 (2) (resized)

Did you know that in 2014, of the 110 Unitarian Universalist ministers seeking new positions, about 10% were people of color, 15% were gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered and 5% had a disability?  Also, did you know that in 2013, there were 110 Unitarian Universalist ministers seeking positions and 60 open positions? This is some of the information shared at the Beyond Categorical Thinking workshop held at First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee on October 3.

Facilitated by Mary Esther Johnson, member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Huntsville, Alabama and volunteer facilitator from the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), the workshop brought together about 50 First Church members and staff to examine congregational and personal assumptions about potential characteristics of our next senior minister.  Through thought-provoking exercises, honest discussion and illuminating current and historical information about attitudes at other UU congregations, attendees were urged to see beyond potential biases and to open our hearts and minds to the diversity of ministers who may apply to be our next senior minister.


September 2015: The Search Committee Needs Your Input

Complete their congregational survey before the end of September, and plan to attend one of three Town Hall meetings!

The Senior Minister Search Committee has launched its congregational survey, the results of which help define what we are looking for in a minister and also provide potential candidates with a profile of who we are as a congregation. The survey is being emailed to all current members (for whom we have an email address), and will also be available at upcoming Town Hall meetings and Coffee Hours as a hard copy. Please complete the survey by September 30. We value your response!

Also, to add to you calendar: The Senior Minister Search Committee is seeking your input at three Town Hall meetings. We hope you’ll join us and share your thoughts about our next Senior Minister. These conversations will help us move forward with calling the right candidate. Join us at one of the following times:

  • 10:00 a.m.–11:00 a.m. September 20 in the parlor.
  • 6:30 p.m.–7:30 p.m. September 22 in the parlor
  • 12:30 p.m.–2:00 p.m. September 27 in the sanctuary.