Q-1. Why do Members for Ministry Change (MMC) think Rev. Wikstrom should resign as Lead Minister at TJMCUU?
A: Members for Ministry Change believe that Rev. Wikstrom has proven incapable of leading a congregation our size with enough energy, stability and consistency to help it thrive. TJMCUU is deteriorating by many measures, and after seven years, it is time to undertake a comprehensive examination of his performance. Rev. Wikstrom has acknowledged that his first three years, beginning in fall 2011, were “disastrous,” and despite our Boards’ efforts to support him throughout, his performance has remained unreliable and has been at times reckless or alienating. Although he is popular and positive at times, we have lost faith in his leadership. We believe this painful realization is shared more widely than church leadership currently acknowledges.
Our church has failed to thrive under Rev. Wikstrom’s ministry. Average attendance at Sunday services has declined by one-third since he came. Membership has stagnated in a fast-growing metro area, the average pledge per member has declined, the church is in financial crisis and many key volunteer positions remain vacant. Some members find too many of his sermons lackluster; others have stopped attending for this reason. Others have been hurt by his broken promises and neglected commitments. Most Members for Ministry Change (MMC) supporters are concerned about his capacity for good judgement and, especially, impulse control.
Q-2: Who are MMC, and what qualifies them to start this discussion?
A: Anyone who signed the recent MMC Letter to the Congregation, or who agrees but did not sign, can consider themselves a Member for Ministry Change; most also have individual reasons. The group’s Steering Committee came together in June after the Board-sponsored workshops led by Paula Cole-Jones and the congregational budget meeting. Ms. Jones’ analyses of participants’ concerns made clear that significant, long-term dissatisfaction with Rev. Wikstrom’s performance persists.
Marlene Jones, Dan Grogan and Stephanie Lowenhaupt are former Board members; Stephanie served as Treasurer and on the Finance Committee for 13 years, and on Personnel and numerous other committees. Laura Wallace co-chairs the Considering Our Name Committee, served as a Worship Associate for six years, and on the Covenant Group Ministry founding team, Environmental Concerns and 2015 Survey Committees. Sharon Baiocco has been Social Justice Chair, Chair of the Green Sanctuary Task Force and member of the Strategic Planning group and most recent Pledge Drive team. Three steering committee members served on the Facilities Task Force that sold U-House and planned the renovations of church buildings.
Q-3: What data show that Rev. Wikstrom is accountable for our congregation’s most significant problems?
A: The most significant sign of dissatisfaction with the Lead Minister’s (LM’s) performance is the steady decline in average attendance at Sunday services, which are his sole purview, as stated in the Letter of Agreement (LoA), our contract with the LM. [Note: The 2014 Letter of Agreement with the LM was made available to the MMC]:
Worship and Ceremonial Services. The LM coordinates Sunday worship and ceremonial services in collaboration with staff and Worship Weavers. He prepares and delivers sermons and coordinates the various aspects of a service into an integrated whole. The LM is responsible for all worship services, except for those for which Worship Weavers and/or Director of Faith Development (DFD), Leia Durland-Jones, assume responsibility.
● DECLINING ATTENDANCE AT SUNDAY SERVICES — Average Sunday services attendance has declined steadily, down one-third from the first half of 2012, Rev. Wikstrom’s first year, to the first half of 2018. Average total Sunday attendance this year fell to 142, both before and after the February racist incident. [Note: Information taken from the TJMCUU Membership record books, found at the rear of the sanctuary.] It may be unnecessary to 2 maintain a second service at this point, because two-thirds of current members do not attend worship services on any given Sunday.
Additional data also indicate the congregation’s failure to thrive:
● STAGNANT MEMBERSHIP — Rev. Wikstrom became Lead Minister in Fall 2011. The 2012-2017 long-range plan draft originally anticipated that with a new minister, membership would increase by a third, to around 600, by 2015. The Strategic Plan, issued two years later in 2014, revised that assumption: “There were many with the expectation that we would envision a Church whose goal and future was to grow (in numbers). This vision was clearly articulated to Rev. Wikstrom when he was recruited as our minister. This is not, however, where the process led us.” During Rev. Wikstrom’s tenure, membership has hovered around 425, while the metro area has grown by more than 26,000. During the past five years, the Membership Committee recorded 210 3 membership drops (16 died; +/-48 left the area), while 190 joined. There are little data about those who left TJMCUU but did not move away and those who have joined.
● BUDGET SHORTFALLS and DECREASES IN PLEDGES PER MEMBER — The drop in attendance and decrease in average per-member pledges explain, in part, our 4 current budget shortfall of nearly $50,000 for the second time in two years. [Note: TJMCUU Finance Committee Chair’s report, June 2018 Board Meeting]
● LEADERSHIP VACANCIES — Another significant sign of failing ministerial leadership is that multiple volunteer positions go unfilled, including on the Board. A week or so after her election, the 2018 President of the Board resigned. The Vice President’s slot remains open. We are aware that some members who formerly worked with Rev. Wikstrom have chosen not to again, and/or that the three crises of the racist incident, the budget defeat, and distrust in the Lead Minister have made the work overwhelming.
● LOSS OF TRUST BY MEMBERS OF THE CONGREGATION — Congregants repeatedly describe disappointment in Rev. Wikstrom’s erratic pastoral care and lack of support for congregational programs. Although he can offer warmth and insight one on one, he often fails to show up for committees or individuals or respond to their needs. Ms. Cole-Jones’ workshop report details similar observations. The Pulse Survey will likely reveal both new praise and new concerns.
● MINISTERIAL ENGAGEMENT IN ACTIVITIES THAT BRING THE CONGREGATION INTO DISREPUTE IN THE COMMUNITY — Some MMC advocates believe that some of Rev. Wikstrom’s actions and aspects of his messaging following the racist incident in February were overall harmful to our community. His personal Facebook post describing how he planned to handle his response to our congregation and ending: “#FuckRacistUUs,” was very troubling.
Q-4: Why have you initiated this process now?
A: Ms. Cole-Jones’ report categorized comments collected during the May workshops and revealed ongoing, serious issues with Rev. Wikstrom’s performance and our church’s governance. Although originally scheduled to address the February racist incident and underlying trust issues, the workshops illuminated a host of long-rumbling concerns about our church’s ministry and worship, governance, leadership, finance, and communication. Participants’ comments were unsigned at her direction, and Ms. Cole-Jones stated, “Unsigned comments are invaluable; they show us where the work needs to be done.” The church’s financial trajectory also indicates that more positive, motivational leadership is needed.
Q-5: Why was the beginning of MMC’s effort called “secretive”?
A: The prevailing system for hiring and dismissing ministers maintains the status quo and favors stasis, tilting toward protection of the current minister, which sometimes can be at the cost of a congregation’s well being. Members for Ministry Change is promoting an alternative. We understand that this can be interpreted positively or negatively, and anticipate both helpful criticisms and misunderstandings. We are motivated by concern for the sustainability of the congregation and church we love
MMC came about after the budget vote, and after we each had encountered multiple congregants over an extended time who felt concerned about Rev. Wikstrom but saw no evidence that their concerns were triggering substantive action by the Board or Committee on Ministry. Once it became clear that there was significant desire for ministry change, we committed to learning how much actual support there might be. It was a complex, sensitive process and it took time to reach the point where we felt we had a broad-enough view to justify taking our concerns to the TJMCUU community. MMC has not fomented dissatisfaction, but has tried to synthesize it for the congregation to evaluate. Only the congregation, not a single group, could resolve this issue formally, and the Bylaws specify how that process would be conducted.
The Bylaws require that 10% of members sign a petition to the Board, calling for a special meeting to vote on the Lead Minister’s termination [as per the Policy Manual]. Another alternative is for the Board to request his resignation with three months’ notice or severance; Rev. Wikstrom could agree to resign or could refuse. With the help of other members MMC began collecting available documentation, while reaching out to concerned congregants involved in many aspects of church life. MMC has kept the Board and Rev. Wikstrom apprised of our effort all along, but refrained from broadcasting our concerns to the full congregation until adequate evidence was available to illustrate them.
Q-6: What are the process and criteria for evaluating a Lead Minister, and who conducts the annual performance assessment?
A: The Board and senior staff agree on priorities each year and perform quarterly assessments. The Board President reviews the final annual assessment with senior staff and the Personnel Committee chair; then they present a summary to the Board. The process is not specified in the current Bylaws or Policy Manual. In its 2017-18 annual report the Personnel Committee states, “This committee is also tasked with performing annual appraisals of the senior staff at TJMC-UU.” Specific Duties of the Lead Minister (LM) listed in the 2014 Letter of Agreement between Rev. Wikstrom and the Board include the following:
● Worship and Ceremonial Services. The LM is required to preach a minimum of 34 times each year, (3 out of 4 Sundays). He is expected to develop lay leaders, including the Worship Weavers.
● Faith Development. Offers learning opportunities.
● Pastoral Care and Presence. Visits, sends notes and prayers, responds to crises in a timely manner; counsels congregants and others, creates healing communities. Helps people process grief, supports caregivers, makes referrals. Maintains regular and posted office hours at least three days per week and by appointment.
● Community Building at TJMC, Public Ministry, and Service to the Larger UU Faith. Fosters and strengthens connections among the TJMC community and connects with local, regional and national religious leaders to promote UU principles, goals, and services to the wider community.
● Collaborative Management of Church Staff and Operations. Works cooperatively to manage staff, share responsibilities, delegate tasks, support the Board, Committees, Councils, and congregation as a whole. Conducts annual performance reviews of the Director of Music and Ministry Associate.
● Personal Renewal and Professional Development. Self-care, continuing education, and professional associations.
● Meetings, Communication, etc. Meets weekly with Board Presidents, Triune Leadership Team, Ministry Associate, Director of Faith Development, and twice monthly with the entire staff. Monthly meetings of the Executive Board, Board of Trustees, and Worship Weavers Guild, and Committee on Ministry. Be available to lay leaders for support, strategic thinking, etc. Writes a monthly Bulletin column, a detailed monthly report to the Board, maintains an active presence on the congregation’s Facebook page, and contributes regularly to the TJMC blog.
This year, the Board and Lead Minister announced their priorities at the February Board meeting. They can be reviewed at this link at the end of the Minutes (p. 21).
Q-7: What are the processes and legal responsibilities for terminating a Lead Minister according to our Bylaws?
A: Members would submit a petition to the President of the TJMCUU Board of Trustees to call a Special Meeting as mandated by Article IV.2 (Special Meetings) of our Bylaws, last revised November 12, 2017. The meeting’s purpose would be to present a motion to terminate our agreement with Rev. Wikstrom.
Article XIII.5 ‑ Tenure and Termination. Each Minister shall have indefinite tenure. The relationship between the Minister(s) and the Church may be terminated by either party. The terminating party shall provide a minimum of three month's written notice. However, the Church may, in place of notice, provide three months' severance pay. The Church shall give notice of termination to a Minister if a majority of members at a special congregational meeting called to consider termination has voted by secret ballot to so act. Written notice of such a meeting shall have been sent to all members at least 21 days prior to the meeting.
Q-8: Would meetings be held to discuss our Lead Minister’s performance and possible actions? If so, when?
A: Yes. These would take place prior to a scheduled vote on termination of the agreement with the Lead Minister. In that event, the Board should schedule opportunities for discussions and for members to ask questions before the Special Congregational Meeting is held. These could include Cottage Meetings, congregational conversations, and more.
Q-9: When would a vote to terminate our Lead Minister occur?
A: If undertaken, the process should move forward with care. Rev. Wikstrom is not the sole cause of our congregation’s decline. Leadership in our congregation is collaborative and requires constant communication with constituencies, and our volunteer leadership ranks are thin and dealing with heavy responsibilities. Traditionally, summer is not a good time to make significant congregational decisions.
A Special Congregational Meeting could not be scheduled realistically until three weeks after the Board meets in September.
Q-10: What are the roles of the Committee on Ministry and Personnel Committee in regard to a Lead Minister’s removal?
A: The Personnel Committee provides recommendations and advice to the Board and the Senior Staff on policy, staffing needs, and operational matters pertaining to Church staff members, as requested. The Committee on the Ministry interprets, supports, and monitors the ministry of the Church. MMC believes a more thorough performance review is essential at this time. The Committee on Ministry’s Pulse Survey will close July 22. The results and report should be helpful, with the caveat that the survey’s design may not provide clear answers, as it was a general satisfaction assessment and not a staff performance review. It also did not cover satisfaction with pastoral care, a major role of both the Lead and Associate Ministers.
Q-11: What is the role of the national organization (UUA) in this process, if any?
A: In the UU tradition of congregational polity, each member congregation has the power to ordain, call/hire, supervise and dismiss ministers and other staff; and to do so independently of the UUA. However, the UUA process of transitioning ministers is prescribed, democratic and deliberate, and requires an extended timeline. If the congregation did vote to terminate our relationship with Rev. Wikstrom, the transition process should be initiated by early fall to meet denominational and search guidelines. Most likely there would be a period of lay and/or guest ministry. Our church has talented congregants with abilities to co-create engaging, meaningful services or to step into stewardship and administrative roles. As soon as possible after Rev. Wikstrom’s departure, TJMCUU would need to elect a Ministerial Search Committee to begin the process of defining the leadership our congregation seeks.
Q-12: Are the potential termination of our relationship with the Lead Minister and our budget deficits related?
A: The budget proposed by the Board was voted down at our June Congregational Meeting for a variety of reasons. This was the second year the Board asked the congregation to approve a deficit of more than $45,000. Because the total compensation package for our Lead Minister, $127,903 (Fiscal Year 18-19), is the largest single line item, in that sense they are related. But many members who want a ministry change do so for spiritual or right relationship reasons that are not related to church finance.
Q-13: If Rev. Wikstrom should leave, how would we replace him in the pulpit?
A: The congregation would have time for a critical discussion about its expectations for governance and for ministerial leadership after Rev. Wikstrom’s departure. This period could include sermons from ministerial staff (Rev. Alex McGee and Leia Durland-Jones), Worship Weavers, guest clergy and other speakers. As Rev. Wikstrom wrote in his sabbatical proposal request (February Board Minutes, p. 11), we could “hire a part-time worship coordinator, to oversee and coordinate the work that goes into our Sunday morning sanctuary worship. (There is money already set aside for such a purpose.)” TJMCUU is blessed with a variety of creative options for the pulpit, and our community could find inspiration and renewal in sharing in this role for up to a year, if necessary. Doing so would immediately resolve our budget shortfall and provide the congregation time to reflect together on its vision moving forward.
Q-14. How would we fulfill our Lead Minister’s administrative and pastoral care responsibilities?
A: These duties of the Lead Minister could be reassigned to existing staff and others, with compensation, since Rev. Wikstrom’s compensation is the largest line item in the budget. After balancing the budget, if income projections are correct, a surplus would remain with which to pay support staff and visiting clergy or other speakers.
Q-15: Would new Board members be elected?
A: If some current Board members should decide they could not continue to serve if Rev. Wikstrom’s agreement were terminated, then the Nominating Committee would be asked to prepare a roster of replacements.
Q-16: When would discussion of our expectations of paid staff and lay leadership occur?
A: Should this process end TJMCUU’s relationship with Rev. Wikstrom, the terms of his agreement require severance pay for three months. After organizing efforts to fill the Lead Minister roles, preparations could begin for a ministerial search to be conducted the following fall. That is the time for the deeper discussions many asked for in the Cole-Jones workshops.
Q-17: Does MMC understand how much turmoil this may cause within TJMCUU?
A: MMC has committed to remain in covenant and in accordance with our values as we undertake this effort, but it has taken a toll on our community, as it has on ourselves. We do not assume that we have conducted this work perfectly, nor that a particular result is certain. What we do know is that whatever happens, we will respect the outcome and move forward together.
Terminating an agreement with a Lead Minister is not an action to consider lightly, and we understand that the prospect would be challenging for all and very painful for some. Although it is not unusual for churches to choose to change ministers, it is never easy. Yet we believe our congregation is able to face the facts about our church’s failure to thrive under Rev. Wikstrom’s leadership. We believe better times are ahead if we acknowledge our fears and move forward despite them, keeping faith in each other, in our beloved community and in our principles.