Ministerial Transition

Our congregation is in an exciting and unusual time. Following the retirement of Reverend Mark Harris after more than twenty years of ministry at First Parish, we are in a two-year interim period while we prepare to call a new minister.
The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) provides support and guidance for congregations searching for a new minister. The UUA Transitions page has an overview of the process and links to more resources. The UUA Settlement Handbook details the process in a PDF document and a companion series of videos.

We Said Yes!

On Sunday, May 2, 2021, the members of First Parish voted to call Rev. Sophia Lyons as our 30th settled minister!

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Preparing to Call Our Next Minister on Sunday

Your Search Committee is anticipating (hopefully!) the culmination of our work with you, the congregation, to welcome our next settled minister. On Sunday, May 2, at 12:15 congregation members will meet to vote on whether or not to call our candidate, Reverend Sophia Lyons. At the meeting, the Search Committee will present why we believe she will be a great minister for First Parish of Watertown. Time for questions and discussion will follow before the vote.  Candidating Week has been a time...

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Candidating Week Schedule

We know you are curious about Rev. Sophia and awaiting the chance to get to know her! Candidating Week will run from April 24 to May 2, 2021.  During this busy week there will be small group, larger group, and congregation-wide times to meet Rev. Sophia.

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Introducing Reverend Sophia Lyons

Your FPW Search Committee members are delighted to formally announce that Rev. Sophia Lyons is our ministerial candidate! We have so many things to tell you about her, but first and foremost, we are grateful beyond words that she followed this path to our congregation.

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Our Pre-Candidating Weekends Are Complete!

In the Search Committee’s journey since late January, when we narrowed our candidate field from 24 to 3, we have been busy!  Over the course of three weekends in February and March, we’ve conducted 12 hours of interviews, 6 hours of social gatherings, and attended 3 services hosted by other “neutral pulpit” UU congregations.

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Search FAQ: When do I get to vote on a minister?

We have been waiting a lot since mid-March 2020… waiting for a vaccine, waiting to see our loved ones, waiting for a hug, waiting for our communities to be open, waiting for a kinder world… At FPW, there is also waiting for the Ministerial Search Process.

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What’s with the big secret?

Wait. What? The Search Committee can’t say anything about pre-candidating ministers?

No. We cannot. Out of respect for the confidentiality of the candidates and their current communities, we can’t tell you things that would give any idea of who they are.

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Where is the white smoke?

While your Search Committee is not a group of church officials sequestered day and night waiting to send a signal of a decision, we are a group of church leaders working very hard to be sure we have crossed all our t’s and dotted all our i’s on good process to determine the candidate to present to you for a vote in the spring.

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Opening the Search and Next Steps

Beloved community, Happy New Year from your Ministerial Search Committee!!! Thanks for your interest and patience!!! Here is a bit about where we have been and where we are going: Evaluated and summarized your survey feedback Facilitated 11 cottage meetings and focus groups. (80 attendees) Hosted 43 attendees at Beyond Categorical Thinking workshop. Revised the 2-year-old Congregational Record (CR) with 29 discussion points Wrangled answers and data for 52 questions about ourselves, submitted...

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These phases and deadlines are taken from the UUA’s search calendar for congregations calling a new settled minister in August 2021.

Phase 1: Concluding A Ministry Well

In June 2019, we said goodbye to our longtime minister, Reverend Mark Harris. Mark was minister at First Parish from 1996, when he was settled as part of a co-ministry with his wife, Reverend Andrea Greenwood, until 2019. At the Annual Meeting in April 2019, the congregation voted to give Mark the title of Minister Emeritus.

After consultation with the UUA on the process for congregations in transition, the Parish Committee selected Reverend Wendy Bell as our Interim Minister. She will serve our congregation through this time of transition, from August 2019 to July 2021.

Phase 2: Education and Preparation for the Search

The preparation for the search began in the spring of 2019, with our first consultations with the UUA and a review of our congregation’s by-laws (PDF).

In the spring of 2020, members and friends of First Parish nominated a slate of eleven candidates.  Following UUA guidance, the seven-member Search Committee is composed of the top four people elected by the congregation at a Special Congregational Meeting on June 7, 2020, and three more appointed by Parish Committee from the nominated list.  The Ministerial Search Committee consists of: Kate Hanson Plass, Ben Jerome, Judy Kamm, Kyle Morton, Silke Plesch, Beth Tappan-deFrees, and Will Twombly.  This group is charged with working to represent and serve the whole congregation as they determine the best person to become our church’s 30th minister.

Phase 3: Building the Search Structure

From the time the Search Committee is announced in June through the fall, the members have four key tasks:

  • Build the committee’s knowledge of the process and ability to work together through covenanting together, identifying roles and responsibilities, and attending a two-day retreat.
  • Survey the congregation about their vision and hopes for a new ministry.
  • Complete the Congregational Record, a series of questions about the demographics, character, and history of the congregation
  • Create a Document Packet packet of material about the activities, policies, and governance of the congregation.

In addition, a Negotiating Team will recommend a contract and compensation package for the next minister.

The congregation’s role in this phase is to respond to the Search Committee’s survey and participate fully in the activities designed to identify a shared vision for the new ministry.

Phase 4: Opening Up the Search

In November and December 2020 the Search Committee will finalize and submit the Congregational Record and Packet, which then will be available to ministers in search.

Phase 5: Discernment & Mutual Selection

The Search Committee will receive the names of applicants in early January 2021. The Search Committee will conduct a first round of video interviews. Several candidates will be invited for a Precandidate Weekend in February or March, which will include an in-depth interview, tours of the church and area, and a sermon preached at a neutral pulpit (a separate UU church). This weekend is usually held in-person, but this year will be conducted entirely virtually.  The Search Committee will make an offer to one candidate on April 1, 2021.

The Search Committee is bound by confidentiality, particularly during this phase of the process. They can be transparent about the progress on the timeline – that our record is live, that we’ve received names – but will not share any information about the candidates.

Phase 6: Finalizing the Offer

The Search Committee finalizes the offer with the candidate by agreeing on the details of a contract and conducting background checks. The Search Committee will announce the candidate in early to mid April.

Phase 7: Entering into a New Ministry

Candidating Week, anticipated to be April 25 – May 2, 2021, is a time for congregational leaders, staff, and members to spend time with the candidate. The candidate will lead two services and spend time meeting with leaders, talking with members, and engaging staff. The week culminates on the final Sunday with a congregational vote on calling the minister.

The new minister will begin their ministry August 1, 2021.