On behalf of the Board and Interim Minister, I am writing to let the congregation know that the Board has elected to extend the interim period and postpone the start of the formal search committee process until 2022. This decision was taken only after a great deal of discussion and consideration of the readiness and the best interest of the congregation as a whole.

Last Tuesday, April 28th, the Board of Trustees held a special session to focus our attention on the single issue of putting together a Search Committee for the Called Minister and the congregation’s readiness to move forward.

During the past few years Emerson has conducted a discernment process with significant input from a large number of members. From these efforts, the aspirational goal for Emerson is to be a more inclusive and more diverse community. It is essential that the members of the Search Committee should reflect these goals as a group and in their work in selecting candidates.

Prior to the meeting, Board members, the Transition Team members, and members of the nominating committee, attempted to contact Emerson members to discuss the qualities of a Search Committee member and to gather suggested names of potential candidate. The Search Committee carries the major responsibility and work in identifying and selecting a prospective minister for the congregation to meet and ultimately vote on as our new Called Minister. This process of creating a search committee is intended to help members clarify the direction for Emerson going forward so that it aligns with the work of the Search Committee and the ministers being interviewed.

We did receive input from a number of members and have a long list of possible candidates for the Committee. This response from members was greatly appreciated and from it, a slate of candidates was identified. However, the list of candidates is not truly reflective of the full congregation nor of our aspirational goals.

In normal (non-COVID) times, this process would have been conducted while we were meeting in person and would have included the possibility of meeting one-on-one or in small groups to work with the leadership of the church to create dialogue and help the congregation to participate in a meaningful way to consider all members for this Committee. The dynamic interplay between members during this process would have helped build consensus and direction for this critical step.

During the pandemic, we were reduced to phone calls, emails and an online form as our means of engaging members. The processes were thought out and planned with care, and while not ideal, they were the best possible at this time.

The most important outcome of the process was the obvious impact that the isolation, forced by the pandemic, has had on our community. The normal and critical community building effect of the search process has been challenged.

There is also a variance in the UUA recommended process for selecting the Search Committee and the Emerson constitution. The UUA process, which was approved by the Board earlier this year, recommends that half of the Committee be elected by the congregation and half be appointed by the Board. The Emerson Constitution prescribes that all Committee members be elected by the congregation. This issue should not be rushed and needs time for congregational review and discussion as part of a larger governance review that is underway.

The Board could have continued on with the process and put the Search Committee up for a vote. An overwhelming majority felt that it is more important to bring the community back together in person before proceeding. There is a very tight timeline for Emerson to participate in the search process and a delay of only a week or two would not address this issue.

In the coming weeks and months, as our members complete their vaccinations and the restrictions on gathering in person are reduced, reconnecting with each other will begin. We are beginning an effort for Emerson to help with this process and to bring all of our members back in as safe a way as possible.

The search process will be restarted early in 2022 and Reverend Michelle will be with us as we proceed. We will use the recommended search processes discussed above.

The Board has called for a congregational meeting on May 16th. In addition to an important vote on a request from the Social Action Council that Emerson join the Memorial Assistance Ministries, the Board will also be available for further sharing about our decision.

We send our best wishes to all,

Martin Estill