Rev. Margaret Bain – Champion of Transitional Ministry

margaret-bain-photoIn 1990, Rev. Margaret Bain, after an extremely stressful period of “burnout”, felt called to Intentional Interim Ministry. She took the Basic Education course through the Interim Ministry Network (IMN), an interdenominational organization based in the United States, and spent some time discerning what that ministry might look like. The United Church minister loved interim ministry so much that she never went back to seeking settled ministry.

“There are lots of instances where interim ministry is invaluable,” Rev. Bain said, “such as after a church has had the same minister for a long time. It is not necessarily a good choice to call another minister right away because the congregation will compare that person with the one who has left. They need to deal with their loss and changing identity first.”

“It’s usually a good idea to have an interim minister in situations where there has been a high degree of conflict,” she said, “or when a minister dies in office. It’s better to call new ministry personnel after the congregation is settled,” Rev. Bain said, “and looking to the future—not always to the past. It can also be a good idea to engage an interim when a congregation needs to vision for the future—possibly due to an amalgamation of churches.”

“But Interim ministry in a congregation may not always be successful,” she admitted. “You can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. Sometimes congregations resist the process. But usually, once they see the fruit of their work, they will embrace it. You have to help them discover their core values—discerning what saw them through their celebrations and their difficulties—and then decide how they will carry those values forward.”

To those who would consider doing interim ministry, Rev. Bain said, “Take time to discern whether or not you’re called. You have to have a sense of being called. If you’re doing it because you can’t find a settled ministry or as a stop gap until something comes along —that’s not a good reason. It takes a certain temperament. The Interim Minister has to be able to analyze what is happening in the congregation fairly quickly. Congregations don’t always want to tell their stories, especially the ones that cast a shadow on them. They don’t want to talk about their challenges and conflicts. It is easier to only celebrate the good times. You have to help them to tell their stories. They must do that in order to discover how to move forward.”

Since completing the IMN program, Rev. Bain has had several different types of interim placements lasting 18 months to three years each. “Two years is ideal,” she said. “However the time can be extended if there’s still more work to do. An extension has to be agreed to by the congregation’s Transition Team, The Church Council/Board, the Presbytery and the Interim Minister. My goal is to leave congregations in a healthier state when I leave than when I got there. But they have to do the work. Sometimes they have an attitude that says – ‘What’s she going to do to fix us?’ And I tell them, ‘Absolutely nothing’. I will help them to look in the mirror and discover for themselves a new direction. Very often you don’t get to see the finished product. Moses didn’t get to see the Promised Land.”

In 1992, Rev. Bain joined IMN’s teaching faculty, and since then she has been facilitating workshops at various locations throughout North America, including Five Oaks in Paris, Ontario. She is currently a board member and Vice President of the organization and has served as the President of IMN for three years.

It can take up to a year to complete IMN’s program which consists of three parts: 1) A three-day workshop on The Work of the Leader—a time for attendees to discern if interim ministry is something they really want to do. 2) A five-day session on The Work of the Congregation—a study of congregational systems, a valuable discussion that Rev. Bain said has not been provided in theological colleges and 3) Field Work. While some denominations allow candidates to enter the program right out of seminary, the United Church of Canada requires several years experience in pastoral ministry before being able to apply for initial designation as an Intentional Interim Minister.

Although Rev. Bain has retired from active ministry, she recently began doing some consulting—with churches who are in between ministers. “There are not enough interim ministers to go around,” she said. She is working with four churches in Alberta, mainly through conference calls, e-mails, and on-site opportunities to discern their next steps forward. “This is a pilot project for me. It is an opportunity to do Interim (transitional) Ministry in a different way.

For more information about the IMN and its programs go to http://imnedu.org/interim_transitonal-education/