By Lindsay Peyton

Imagine a relay race – as a metaphor for pastoral transitions in the UMC. Most of the time, the race continues from runner to runner without a hiccup. But when there are gaps, the baton could be dropped. Something could happen when an interim pastor would be needed. That’s where Rev. Bonnie Osteen comes in. As the Texas Annual Conference’s Coordinator for the Intentional Interim Ministries, she is passionate about helping congregations and pastors through transitions, making changes that result in positive growth. Here are some excerpts from her recent interview with Cross Connection:

Q. What exactly is an interim minister?

Interim ministers are seasoned, experienced pastors who have gone through a certification process. Each Conference does it differently. In our Conference, all of our interim ministers are retired pastors. Some are even retired District Superintendents. They have a wealth of experience and knowledge. They’ve been with small and large churches. When we’re placing them at a congregation, we match their skills with what is needed.

Q. When would an interim minister be called into action?

A pastor could be going on sabbatical or have an illness and need to be placed on leave. It could be for maternity or paternity leave.

Q. I read that interim ministry is a fairly new concept, added in the 1996 Book of Discipline.

Yes, that’s true. It was placed in the Discipline, but churches were still uncertain about how to place or pay interim pastors. Churches can’t afford to pay a pastor and an interim at the same time. Our Conference was able to create a solution to pay interim ministers in that scenario – the sustentation fund. That covers the cost in most situations.

Q. How does the process work?

If you want to take a sabbatical, we have an application on our website to fill out. Or maybe you need to go on maternity or paternity leave. In either case, contact your District Superintendent, who will then call me to see who we have available. Then, I will go meet with the DS, the interim to be placed and the Staff/Pastor-Parish Relations Committee (SPRC) of the church. We sign an agreement with the interim minister and the church that has a start and end date. Those dates can be extended if needed.

Q. Having this resource available sounds like it can really help a pastor take a sabbatical.

Taking a sabbatical is renewal for a pastor. For the congregation, it’s an investment in your future. It’s also a special time for a church, because interim ministers are specialists. The interim will lead them through a process depending on what they want to focus on during this time. For instance, it could be worship, looking at history, positioning for the future.

Q. So this is very different from pulpit supply?

Pulpit supply is just about preaching and pastoral care. An interim minister is so much more. That’s why they are called Transitional Intentional Interim Ministry Specialists (TIIMS.). They are appointed as your pastor – and they also have all the other duties. They have full responsibility.

Q. How do pastors become interim ministers?

You have to complete TIIMS training. I am one of five national trainers and offer the certification at Perkins. I also train at other places. I’ll be co-leading a training session in the North Texas Conference in August. Then, in January, I’ll offer one at Perkins that will be a hybrid format. Pastors in our Conference can attend that via Zoom.

Q. You’ve served as an interim minister yourself, right?

I’ve actually served as interim at 12 different churches. Then, I was appointed as director in 2014 by Bishop Janice Huie.

Q. What’s it like serving as an interim minister?

It’s so different. You have to be action-oriented. You have goals, but you don’t have a lot of time. So, you go in with a totally different mindset. And usually, the congregation is excited about the potential. They want to jump in too.

Q. What brought you to the interim ministry?

I was full-time before this, serving as pastor for six churches and associate pastor at one. I kept seeing announcements about TIIMS trainings, but I wasn’t really sure what it was. Still, I thought it was intriguing. When I finally signed up, I was like, “Oh my gosh. I love this.” We’re able to reach people with so many different needs in a special time. I’ve heard a lot of people who go through training react the same way and ask, “Why didn’t I do this before?” Even if you’re not ready to retire yet, you can use the skills from training and take them back to your congregation, your district or your college campus – wherever you might serve. These skills can be used at any appointment.

Q. It sounds like your passion for this ministry has only deepened over time.

Oh, absolutely. I was excited from the beginning, but I’m only more excited now knowing its value in our Conference and seeing the positive results. It’s made such a difference in so many ways.