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Associate Minister's Column

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When Rev. Beth Williams announced her retirement as our Director of Religious Education, we hoped we could find a professional who could continue her work. I feared, however, it would be hard for religious professionals to understand the opportunity this position provides. Beth’s retirement and the smooth transition she oversaw ensures the program can continues to grow, but I worried that many people would assume that Louisiana couldn’t sustain a strong, professional religious institution.

The first thing we did was name a Religious Education Search Advisory Team. The members who joined Steve and me were Jerry Gilbert, Leslie Grover and Tamara Hebert. We met, sometimes weekly, sometimes monthly, for a little under a year. We decided that the DRE job title should be expanded into a Director of Family Ministries. This transition allowed us to expand the scope and responsibilities of our new hire.

I went to General Assembly in June and the annual Liberal Religious Educators Association conference in October with our job advertisement flier in hand. I met with potential candidates to try to recruit the best applicants. I asked some of our nation’s religious education leaders who were the most talented religious professionals available, and talked with them about the opportunities the Unitarian Church in Baton Rouge had to offer.

We interviewed candidates from all over the country of varying ages, races and genders. We selected two candidates to bring to Baton Rouge for weekend visits. They met with the search team, had a formal interview, met with Beth, and took a tour of the city. 

The search team did deep discernment. We wanted to make sure the person who came here would not only be qualified (we were pleasantly surprised to see how many candidates brought with them years of experience and impeccable credentials), but would be a cultural fit for our congregation and our city. We wanted a candidate who was committed to helping families develop a deep spiritual life, understand Unitarian Universalism as a lifelong and life sustaining faith. We wanted a candidate who was committed to social justice and racial reconciliation work. We wanted a candidate who was recognized by our association as a credentialed religious educator (there are only a few dozen with that recognition in our country).

I am very pleased to announce that we have selected Kathy E. Smith as our new Director of Family Ministry. There is more about her in this newsletter, but I wanted you to know how incredibly thrilled the RE Search Team is with this hire.

Kathy will start August 1. Because Beth’s retirement is May 31st, there will be a two-month gap. We have appointed an RE Transition Team – members are Shannon Cavell, Lynn Farmer, Julie Richard and Rachel Stahl – to ensure a smooth transition.  The team is currently meeting with Beth to determine her needs. They will run the program in the interim, and then help Kathy have a smooth transition.

This is an exciting time for the church. Beth has left the program in very strong shape. Now we can use this transition to strengthen and grow the congregation’s ministry to and with families.