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Thinking About Interim Camp Ministry: Guest Post by Melinda Trotti

31 Mar 2021 6:53 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

Thinking About Interim Camp Ministry

What is Interim Ministry? 

Interim Ministry is a specialized ministry of leadership engaged during transition in an institution, in this case at a camp. The transition may be planned or unplanned. Engaging an Interim Director is recommended: 

  1. after a long-term Director has retired, resigned, passed away, or been terminated; 

  2. when larger structural questions need to be answered before the Director job description can be developed; 

  3. when there has been disruption within a ministry and skills for addressing the result of that disruption are needed; or 

  4. when a Director needs to step out of their role for a specific amount of time for family, health, or other commitments. 

“One foot in and one foot out,” is a phrase often used to describe the reality as well as the strength inherent in an Interim Ministry season. The interim person can operate both as an Insider working for the organization and as an Outsider who can make decisions without their own livelihood being at stake. Operating with “one foot in and one foot out” can allow the Interim to assess and address structural strengths and dysfunctions. Typically, the Interim has had training in conflict awareness and management such that they can assess the level of conflict within the organization and how best to address it (or not.) Each ministry situation is unique, and the Interim needs to be flexible in order to respond to the situation with its specific history, challenges, and strengths.  

When might a camp need an Interim Director?

Typically, Interims can be classified as one of three types, although there are no rigid definitions; and these often overlap.

  1. Placeholder – This describes a situation where a leader is needed to fill a gap, often until a Director returns from a leave or until a new Director can arrive. Even within this small period of time, the Interim can act as a consultant in assessing and reporting observations and suggested changes within the system. Usually, the scope of change expected or allowed during this short term is small.
  2. Consultant – This person acts as an Interim on-site and actively engaged in the day-to-day operation of the site while also creating conversations and offering recommendations to the Board, Executive Director, Bishop, or other supervisor or oversight group. The consulting can be either formal or informal. Expectations for how the consultation proceeds should be established before the interim begins. It can be as informal as regular conversations in which concerns or recommendations are given, as formal as a plan being developed before the arrival of the Interim for intentional feedback, or the Interim giving a final report.
  3. Change Agent – This type of Interim is usually engaged due to an urgent need for crisis intervention or for change that is needed in a quicker timeframe than normal. A few situations where a Change Agent is needed are after there has been a trauma to the system because of a moral lapse or financial or other malfeasance or an unexpected death. Another time when this type of interim might be established would be when a Board or agency establishes a plan that needs leadership skills to make the recommended changes while also creating an organization that will need a skill set different for the Settled* Director than is needed for the Interim Director. This Interim may be the one who is tasked with identifying and reporting the systemic changes needed or may also be given the authority to enact those changes. 

The United Methodist system in which the Bishop and Cabinet appoint clergy rather than each congregation searching for and hiring and terminating its own pastor means that Intentional Interims are not often engaged in the appointing of pastors as in other denominational systems.  It can be helpful to think of the hiring of an Interim Director as a business arrangement as opposed to an appointment that happens within a structure with already established directives and processes for doing that. United Methodists are often not well-practiced in the processes of intentionally creating job descriptions, interviewing, hiring, welcoming, supervising and engaging, and ending an interim leaders’ ministry. Following are some processes that will help create a more successful interim season. 

Some nuts and bolts:

  1. Develop a contract or Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Interim and the Interim Director’s Supervisor, Conference, or oversight Board. Establish salary, health and other benefits, use of vehicle, reimbursements, time off, etc. within the hiring contract. It is unfair to expect the Interim Director to point out these details to their employer. Whether or not an Interim will be able to participate in a Conference’s pension plan will differ from Conference to Conference, and it is the responsibility of the hiring party to be knowledgeable of their Conference’s pension rules and communicate them before hiring the Interim Director. Also note that this is not the time to try to save some money for the camp. A successful interim season can increase the likelihood that a ministry will thrive, and the person facilitating that ministry should be paid at least as much as the Director coming in. Their salary should, if at all possible, mirror the former Director’s whom they are following. 

  2. Create a formal start date and finish date before hiring the Interim Director and stick to it. Unfortunately, with overburdened Conference staff members or Boards unsure of their role in engaging an Interim, the end date can be pushed out indefinitely when it is not firmly established ahead of time. A vague end date can negatively impact the Interim Director’s leadership, the staff whom they supervise, their personal well-being, and the ministry as a whole.

  3. Create a Welcome Event where the Interim Director is introduced to stakeholders where questions can be engaged both formally or informally defining the parameters of the interim season and the Interim Director’s role. At the end of the interim season, create an Appreciation Event in which the Interim is thanked for their work. These events with write-ups in Conference and other newsletters and social media outlets help supporters understand the role of the Interim as they come into the new role while also establishing boundaries for the completion of that Interim’s role. 

  4. Create a welcoming living situation for the Director so that they arrive to a clean, fresh house with enough food to tide them over for a day or so until they can get settled.

What does an Interim Director need to succeed? 

  1. A well-crafted, written contract

  2. Support from and easy access to the supervisor or supervisory group

  3. A mutual understanding of the role of Interim by all involved

  4. Ability and freedom to objectively engage the situation into which they are stepping. (Projection and emotionality from past conflicts and mistakes and anxiety regarding the future are expected aspects of interim ministry.)

  5. A mutually agreed-upon and well-articulated understanding of the hierarchy of the context and the level of authority of the Interim Director

  6. Informal support from stakeholders to counterbalance some of the social isolation usually inherent for an Interim Director during the interim season. This can include invitations to worship, coffee, dinners, introductions within the local community, and occasional calls of, “How are you doing?” or “How can I be of help?” or ”How would you like for me to pray for you?”

  7. Kindness and grace given freely

How long should an Interim stay at one site? 

Typically, an Interim Director should not serve for more than one summer season. 6-18 months should give a Board or staff person overseeing camping ministry enough time to assess needs, develop a job description, and complete a job search. Overlap between the Interim and successor Director helps to orient the new Director, allows time for the Interim Director to make needed introductions and give needed information, and offers space for the developing and answering of questions as the Interim leaves. Two weeks is typical. The timeline needs to be established ahead of time. It should be long enough for the Director to receive what they need to succeed, and short enough that the Interim Director does not inadvertently create confused or divided loyalties amongst staff or stakeholders through their staying too long.

What is the role of an Interim Director in choosing the subsequent Director?

Sometimes, the Interim Director is asked for their expertise in creating a job description and/or a search process if it has not been done previously. The Search Committee or individual in charge of hiring the Director usually conducts the screening of applications and initial interviews, and may bring the Interim Director into the process to meet and answer questions of the final candidates. Often, the Interim Director takes on the tasks of providing hospitality for the finalists’ visits to the site such as providing transportation, getting candidates settled for overnight accommodations, giving a tour of the camp including the Director’s house, introducing the candidates to the staff, offering a tour of the local community, and introducing the candidates to local stakeholders or supporters. Of course, some of these tasks can be done by supporters of the site or members of the Search Committee. However, it is important to include the Interim Director in the final candidates’ introduction to the site. Not doing so can inadvertently send the message to finalists that the Interim Director is not trusted or that there is fear on the part of the Hiring Committee that the Interim Director will give information the Search Committee is hiding. In addition, the opinion of the Interim Director can be sought after the finalists have been interviewed. Often, the Interim Director can give a nuanced assessment based on their experience at the present and previous sites they have led. However, the Interim Director, just as the current staff members, should not have a vote in who is chosen.  

Can an Interim Director apply for the role of Director?

The Interim is typically not available for hire in the Director search, in order to allow for their insider/outsider viewpoint. However, if applying for the settled position is a possibility, then this needs to be well-communicated to all parties ahead of the Interim Director’s being hired. If the Interim is allowed to make an application for the settled position, often a term such as “temporary” is used instead. Temporary typically refers to a period which is short-term but does not have a defined ending, whereas interim usually refers to a period of employment during a transition that has a defined ending. Hiring someone as an Interim Director to “see how they work out” invites confusion as to what is actually offered and expected and can lead to assumptions being made within the void of clarity. Each context is unique, so differing arrangements can be successful. However, clear and ongoing communication as plans or processes change is required to avoid incorrect assumption-making and possible legal consequences resulting from differing understandings of verbal promises or changed or broken contracts. 

What is the role of the Interim Director after they leave?

The former Interim Director typically is available for short questions or consultations for a month or two after leaving. If more consultation is needed, a MOU or contract with an established rate of pay and process can be negotiated amongst the Board or supervisor, the Director, and the Interim Director. Care must be taken to avoid the undermining of the new Director’s leadership and their developing relationships with staff and stakeholders. A previous Interim’s involvement with former staff or stakeholders or the camp operation should be minimal or only through permission granted by the Director and not engage conversations about the Director’s decision-making or overall ministry. It is also unfair to assume that a previous Interim Director is available to volunteer their time and expertise indefinitely.  

How do I find an Interim Director? 

The United Methodist Camp and Retreat Ministries (UMCRM) Association partners with Lutheran Outdoor Ministries to train previous Directors for interim camp ministry and keeps a list of individuals available for Interim service. While this list does not act as a recommendation or endorsement, the names are typically people who have received Interim training and/or served as Interim Directors in one or more contexts. The same screening processes should be used for hiring an Interim Director as are used for any other position. Interviewing the Interim applicants to identify their strengths and weaknesses to ascertain the best fit should be done along with the checking of references and background check as required by one’s Conference or context for any employee. Contact UMCRM for the list of available interims. 

What if I am interested in becoming an Interim Director?

The next Interim Director training is being planned for fall of 2022. In the meantime, contact UMCRM if you would like to be added to UMCRM’s list of available Interim Directors.

Download Sample Agreement/MOU for Interim Director

*Settled is a term often used instead of "permanent," as Camp Directors are typically hired with an expectation of 5-10 years of service, not for a lifetime appointment or tenure.  

Melinda Trotti has served as Director for urban day camps, overnight camps, and retreat centers around the country, as well as Interim Director in several Conferences and denominations. She is currently serving as Interim Director at Lake Lucerne Camp & Retreat Center in the Wisconsin Conference. Melinda is a part of the UMCRM Diversity, Equity and Inclusion leadership team and has led countless workshops at UMCRM events. She is certified as a Spiritual Director and enjoys traveling with her husband David Berkey, long walks in the woods with her dog, Gouda, journaling, and cooking meals from scratch.

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