Nancy S. Taylor, Senior Minister
November 10, 2021
When I graduated from seminary in 1981 and made my way to serve my first churches – three small churches in rural Maine – it never occurred to me I would know the privilege of serving at a place like Old South Church. I am the envy of my colleagues. It is about so much more than this church’s venerable history, its stunning facility, and its awesome location. It is primarily about you: a deep bench of brilliant, faithful, earnest lay leaders who, working side by side with a gifted staff, make it all happen.
For me, these past sixteen years at OSC have been all about collaboration. While I enjoy the privilege of a splendid study on the third floor of Old South’s Parish House, it is you – and all who came before you, all who serve and lead, each doing their part – who make this church what it is. And, what it is, is special, indeed.
My years at Old South Church have been eventful! I started a list of all that has occurred (from “the Crack” to selling the most expensive book in the world) but the list is pretty long. Never a dull moment at this church. You have proved yourself adaptable to the challenges and opportunities of each new circumstance.
There are a couple of reasons why this timing feels right:
First, this church deserves fresh leadership and, I dare say, younger leadership. I have been doing this work for 40 years. While the privilege of this office is grand (I still have to pinch myself every day), the burden is not light. It is time for someone with fresh strength to take it up. Old South Church and its mission deserve that. Moreover, I believe in the next generation. I believe that good leadership is generative. As a Teaching Church of the United Church of Christ, we are a generative church. There are excellent leaders out there who will bless this church’s ministry in the future.
There is another reason why the timing is right. Old South is at an inflection point. We recently celebrated our 350th anniversary and with that, the Vision for the 21st Century expired. That Vision, adopted in 2010 at a meeting of the members has guided, challenged, and shaped us for a decade. It is time now for Old South Church to develop a new vision for a new day. This pastoral transition will kick-start such a process. In preparation for seeking new leadership, the congregation will complete a UCC Church Profile. This is a thorough and considerable undertaking. In order to complete the Church Profile, the congregation will need to come together, to listen, learn, and lean into the unfolding future into which God is calling this church. It will be an important process of discernment, much like the one that led to the adoption of the Vision for the 21st Century.
I believe the time is right in another way. Emergence from the vice-grip of the pandemic is an opportune time for new leadership. There will be some rebuilding to be done as the pandemic has taken a toll on our membership. As I have noted before: not a few members relocated during the pandemic; others aged out and are no longer able to fulfil leadership roles; still others got out of the church-going habit and may never get back into it. At the same time, we have taken in fewer members during the pandemic than what is required to keep up with attrition. This, however, is not a crisis. We are doing meaningful ministry, impactful ministry. We have excellent staff and lay leaders. Our financial position is strong. The building is being tended to. Our boards, committees and task forces are producing programs, authoring ministries, and bearing witness to a gracious and generous God. Moreover, through the use of technologies, we are reaching an ever wider audience with our message. As we sail into a season of transition this vessel is shipshape and watertight.
As for me, I plan to stay in Boston. It is where I live. Retirement will free me to explore and appreciate the riches of this City. There is traveling to be done; friends to catch up with; more than enough projects on my list to keep me busy; and I will continue to serve on boards beyond Old South Church. In addition, my mother is 92 and I look forward to spending more time with her.
In the meantime, for the next six months (through to my retirement at the end of May 2022) I am committed to working with church leaders to ensure a positive and productive transition process.
A special thank you to several leaders who, by virtue of their elected positions, have been early partners and wise counselors in the initial conversations about this transition: Phil Stern (moderator), Bill Bulkeley (treasurer), Kate Silfen (historian), Rob Gabler (clerk), Kristi Geary (chair of the board of trustees) and, more recently, David Becker (chair of our Leadership Committee). In addition, a number of people have already stepped up to fill early transition leadership roles.
As I began, so shall I end: this church’s deep bench of brilliant, faithful, earnest lay leaders, working side by side with a uniquely gifted staff, is well equipped to guide and lead Old South Church into God’s new tomorrow. What we have before us is not a marathon, not a matter of individual attainment. What lies before us is a relay race – requiring teamwork – each taking a turn to achieve a careful, thoughtful passing of the baton. We’ve got this, Old South Church. You’ve got this.
Over the next six months I ask you to bathe your church and its leaders in prayer. Ask for God’s guidance. Cheer your leaders on. Participate when asked. Bring to this work your warm hearts, wise heads, and love for the church.
Please see an accompanying letter from your church leaders.
From one who is and remains