Reverend Roger Bertschausen, senior minister of Unity Temple at the Buzz Café on Thursday September 7, 2023 | Todd Bannor

Usually interim ministers serve about two years to help congregational members say goodbye to the departing leader and prepare to welcome a new leader.

Rev. Roger Bertschausen is a “developmental” minister, the second stage of a transition to a “settled” (or permanent) minister. He and the Unity Temple Unitarian Universalist (UU) Congregation on Lake Street have formed a covenant to be together for between 4-7 years. Bertschausen explained that the length of time invested in a transition is dependent on the amount of organizational work that needs to be done.

Aimee Conrad, co-president of the Unity Temple Board of Trustees, explained that Bertschausen’s “mission-driven leadership, his pastoral presence, his ability to guide a congregation through change while holding onto existing strengths, and the importance he placed on anti-oppression/anti-racism work,” seemed to the search team to be the best match.

Regarding the unusually long transitional period agreed upon, Conrad explained that “the congregation wants to accomplish some big goals” and “these are challenging times for churches, so a longer interim ministry makes sense.”

Bertschausen laughs as he frames his role in the transition this way. “I’m pre-fired.  Everyone knows that I’m going to leave. It gives everybody a spaciousness to work through things in some ways. This congregation grew a lot while Alan Taylor was here, and it takes time to do all of the institutional changes that accompany growth.”

In a letter he sent to the congregation soon after he arrived last month, Bertschausen wrote, “I know that these past years have not been easy for individuals, families, and communities. Numerous staff transitions layered on top of the pandemic have made this period especially challenging for Unity Temple,” which touches on one of the tasks of a developmental minister, i.e. helping a congregation process the past.

He also wrote, “Even on day one, I am sensing excitement about what’s next and a deep streak of resilience.”

Rev. Emily Gage, associate minister, summarized what the past month has been like. 

“Roger arrived only a month ago; since then we’ve been spending all kinds of time in conversations; us sharing our experiences and ideas and lay of the land, and he asking questions and listening and reflecting back to us.”

Bertschausen earned a master’s degree at the University of Chicago Divinity School. He got married, served an internship with a Unitarian Universalist congregation, and worked as a chaplain at a drug and alcohol treatment center.

Equipped with lots of experience and serious academic credentials, in 1990 he became a settled minister at a UU church in Appleton, Wisconsin. As the congregation grew, he in effect served three groups during his 25 years there: from 100 members to a mid-size congregation and finally topping out at 700 members, each “congregation” working differently and facing different challenges.

In 2020, he became an interim minister, serving a church in Madison, Wisconsin for three years and another in White Bear Lake, Minnesota for two. 

Bertschausen’s wife, Amy, is an ordained minister in the Disciples of Christ Church.

As for the future and the work that lies ahead, Gage said, “He brings a fresh perspective, lots of experience, and a compassionate and collaborative spirit. I can’t think of any specific can’t do’s, although he can’t do it all himself. It’s a time full of possibilities and opportunities for the congregation as we re-shape who we are and can be, as we come out of the pandemic and greet the challenges of life in today’s world.”

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Tom's been writing about religion – broadly defined – for years in the Journal. Tom's experience as a retired minister and his curiosity about matters of faith will make for an always insightful exploration...