Thoughts on ordaining people for local ministry?


(Revised 8:45pm bringing ideas from Facebook conversation)

On the UUA’s leader email list someone has asked for thoughts on ordaining people to serve at the congregational level.  I think the question is about a congregation ordaining someone in the very same congregation to serve within that  congregation.

I asked the question via Facebook. One person raised the point that if you’re ordained as minister in one congregation, you’re a minister everywhere.  There is no such thing as “Okay, you’re ordained, but it only applies in our Sanctuary and front lawn up to the side walk.”

I know that the power to ordain belongs to our congregations.   I suspect ordination existed before our Association and that our credentialing process evolved to create standards for those being considered for called and settled parish ministry positions — but I’m no ordination historian.

Personally, I don’t think our system of either being a fully ordained, seminary trained and UUA fellowshipped minister or you’re NOT a minister is healthy.

I’m constantly reading about huge Christian churches with someone who is the Pastor of this and the Pastor of that.  I’m sure people who serve as “Web Communications Pastor” has not gone to seminary and the equivalent of our UUA fellowshipping process.   But it does raise the question, what’s our equivalent of pastor?

What kinds of  ministry and ministers do we not have because there is only a process for those on a track to be called parish ministers?

The UUA’s web page on ministers states the following:

Although it is very rare, our congregations do sometimes ordain and/or hire a minister who has not been officially approved (fellowshipped) by the Unitarian Universalist Association. Each congregation has the authority to choose its own leaders.

For information on becoming a Unitarian Universalist minister, please see the “Ordination” page.

I wonder if we should have many more UU ministers serving our faith than we have fellowshipped ministers, similar to how we have many interims but only some are AIM’s. Would it help if we had a more sophisticated continuum of ministry with more roles, positions and titles than we presently have?

Thoughts?
Examples of non-traditional ministry roles?

Make sure to check out comments on Scott’s post as well:
http://boyinthebands.com/archives/thoughts-on-local-ordination/

16 thoughts on “Thoughts on ordaining people for local ministry?”

  1. I think there is certainly room for both Lay-credentialing, and for alternative credentialing for those who find there path in non-traditional ways. Mine own congregation recently installed a Coordinator of Lay Ministries. I think the fact that we are coordinating them means that we should be recognizing them as Lay Ministers above and beyond simply piling more projects and committee positions on them.

  2. Of course there was ordination before the Association, but as for polity it’s important to distinguish between the mainline Unitarian and Universalist practices of congregationalism. Universalists usually ordained and fellowshipped ministers at the state convention level. Unitarians ordained locally and were fellowshipped through special (vicinage) councils called from local churches for the purpose of examination. Our current practice is a hybrid.

    The old Unitarian form of practice is still held by the “continuing Congregationalists” so see here to see how it was: http://www.naccc.org/ministries/OrdinationsAndInstallations.aspx

    In short, what you describe is independent ordination, not congregational(ist) ordination. Yes, the ordinand is minister for that church — and any other that chooses to recognize it. And I bet others might. Our faltering systems fail many good candidates, some of whom proceed with independent ordination. The UUA note above — damning as it is with its hollow voice — makes me wonder if it’s not more common that commonly thought.

    I wrote about this here: http://boyinthebands.com/archives/can-the-uua-recognize-ordinations/ and perhaps other places. It’s a bit of a bugbear for me.

    There used to be UUA licensed lay ministers — an inheritance from the Universalists — but the practice died out (I suspect killed off) and finally written out of the bylaws. In the 1990s I think. But I don’t see much value in institutionalizing the practice, seeing as the ministerial college would almost surely rally against it. Hurts the guild or some nonsense like that.

  3. I’d recommend that the local congregations (not only the congregation that is considering the issue) study the history of ordination, the difference between ordination and fellowship, and then enter a process of discernment about recognizing, honoring, and holding accountable the valuable ministries people have to contribute.

    Some material to know: Alice Blair Wesley’s 2000 Minns Lectures: http://www.minnslectures.org/archive/wesley/wesley.htm
    Conrad Wright, Walking Together
    There is, of course, a much bigger body of literature discussing this practice, and both Wesley and Wright are focused heavily in the Unitarian side of our tradition.

    I believe we need to discuss what a sacrament means (this is what ordination is, any kind of ordination) and the relationships between callings to ministries of music, education, preaching, pastoring, administration, and prophetic endeavors. What other sacraments does the congregation and area congregations recognize? Why?

    Accountability between those ordained is important. How important is learning to ministry? What are the ethical standards the community can expect these ordinands to honor? How will these relate to state and federal laws of recognition?

    Ordination once doesn’t count everywhere – the fellowship process was established to create a set of standards that institutions could count on (not only congregations) rather than the very labor intensive practices that could be expected before – and the difficulties of moving from one area to another to seek reapproval. (For example, if an ordained minister moved to a new area and didn’t meet the theological approval of the area clergy, what would the consequences be. In systems that practice this, the answer is that the clergyperson cannot serve locally, or, if the congregation persists, it leaves the local synod). Installation is one of the customs we retain that shows the local approval process and is a reordination.

    How do the area congregations (we are not alone – this is part of our covenant, so we act in relationship with one another) recognize elders? What are the practices for acknowledging a call to ministry? What are the practices of sharing wisdom among the congregations? What are the duties and limitations of the different ministries? What’s the authority of each and all the ordained ministers and their ministries? How the communities will care for and cultivate the different ministries needs to be understood — I think whether or not local ordination without fellowship is pursued.

    And I’ll ask how these ministries supports the missions of the congregation, the area congregations, the association of congregations, the larger community’s needs, and the specific vocation of the person in question.

  4. I’m wondering what the purpose would be of ordaining someone to serve a local congregation? Does the congregation need a figure-head in the community? Is this a lay-led congregation in need of pastoral care? Is there a need for someone to conduct rites of passage for the community? Canadian UUs have had Lay Chaplains in our congregations for nearly 40 years. (http://www.cuc.ca/lay_chaplaincy/index.htm) The Canadian Unitarian Council has clear policies and protocols that guide the work of Lay Chaplains in our congregations. A Lay Chaplain is not ordained, nor is a Lay Chaplain a trained counsellor. Lay Chaplains are licensed to perform marriages in their home provinces. Lay Chaplains perform weddings for non-members of congregations with ministers – provincial marriage commissioners are not permitted to include religious rites or language in the ceremonies they perform. Lay Chaplains also perform weddings and other rites of passage in congregations without ministers. A Lay Chaplain does not serve all the functions of an ordained, fellowshipped minister. However, Lay Chaplains are often the face of the local UU congregation in the community and perform important service to the congregation’s members.

  5. I like the phrase “ye have not chosen me but I have chosen you and ordained you.” from the KJV gospel of John chapter 15. Rich/k Kasten of course was ordained on merit by the UUA rather than on earning a degree in theology or divinity.Jeff Brooks aka Jhananada is self ordained. A cyber acquaintance is studying for the UU ministry at a Baptist Online Seminary, has an interest in thanatology–only two schools apparently–to my knowledge– offering degrees in that at present, Hood College and the University of Wisconsin. My own ostensible🙂 co-layminister in ministry had a loss of a very young son in March of last year. The middle day of his life saw the death of an Illinois minister by a gunshot from an individual suffering from deer-tick bite induced mentally illness. I offered to preach only two Sundays a month in 1983 due to church financial difficulties. For many smaller groups, offering a decent wage to an ordinand with significant debt from semiinary training is out of the question. Then there are the changes in the demographics, outlined at liberalfaithblogspot on April 10th. And with somewhat of a paradigm shift due to terrorism at houses of worship, Adam Rafalovich’s ASSESSING THE FALLOUT OF THE TERRORIST MOVEMENT: ANOMIE AND THE FRACTURED AMERICAN *WELTANSCHAUUG* offers a fresh perspective. It is chapter four in a larger sociological work. From what my cousin Andy told me four and a half years ago, his son in law rose up from the ranks at an Orange County CA church, probably now little by little beefing up his own resume with study and seminars and noshing with other ministers. I guess with the increase in “None” as self description of religious affiliation and the decline of UU numbers in New England, our main hope for growth may be in cyberspace.

  6. Personally, I’m a believer in multiple ministries and multiple routes to that ministry.

    What is critical, I believe, is that in addition to thinking oneself called, there needs to be confirmation from someone else.

    The UUA is hardly a perfect institution, but also the MFC hoops are no where near as hard to leap as most other religious institutions require – those that expect training and vetting, that is.

    I would very much like to see alternative routes to ordination within the UUA. What they should look like I’m not certain, but they would, I think, require more than” here I am, send me.”

    Two cents on a cold morning,

    James

    1. Thanks, James. I’ve been reading about gift discernment and the major types of “Spiritual Gifts” as classified in Christian literature. Below is a list of Spiritual Gifts from this test http://ow.ly/3riU6 ( word .doc). Okay, clearly not a spiritual gift inventory designed for UUs. What’s relevant is that I think many people start moving along the “Become a Parish Minister” track because they want to serve our faith more than part time as a volunteer and would ideally like serving to also be their livelihood. Is there any form of UU gifts discernment involved in application to our seminaries and the UUA’s fellowshipping process?


      SPIRITUAL GIFTS INVENTORY

      Administration / Guidance
      Apostle
      Celibacy
      Craftsmanship / Artisan
      Discernment / Distinguish Spirits
      Encouragement
      Evangelism
      Exhortation
      Faith
      Giving
      Healing
      Helps / Service
      Hospitality
      Intercession / Prayer
      Knowledge
      Leadership
      Mercy / Compassion
      Miracles
      Missionary
      Music
      Pastoring / Shepherding
      Poverty (voluntary)
      Prophesy
      Teaching
      Tongues (interpreting)
      Tongues (speaking)
      Wisdom
      Writing

      1. What do you mean “not designed for UUs”? Obviously, the test itself is geared toward a certain type of Christian; but the inventory of gifts (I believe) can be equally applied in a UU context, and this is exactly the sort of discernment I would seek help with were I to enroll myself in a seminary…

        You asked: “What kinds of ministry and ministers do we not have because there is only a process for those on a track to be called parish ministers?”

        I wonder what kinds of ministry we inhibit by imagining only certain ministerial qualities, and whether we do a good enough job discerning a potential minister’s spiritual gifts and pairing that person with a ministry where s/he will flourish. This is true both of ordained and lay ministry.

        Do we imagine ourselves with a perceived need, which we try to fill with X sort of minister? Or, should we nurture a minister’s gifts and loose him/her onto the world to do the work s/he is truly called to do?

      2. Hi Adrian, thanks for commenting. By removing a couple of skills “not designed for UUs” I was referring primarily to the gift of speaking in tongues and decoding said speaking. Questions I’ve been holding are how do we help people discern their gifts and calling, and what titles and forms of empowerment do they need to be able to minister to their full potential.

  7. I think the first question to ask here is, what precisely is a minister?

    To give a personal example: I’m chair of the worship committee for a very small congregation. We haven’t had a full-time minister for years, and have relied on a rotating group of local UU ministers to lead our Sunday services, along with occasional lay-led services. Due to recent financial shortfalls, we’ve had to cut back on the number of trained, accredited UU ministers that we hire, and are having lay-led services about half the time now. So, on a fairly regular basis, I find myself in the pulpit, simply for lack of anyone else to be there. I’m not trained, not accredited, not ordained. I don’t call myself “minister” and I wouldn’t expect anyone to recognize me as one. While I may seek more formal ministerial training in the future, at the moment it’s not an option. On the other hand, I am doing the job, or at least a portion of it. So what am I? Is a part-time, untrained and unordained volunteer lay minister a “minister” or not?

  8. I’m wondering what the purpose would be of ordaining someone to serve a local congregation? Does the congregation need a figure-head in the community? Is this a lay-led congregation in need of pastoral care? Is there a need for someone to conduct rites of passage for the community? Canadian UUs have had Lay Chaplains in our congregations for nearly 40 years. (http://www.cuc.ca/lay_chaplaincy/index.htm) The Canadian Unitarian Council has clear policies and protocols that guide the work of Lay Chaplains in our congregations. A Lay Chaplain is not ordained, nor is a Lay Chaplain a trained counsellor. Lay Chaplains are licensed to perform marriages in their home provinces. Lay Chaplains perform weddings for non-members of congregations with ministers – provincial marriage commissioners are not permitted to include religious rites or language in the ceremonies they perform. Lay Chaplains also perform weddings and other rites of passage in congregations without ministers. A Lay Chaplain does not serve all the functions of an ordained, fellowshipped minister. However, Lay Chaplains are often the face of the local UU congregation in the community and perform important service to the congregation’s members.

  9. This is a needed discussion and certainly goes to the future manifestation of the UUA in a post-denominational landscape. I have always advocated for a revived diaconate among us, a commissioned, recognized and respected lay ministry of service for those who have chaired every committee and now want to do more, but are not truly called to parish ministry as it exists among us.

    Further, years of parish ministry have shown me that there are among us some who desperately wish to be ministers and seem to have mistaken the public “center of attention” quality that some aspects of ministry require for the whole of the work. These folks are train wrecks in the making and often involve whole congregations in the damage. There must be a vetting process that takes adequate time and, with professional and lay wisdom, requires would-be ministers truly to discern their call. The process we have now is sometimes inaccurate and needs refinement, no doubt, but something that essentially forces this discernment, if need be, is imperative.

  10. There are plenty of ministry opportunities in the UUU (Unitarian Universalist Underground). I probably identify with both underground and above ground. I have misplaced a notebook in which I had entered some favorite quotes–the tail end of one is “that way one can direct to pressure.” In some ways the man who shot the place up in the Knoxville Church in July 2008 could be considered part of the UUU. (Nice to hear from Buehrens himself in a brief after-service conversation in the Chattanooga church in early 2002 that he hmself liked Victor Frankel. Frankel wrote much of paradoxical intention. If your enemy thirst, give him a drink.)

    I am all for speaking in tongues, not-so- voluntary poverty, and celibacy where it is a true state rather than someone trying to fight their own body chemistry. Trying to force it has created horrdendous problems for the Roman Catholic Church.

    On the other hand I am disappointed that the UU Aboveground has welcomed Michael Dowd and his strange mix of evolution, evangelicalism, and glossolalia, . As the most helpful critical reviewer of his book at Amazon stated, Michael “flirts with teleology, which he indirectly champions.”

    Unfortunately there are few places to vent regarding dissastisfaction with UU as it is today. Blogging helps some as do private listservs. One UU thought the political situation in the November 2nd election was “yucky” anotther penned “it is a great day in America” regarding the outcome of the Nov. 2 election. I had no desire to go to the polls, which may be one way of siding with whoever the winners are. //Mickbic

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s