UU Spiritual Gifts, Ministry & Candyland


* Scroll down for spiritual gifts poll *

Since our discussion started on “Local Ordination” I’ve been thinking about gift discernment.  One of my favorite “Church Books” is The Equipping Church.  The executive summary is that gift discernment is an essential part of how we help people fit into our congregations and find their personal ministry, be it in our congregations or out in the larger world..  Through this process we help people live meaningful, challenging and rewarding lives.

Many of our congregations are not intentional about this.  I personally like to integrate it into our small group ministries.  As for the ordination question,  how we go about this strikes me as critical issue.

I see many people starting to move along the “Become a Parish Minister” track because they want to serve our faith more than part time and would ideally like serving to be their livelihood.

Right now the default path is too much like the game Candyland where each turn you move forward with there only being one valid, valued and respected path —  to parish ministry and ordination.

And like Candyland, many wonderful and horrible things can happen along the way….

Whoops!  You got a mediocre score from the MFC, go back two spaces to “study Theology.”
You’re called to be a part time Youth Minister,  go directly to seminary, accumulate debt and say goodbye to your UU dreams.

Shouldn’t there be many more wonderful ministry destinations?  Maybe our lack of those destinations is one reason we’re in decline.  If people can’t use their gifts to the fullest, they go elsewhere. And our congregations suffer.  Any of you understaffed?  Having trouble finding volunteers?

What are your Spiritual Gifts?

Below is a quick poll listing many time-honored spiritual gifts.  These are compiled from several Christian online gift inventories.  I’ve pulled out the gifts of celibacy, speaking in tongues and others that seem less relevant for UUs.


Gifts discernment within our system?

I’d love to learn more about how gifts discernment is integrated into admission to UU  seminaries,  the UUA’s fellowshipping process, and ordination by our congregations.  I know there is a psych evaluation, but is there gifts discernment?

9 thoughts on “UU Spiritual Gifts, Ministry & Candyland”

  1. I think you should have kept ‘speaking in tongues’. There is something to be said for it.

    Having spent time with Quakers, who are all about discernment, the one thing you learn is that there is (or can be) a push-pull between what a person believes they are called to do and what the community around them believes their call to be. It’s the same with the MFC process–except–in Quaker discernment the Clearness Committee (or Ministry and Oversight Committee, which is as close to the MFC as Quakers will probably get) spends more than an hour with you. AND–their purpose is to HELP you discern/clarify your call–NOT judge whether you are called or not.

    Anyway…there are a bunch of gifts inventories floating around out there, if I can pull some up I’ll post them either here or on my page.

  2. One of the downsides of being such a small denomination is that there’s less room for specialization. If we numbered in the millions, or just one million, there’d be a lot more room for non-senior minister callings that paid a full-time salary. You could make a career of being a full-time youth director, for example.

  3. For a denomination whose core tenets include “priesthood of all believers”, we certainly don’t walk that talk, do we? I definitely understand the historical justifications for the fellowshipping and hiring processes the UUA has, but I also think they narrow the scope of what we consider “ministry” far to much.

    I know a few congregations have a locally ordained Minster of _____, along with a fellowshipped minister. The Universalist Congregation of Atlanta has a Lay Ministry program; Ohio Meadville District has a Commissioned Lay Leader program. Six or eight Protestant denominations have something like a “commissioned lay pastor” designation.

    The Candyland comparison is wonderfully insightful.

  4. As a Quaker, I’ll echo Kim’s comments about the push/pull dynamic of corporate discernment.

    One of the (mildly) scandalous things about UUs to my mind is the way the ministry looks (to me) like a profession. Qoheletter’s comment highlights this: who said anything about ministries paying full-time salaries? Why should that be linked in any way with a wider understanding and practice of the “priesthood of all believers” and more attention to discernment of callings?

  5. What is fascinating is that “discernment” (of “call”/”vocation” or “gifts”) is held to be so foundational from Roman Catholics to Mainline Protestants to Unitarian Universalists. Everywhere one turns, there seem to be some expectation about “discernment” – and simple “making a good choice” is not what is at issue. It seems to be everywhere.

    Everywhere in the “West,” that is. According to Archimandrite Meletios Webber*, Eastern Orthodox Christians aren’t concerned with it. Even in the case of monastics, a life path that in Roman Catholicism requires multiple years of discernment before and after entering an order, Webber says that the monastic makes a simple freewill offering of the person to live according to the rules and norms. He connects Western concern with discerning vocation (call) to be linked to unhealthy and misguided certainty of the possibility of knowing or the individual’s or even a group’s ability to know “the mind of God.”

    Since the model of “call” and “discernment” come to us out of specifically Western Christianity, it makes sense to me to examine the model, whether scientifically, logically, or in relation to existing critiques, like Webber’s Orthodox critique.

    Maybe “discernment” amounts to navel gazing and what we need to do is:

    1) learn from the community what needs exist;
    2) learn from experience and from the community what usable resources one brings;
    3) match resource to need or allow the community to do so; and
    4) offer oneself to filling that/ those needs.

    In other words, instead of starting with what we feel pushed or pulled toward, start with seeing what needs exist. Instead of starting with a personal passion, come to a commitment not determined by passion even if served by it.

    I’m not saying that Webber’s critique of vocational discernment is ultimately the understanding we need. But I am amazed that so many UUs assume the necessity of following a Western Catholic model of vocation when it is not even the norm of Christianity as a whole – and especially when we add in the theological differences between UU and most other Western religion.

    *See Webber’s _Bread & Water, Wine & Oil: An Orthodox Christian Experience of God_ (Chesterton IN: Conciliar Press, 2007). Chapter 14 “The Mystery of Ordination,” especially p.183.

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