Ordained Associates for Evangelism?

Reviewing UU blogs this morning, one shared this video with the comment, “What’s wrong with these people?”

In this video a couple is being ordained as associates of this ministry and are being sent out as power evangelists.

Watching it I had a different reaction.  Mine was, “What’s wrong with us?”

Why aren’t we ordaining associates to go out into the world on behalf of our congregations and Unitarian Universalism at large?  Why not ordain associates of your congregation to lead social justice ministries, outreach ministries, addiction ministries and beyond?

What’s holding us back?

What keeps us from unleashing a multitude of Unitarian Universalist  ministers upon the world?  Is it a systemic desire to preserve the status of being a “real minister” to only UUA fellowshipped parish ministers?

I’m thinking the answer is yes… What do you think?

I do see the problem.  We can’t slap seals on our ministers identifying them as  fully seminary trained, ordained AND fellowshipped UUA certified ministers like the seals for fully organic products.    We do need a way to differentiate roles and credentials across a continuum of forms of ministry and ministers.

Maybe that  is why in this video the term “associate” is used.  They ordaining this couple to serve in a capacity outside of the congregation.  To move forward with giving more UUs permission to minister, to serve, we’d need to figure out how to handle the language.  It is important to have clarity.  But I don’t think we should let the lack of the language continue to limit our conception of ministry and ministers.

I know what many of you are thinking. “Peter, do you realize how sloppy it would be to have all sorts of ministers out there??!”

Yes, I do.  But life is sloppy.  And we need more Unitarian Universalists to serve and to serve outside of the traditional parish ministry role.

100% Grade UUA ministers

I think  you who are fully seminary trained, ordained and fellowshipped UUA certified parish ministers are damaging your careers by supporting limited conceptions of ministry.  You need people serving in  alternative ministries if the congregations you serve are going to reach their full potential — the power of your personal ministry rests not in what you can do, but in what you can empower and support others to do.  Right now there’s a cap on that.


  1. In the spirit of talking UU Blue Ocean Strategies,  what would it look like if we removed that cap?
  2. What would the impact be of congregations giving official ministry credentials and titles to those who had the desire, calling and congregational support to lead alternative associated ministries?
  3. If this is a desirable direction to move in, what would need to happen in order to make it culturally acceptable within the Unitarian Universalist Association?

    Transparency:  I’ve come to know a growing number of amazing and dedicated UU’s who are pursuing alternative ministries, who have completed seminary, and are trying their best to serve Unitarian Universalism at large despite not receiving recognition and credentials as ministers.  It’s been making me question whether the UUA’s Ministerial Fellowship Committee is really only suited to serve as a PARISH Ministerial Fellowship Committee.  So, know that this post is inspired by a growing realization of what we’re missing by not empowering some amazing people to serve to their fullest.   That’s at the core of the “What’s wrong with us?” question.  ~ Peter

    16 thoughts on “Ordained Associates for Evangelism?

    1. “Is it a systemic desire to preserve the status of being a “real minister” to only UUA fellowshipped parish ministers?” No, I don’t think so. I think the reason is that the evangelical ministers have a coherent message, and we do not. We have elevator speeches that no two UUs can agree on, but we do not have a nessage. Or an agreed upon mission or purpose, for that matter. Until we formally decide what we are and what we do, we can’t send people out to do it.

      1. Joel,

        It’s true that UUs have many different “messages” when it comes to theology, but I do think that many of us (and the number is increasing) do have shared, large-scale missions or purposes, especially in areas of social justice. We don’t need to have a uniform theology to share a unified purpose.


    2. I’d love to see this – reflecting particular missions, schools of practice & theology within Unitarian Universalism, and the clarity of vision & practice of particular congregations and bodies.

      Why is this so threatening? Because change is threatening. But is it all that different from some of our Universalist roots with lay brothers and sisters who spread good news and helped establish new congregations. Sharing who and what we are and why we’re here wasn’t just the job of professional clergy — and it shouldn’t ever be.

    3. Good points, Rev. Naomi. Some of us do have that coherent sense of mission and message, and would love to see passionate, energetic representatives of our freedom-enabled, spirit-filled faith reaching out to respectfully extend our liberal-religious presence to all people — no matter where they may be — who might be able to find benefit and growth from it. People who have that “fire of commitment,” following in the rich tradition of visionaries like Monroe Husbands, Quillen Shinn, and Powell Davies — could help us do just that.

    4. “If you’re not ready to have the Holy Ghost turn your life upside down, you might as well just go right now.”

      That’s “what’s wrong with these people”. They’re full of the transforming energy of their faith. They’re overwhelmed by it, and they’re not ashamed of letting it take them over. You can’t get much further from the UU concept of experiencing religion than that.

      Discuss, pro or con, after coffee.

      So, just what denomination does this church represent? None. They decide who’s ready to take their message to others, and then they empower them to do it. I doubt many Harvard Divinity School graduates would qualify at Fresh Fire, but I can not say whether that’s good, bad or irrelevant. It does seem like something that could have come from “congregational polity” though, doesn’t it?

      1. VB,

        “They’re full of the transforming energy of their faith. They’re overwhelmed by it, and they’re not ashamed of letting it take them over. You can’t get much further from the UU concept of experiencing religion than that.”

        Actually, at least some UUs (myself included) do experience the “transforming energy their faith” in exactly that way. I’d like to see more UUs become evangelical–not in their theology, but in the way they live our their faith.


    5. Yes to you and Naomi and all. Commissioned might be a better word than ordained; and it has the mission focus within it. We won’t multiply if we don’t find ways to do this and if we grow only by addition we will keep losing ground in our impact beyond ourselves. Not a panacea but in the spectrum we need teams of commissioned folks living missionally outside the normal church arena then debriefing their lives to others back tending the home fires.

      1. What one calls folk so called to particular ministries depends on how we understand the rituals and powers and responsibilities associated with those ministries. I think of those rituals as sacraments, and if I’m talking with others who also do, then we get into sacramental theology about what we believe those rituals do and whether we’re consecrating or commissioning or ordaining or anointing or blessing or sanctifying has driven the development of multiple teaching lineages and many denominations. Membership in a congregation could also contain the ritual of blessing or commissioning folks in practicing their gifts and talents to the support of the ministry of the community to the world. (Where’s that calling/offering business? Parker Palmer suggests where our gifts meet the world’s needs.) In communities where there’s a regular practice of living this sort of full-ministry of the congregation the role of professional ordained religious leaders becomes more reverenced, not less. Why? Because the professional religious leaders aren’t expected to be all to all, but to be spiritual leaders, faith practitioners, and involved in the larger community, too. The span of care, while in some ways larger, is actually more practicable than that expected of many professional religious leaders in more rigidly separated understandings. But then we’re all also more outwardly focused, and less inwardly tended.

    6. Oh I say, “Amen,” and have been talking like this since I began my staff position at UUHQ and “inherited” the question of ordaining our music professionals as “Ministers of Music.” There are so many ways to minister, and I’ve known lots of folks in our congregations who have not been ordained yet are more of a true “minister” than the Ordained Clergy Person. (My favorite professional designation for myself and my ilk.)

      At the last congregation I served, I turned the occasion of my Installation as settled Senior Minister into an installation of myself and the Associate Minister, the Music Director and Religious Education Director, the support staff, and EVERY MEMBER OF THE CONGREGATION as ministers of the church (each in our own, unique ways). I look forward to doing this in the next congregation I serve.

    7. After reading this, I think I am going to start a “deacon” program at our church. Of course we have no minister to upset.

    8. I’m not saying it can’t be done or it shouldn’t be done, but… The ordained & professional ministry and the MFC system carries with it a system of accountability & an expectation of professionalism. If one is representing oneself as a minister to a UU congregation in search, for example, they have an expectation that this minister has certain qualifications and is held to an ethical covenant. To broaden the definition of “minister” in our movement, there are a few ways to go about it — one is to have a separate term, like “deacon” or “associate minister” (although we already use that to mean something); another would be to either abandon these systems of accountability or subject everyone who wants to be a minister to them (but that’s what we already do). How do we do both, opening up the definition of ministry and growing our conception of ministry, and also setting up expectations of professionalism, competency, and ethical standards? I don’t see an example out there yet that does both–yet. All that said, it’s worth trying to set that example!

      P.S. Do I think the MFC has made mistakes? Certainly. It’s not a perfect process. I, too, know people who I think would’ve made fine ministers who were stopped at the gate. I also know that I didn’t see everything the MFC saw, and maybe there was some issue there. And I know at least one who I was glad was stopped, for what it’s worth, because of what seemed like to me some pretty scary boundary issues. I do think it’s important to have some body to say, “Nope, that one’s a convicted sexual offender, let’s put up the red light” for people who are given the title of “minster” since that title carries with it cultural weight. Can our system use some reform? Sure.

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