Servants of the status quo?

Nerve Cell

Wow.  Last post touched a nerve for some people.  Did you know you can send frowns and grumbles quite successfully via email?

Nice to get some feedback.  Be even nicer if people felt safe talking about the subject of ministry, ministers, power and credentials openly.  I’m not going to share anonymous comments, but I will say that there are some important conversations that need to happen in this area.

When the Rev. Peter Morales was running for president of the UUA I remember hearing him note that much of his success was due to being very good at getting out of the way so other people could accomplish amazing things on behalf of the congregation.

I think this is a good question for all of us to ask.

Are you a facilitator of ministry innovation or a servant (and in some cases minister) of the status quo?

18 thoughts on “Servants of the status quo?

  1. Religious people are always in tension between tradition and the continuity of culture and innovation and change. Fruitful practice for us in discernment, living with discomfort, and risking faithfully.

      1. Very true, Peter. For me, the healthy religious life is rooted in living with what’s uncomfortable, risking faithfully, and learning humbly to be hopeful, loving, and generous in the midst of scarcity, fear, and uncertainty.

  2. Anna – From my perspective, there is something going on with parish ministers and “authority.” This from discussion where “ministerial authority” comes up; from the tragedy of the firing in the PCD; and from attempting to read between the lines in the current Commission on Appraisal topic “Authority.” I have the seen the CoA guide for focus groups, but it seems to beg the question of what are they really getting at.

    Peter: I have been wondering about the issues of different kinds of ministry as highlighted in the previous post. Paul, the original church consultant, wrote about ministry, hierarchy, and different gits in two different letters (Romans, Corinthians.) His parable of the body – that no part should consider itself above – combined with an emphasis on different gifts – suggests a different form of church organization than what we see in most denominiations. The fact that he had to write about it twice, and that it made it into the canon, suggests that it is a recurring problem. It would be an extraordinary minister who combined a whole bunch of spiritual gifts. The minister/non-minister divide means we put nearly-impossible expectations on a minister, and under-use the gifts of the laity.

  3. I wish we could tackle head-on the fear-factor. From the lay side of the equation, I think it undermines ministry and can create exactly the circumstances of mistrust that one is afraid of. I’m with Naomi — leadership, whether lay or ordained, is a leap of faith. It takes both courage and humility.

    In the same general category: Thom Belote’s essay “Other Impediments to Growth: How Reliance on a Learned Clergy Keeps Us Small and Non-ambitious…”

    How do we create a space were we can have the forbidden conversations?

  4. Recently heard parish ministry described as the hub of a wheel that holds the center firm while allowing the rest of the contraption to move freely. I resonated with that description while at the same time thinking it is pure fiction as practiced in many congregations which look to the ordained ministry for more than a steadying and somewhat passive presence. Why? Not sure. Ordained ministry with an inflated sense of importance in some cases? Laity disempowered?

    This conversation has made me wonder about the number of people entering ordained UU ministry. Perhaps we seem to have so many ministers and seminarians in comparison to our size because we don’t have a middle ground for motivated and talented lay people to express a calling besides ordained ministry. Just a thought.

    1. The ministerial rush is probably affected by organizational leadership issues – but I think it’s also indicative of people feeling like they need to get a degree to dive deeper into Unitarian Universalism. People may just be hungry for theological grounding and, because of who we are culturally, turn to academia for what they aren’t finding at the congregational level.

  5. Thanks for all your comments. Love it!

    On “creating space” to talk more, I just created a facebook group to serve as a “free space and think thank for Unitarian Universalist change agents.”

    The UU Growth Lab
    As Naomi pointed out on Twitter, we need all kinds of spaces. I’m hosting this one.

  6. A word from at least one grumbling graybeard–and yes, an ordained minister. Some us remember several UU loose cannons, ordained and unordained, in the “let it all hang out for freedom” decades, who rolled around causing a great deal of damage while prominently displaying UU affiliation. If people are going to represent you, you (the denomination, the congregation, etc.) have an inescapable responsibility to be sure they are not simply minister “wanna-be” types using your good name and standing to run out their own little shows. “Let a thousand flowers bloom” sounds nice but not everyone drawn to doing so will be, as are the contributors to this blog, persons of good faith and good sense. Really, do you think there is so much money, power and glamor in the UU ministry that we ordained are trying to hog it all? No, it’s that we are too small and too fragile to be cavalier with what little place and prestige we do have in the larger world.

    1. Beautiful comment. Thank you. Point taken about not all being “of good faith and good sense” like readers of this site.

      To me, key to unleashing more of our potential is ACCOUNTABILITY. I haven’t seen us do very well with both empowering and holding people accountable. Without it alternative forms of ministry would be mayhem with chalices.

      I’m not for letting it all hang out, but I am for using the talent we have. I don’t think ordained and fellowshipped parish ministers are trying to hog it all — note I’m married to one. From my conversations with ministers (New England and readers of this blog) I issues at play seem to be less about being cavalier with our place & prestige, and more about not having a shared vision and model for other forms of ministry, being fearful of the UUA poo-pooing models that aren’t presently mainstream, and simply not having time or the charge (not my job) to figure out how to make it happen. Again, any exploration into alternative forms of ministry do need to have purpose, structure, clarity and accountability.

    2. Stephen, I for one am not unmindful of the damage that can be done in the name of UUism. As a parish minister and fully-trained and experienced chaplain, for example, I find myself resisting the pressure in my congregation to re-establish a lay pastoral ministry, because I appreciate that such a ministry to be successful requires people adequately prepared and supervised; time which I don’t have as the 1/2 time minister. I know, even if my congregation doesn’t quite, that everyone drawn to be a lay pastoral minister will not be people of “good faith and good sense.” So, I agree with you to a point.

      As a lay leader, I experienced in the not-so-distant past the profound damage that can be caused to a congregation by even the duly fellowshipped and ordained. This experience told me that not everyone who is deemed “qualified” actually is. So, again I agree to point. If this is what the qualified are liable to do, who knows what the great unwashed will do?

      But it also didn’t rule out for me that there are many who choose to remain as lay people who have a legitimate calling and who can help support the professional ministry of the congregations in meaningful ways.

  7. I think one place to start is with Religious Education. I think that until the ministry of Religious Education is seen and understood to be “real” ministry by ministers we are going to have a problem exploring alternative and creative ministry ordained or lay that lead us in new directions. There is a lot of creative energy in ministry being done in religious education that is and traditionally has been done by religious educators who have been and still are undervalued, underpaid and under-recognized. As long as congregations pay ministers full time salaries and benefits and expect religious education programs for children and adults to be run by people (who let’s be honest, can at times be more creative and resonate with our people better than we ministers) on part-time hours at part-time pay with no benefits who burn out fast and turn the positions over often, we are going to be in trouble. I think progress has been made, but there is still a long way to go. Here in our district there is mantra: Lifespan Faith Development is all we do, Unitarian Universalism is all we teach, the congregation is the curriculum. I think there needs to be less division among a minister’s ministry and that of religious educator. We all need to see ourselves as religious educators.

  8. I am a Baptist minister of the MLK theological ilk and a hospice chaplain in southwest Florida. I began seminary (Union Theological Seminary in NYC) as a UU but did not pass the Regional Subcommittee on Candidacy which occurred during the week my devoutly Christian and mentor Grandmother died. The two losses – one profoundly sad, the other deeply disappointing – led me to rethink my Christian past and my choice of ministry outside Christianity. I cancelled the UU internship (paid) I arranged, began attending a liberal Christian church, and discontinued my aspiration to be a UU minister. After four units of Clinical Pastoral Education as a lay minister, I became a hospice chaplain. Eventually, following a long hike in the wilderness that is denominational Christianity, I was ordained at a liberal, Alliance of Baptist affiliated church in northern Florida. My wife remains a UU. And living here in Southwest Florida, amid the same kind of wilderness for liberal Christians, we have begun attending our local UU Congregation.

    I think for me the whole process of UU credentialing system, or any denominational ordination system for that matter, that is detached from the actual continuous process of the aspiring minister is for the birds. A committee of strangers who can only go by first impression, the state of how their day is going, and pieces of paper, makes people like myself – Introverted and ADD (without hyperactivity) – at an extreme disadvantage. It seems to me, making the internship central, and having the mentor/minister and the local congregation hosting the intern do the credentialing makes more sense and is closer to the way both Unitarianism and Universalism did it in the past. Its the way the Baptists do it still. This way the credentialing/ordaining would come as a result of relationship not merely rational, objective judgment which is a rather masculine, one-sided way of doing things.

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