Next for the COA?

The UUA Comission on Appraisal asks for our input on its next subject.

I’m now wondering out loud, “What has happened to the scores or hundreds of ministers that come into fellowship and then vanish?” I was on the phone the other night with a regular reader and we easily reeled off the names of about a dozen people we knew that are now gone. Some left the ministry altogether, and others went to other denominations. Most of the people we remembered were Christians — because that’s who we ran with — but it doesn’t seem to be a Christian-only sitation.

What opportunity costs do we pay for lost ministers, and what “ecological” reason (if any) can be found for it? Does clergy loss hide problems? What, if anything, does it say about the fellowship of the Association if (as ancedotes suggest) that clergy-killing churches have a big role in this phenomenon?

5 Replies to “Next for the COA?”

  1. — I started thinking about this. There are UU ministers of all theological stripes who leave because of abuse from congregations. Humanist, Christian, Buddhist, you name it… They get exhausted and depressed by the abuse, and either leave the ministry, or simply shift from parish work to (hospital / hospice / prison / nursing) home chaplaincy.

    I wonder if there are Humanist ministers who’ve left for Ethical Culture. But I doubt there are many, with EC being so small, and the opportunities so limited. But I can think of some Humanist ministers who left for academic careers or for employment in counseling.

    And as for us Christians, there comes a day when many of us want to be out of the closet; and are tired of being mistaken for secret agents of Jerry Falwell or the Pope.


  2. Scott, why don’t you submit your idea to the COA so they can consider it formally? Sounds like something that may well be worth investigating. They could compare UUA with UCC and other denominations to see if we are significantly different. If so, investigate why.

  3. I agree with the above comments. A classmate of mine from Meadville/Lombard and I started looking at the folks from our entering classes and realized that only about 25% made it to final fellowship. We wondered if other professions had a similar rate of attrition.

    One of the underlying assumptions about the ministry is that the church is always right. The denomination exists to support churches, not clergy. Our benefits packages are not comparable with other denominations. Every UU minister is also only one congregational meeting from being fired. It’s amazing that so many are willing to become UU ministers. In fact, the extraordinary number of ministers seeking churches means that dysfunctional churches can always count on someone being willing to walk through their door after they have kicked out their minister. An unending supply of ministers seeking experience and gainful employment fuels some dysfunctional behaviors.

    Scott, do submit your ideas to the COA.

  4. Some insights gained from work as a mentor, a UUMA exec member, an interim minister. Some of the congregations that one minister experiences as abusive, work well for another minister. It is the match and mismatch problem. And this mismatching is a mutual responsibility of the search process. The search committees try to avoid problems by getting one size fits all minister, and the minister trys to conform to the congregational culture, and unhappiness results.

    The internship system “trains” ministers for larger congregations, and their first call is to a small congregation. I know several Christian colleagues that were shocked by the introverted reality of a smaller New England congregation after interning in one of our bigger Christian friendly UU churches.

    It is a skill to be able to minister to a diverse congregation, there are many humanists that can do it. But a number have run into trouble “as not spiritual enough.” They were shocked, and talked about New Age and Christian conspiracies, but the congregation wanted to find unity in their diversity, and even the humanist members blamed the minister if the new more spiritual members weren’t happy. I might be biased but I have observed UU Christians are more aware of the challenge of diversity.

    And finally non profit agencies value the experience of parish ministry, and pay executives much more money, some have left because they were headed for the poor house in a average sized UU congregation. MDiv + five years as exec of non profit agency (church) = United Fund Big Shot.

  5. Kurt – Regarding methodology… While a comparison with the UCC might be interesting, I think there would be more to look at in terms of methods in addition to comparison studies. It might be tempting to say, “This other group does things as badly as we do, so we don’t have a problem.” Historial case in point… There was a time (early 1980’s ???) when concern was raised about the number of women who quickly dropped out of ministry in the UUA. A comparison with the UCC and the Methodists showed that our percentages of women leaving ministry were simmilar. So no problem?

    There was a problem. A study of our internal dynamics found that many women felt frustrated at being shunted into Assistant Pastor, Minister of RE, and part-time positions. We had an un-addressed glass ceiling, although no general hostility to women’s ordination. Among Methodists, the motives for leaving were most often different. Some congregations were hostile to women ministers who had been placed at a church by their bishop. Among Methodists the congregation does not ultimately choose their minister. The Methodists had unresolved issues around ministerial placement, and the ordination of women. After a few wounding experiences, these women ministers left.

    It would also be educational to see where our folks left for. Did they leave parish ministry and go into hospital chaplaincy? Or did they leave ministry altogether for secular careers? Or just the UUA for parish ministry in another denomination?


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