Without portfolio? Organizing ministers outside settlements?

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While I don't believe that Free Church ministers (including Unitarian Universalists and United Church Christians) attain an ontological state through their ordination that fundamentally distinguishes them from the laity -- made priests forever -- neither do I really feel "that Pastor Jones is Mr. Jones on the train between his calls" as the old chestnut goes. The truth is somewhere else.

The ordained ministry derives its authority from its character and its work, but there's something about the ministry that doesn't rub off, even if you're not serving a church or engaged in an institutional ministry. Even ministers who lay down their ordination and never return to the work aren't quite laypersons, but don't ask me to make a rational argument about how or why. Now, how do we regard ministers who through happenstance -- often geographic or for family reasons -- don't practice a regularly constituted, accountable ministry? Poorly comes to mind, at least in the Unitarian Universalist Association. The working attitude is that if you don't work in a conventional ministry at least half time until retirement, you begin to drift away and eventually vanish, ecclesiastically speaking. There's a bad moral in that, and a terrible waste of experience and fellowship.

In parliamentary systems, governments often have "ministers without portfolio" -- those without specific responsibilities or charge. I've sometimes waggishly described myself as a "minister without portfolio" and this blog and other service is a partial effort to maintain some kind of work -- an irregular, unaccountable, part-time and wholly unpaid ministry -- that keeps me in the loop.

Which begs the question? Who ministers to those others "without portfolio"? Do we have something in common that we can identify that brings us together? Gifts we can share? Opportunities to maintain our skills as we wait for an opportunity to serve in the way that our training and ordination implies?

Are you in this situation? What would you have done?

6 Replies to “Without portfolio? Organizing ministers outside settlements?”

  1. It’s not an ontological state, but it is a covenant, voluntarily entered into by both the minister and the ordaining congregation — and by extension, the covenanted community of congregations to which the ordaining congregation belongs. I have to say, I don’t like the “minister without portfolio” term, though. Covenants are not about portfolios, they’re about relationships. So I’d put it this way — you have an online ministry based on online relationships — I’d also say there’s clearly an implicit covenant in your online writing (which is one of the reasons yours is one of the few UU blogs I read regularly). From my perspective, you’re using your ordination in a very significant way through this Web site.

    [begin rant] But online ministry is *not* valued among most Unitarian Universalists. The Board of the congregation I serve merely tolerates my blog — which probably looks like an eccentric hobby to them, and nothing more. The UUA bureaucracy basically does not understand blogging or online ministry (with maybe two exceptions). While I and quite a few others see your unpaid, part-time online ministry as incredibly valuable, the majority of Unitarian Universalists are methodologically very conservative and are unable to recognize the value of online ministry. [end rant]

    On the other hand, blogging doesn’t pay much. I think you should start a wedding business. A friend of mine in the Bay Area was forced into a mundane day job, so she started a nice little wedding ministry that proved to be quite profitable. Or another friend of mine recently got out of congregational work and started doing pastoral counseling to keep her hand in, which sounds very iffy to me but then I’m fairly risk-averse. Here where I live, not just weddings but “baptisms” for not-quite-Catholics are a real money-maker, and a nice little healing ministry, for a couple of UU ministers near me. Seems like there’s real potential for a kick@$$ ministry that’s satisfying, life-saving, part-time, and profitable.

  2. I sometimes mention that my grandfather was an United Brethren minister (with doctorate). He left the paid ministry in the mid1940s, but continued the unpaid until his death 30 years later. the other side of the families had Primitive Baptists ministers – but they were, of course, all unpaid…..(and no degrees either….) –
    … as I think of the old Southern Universalist ministers, they were either unpaid or lowly paid, which is why so many were bi-vocational. but a calling is a calling.

    I dont see the “unsettled minister” in the UUA as being that much different that unsettled ministersin other denominations (from MY vintage point as a non-minister obviously). Maybe there is a need for a non-settled ministers association – there are a fair amount in the UUA….

  3. Fortunately, most of the older Southern Universalist ministers were newspaper publishers and booksellers. Something i remember when I write this blog.

  4. What StephenR said makes sense to me. Scott, what you need is a union. Obviously what you do is a ministry, both here on your blogand for me and for all those other clergy people who need your expertise on technical and theological issues. I love what you do. The question for a “without portfolio” guild would be one of population. Do we know how many folks are in your situation?

  5. I think I feel similarly, though perhaps not for the same reasons.

    I transferred from the MDiv to MTS program mostly because I began to conceive of my own work as a minister more broadly than the UUA/MFC defines. I didn’t want to have to serve a church, hospital, or community organization in order to be considered a minister. I really think I’m called to a workplace ministry for people of diverse religious traditions, and that part of the way I do that is on-line.

  6. In response to Dan’s comments about a wedding ministry. I did that for a little while and enjoyed it. But recently the growth of the “wedding-insurance” business has given me pause and I have pulled back. Since I lack “Pastoral Liability Insurance”, it just didn’t make sense for me to go into a wedding with an “insured” couple and I had no “insurance”. What might I get sued for as a wedding officiant? Well, people sue people over the most crazy things nowadays so just use your imagination. The first thing that comes to mind is, if you’re having an “independent ministry”, making certain you have a “back-up” minister in place just in case you can’t show up on time. Well, that’s enough of that. Wedding ministry just isn’t for me anymore and thought I would pass on my concerns. Take care Scott.

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