Personal M.Div.

Now that I’ve gotten a new feed reader, I can scan through fresh RSS feeds even faster, and pick up some blogs that I had to drop from being overwhelmed. One of this second class is the ChangeThis newsletter, which points to new manifesto titles at A manifesto is a prima facie argument and plan for why someone or some entity should change its behavior to X. Some are quite sensible and others wacky, but all have some merit. One — to substitute the incredibly expensive taught M.B.A. for a self-study (a web forum exists to facilitate) of foundational works on business — caught my attention. (Download it here.) Self-study under a mentor was the most education many (American, anyway) ministers could historically expect before the rise of the seminary system. And the money part: anyone who has worked the numbers around a seminary education knows that its effects on financial security are humbling, especially when coupled with the current opportunities for ordained clergy in the UUA. Or as I used to say, “if you’re going to go into the ministry, learn to cut hair first.” Or repair bikes or fix computer networks. Church or not, you’re going to have to eat.

Of course, others, chiefly Jordan Cooper, (also here) had already made the mental leap to the “personal M.Div.” and have already written about it. (I had dropped his feed, too.) For the most part, it has been a small bloggish ripple in the Internet. A development wiki has been created. [Site dead. Link to a snapshot at] Some have pointed to “essential” reading lists (like this one) which is the kind of thing that makes other nervous about ruining the institution of the ministry, and that the whole idea of a “personal M.Div.” runs counter to common sense or good church practice. The whole notion smacks of self-gratification and ego.

Perhaps a generation of self-studied ministers would be a problem, but I hardly think seminaries are the solution either. Right now, Unitarian Universalists, for example, have a polity-for-congregations that effectively excludes congregations from all formation but the final act: ordination. (Yes, I know about sponsorship and how that can be worked.) The current formation process — mind, I “went through” before the regional committees, but I suspect the difference is in degree, not kind — depends on the seminarian’s “entrepreneurial” skills to find a school, find funding, and finding an internship. Followed then by finding an ordaining church and a settlement. If that isn’t a recipe for ego and eccentricity, what is? Churchly formation — when it occurs — comes from mature internship sites and by proxy from the seminaries themselves.

Sell the books back

Shawn Anthony — bless his heart — is having agita over the cost of seminary textbooks (“The Campus Bookstore Lament”) but a rather warm feeling towards his bound paper children. My advice: get over that feeling right now. Last night I was culling my groaning bookshelves, and it seems to be a task I do far too often. Some of the books have never been opened (by me), and many of the rest have been so long with me that I don’t recall when I read them. A significant portion of the later group I bought for seminary. My seminary career was 1993 to 1997, before email was common and the Internet acquired useful resources. Instead, I acquired books, many of which I got for research and these are many of the ones I don’t use. After all, I’ve got Google.

Not that I didn’t try to save money. Both as an undergrad and in seminary, I borrowed books from others and the library, including Congregational Library. (I still do.) I tried to sell books back, but I could get little money for them.

And not that I don’t buy a lot of Universalist books, but that’s only to make a library that can’t be found outside of Massachusetts or perhaps New York. (With the pull times being what they are, the Library of Congress doesn’t count.) I would rather do without all the paper, and I keep asking myself, “if Universalists were so danged revolutionary, why didn’t they invent the PDF file two hundred years ago.” Getting those books into electronic circulation is a long-term goal, stymied no doubt by my hand and wrist problems.

But the real problem was the warm advise of older ministers who associated (in so many words) the aquisition of a large library to mature ministerhood. All I’ve gotten out of that is backaches moving dozens of cartons of books around and student debt I’m still paying. Information overload, not information want, is the problem of our age. Since we don’t share Erasmus’s book and information market, why should we share his seminary-folk-wisdom about buying books first?

Choose your books — like your battles — carefully.

Red Ken's letter is a good example for younger ministers

At age thirty-six, perhaps there are others better equipped to offer advice to younger ministers, but they don’t blog.

Right now, read and bookmark the Mayor of London Ken Livingstone’s remarks following yesterday’s bombings. I’ve long liked him for having a keen interest in city transport, for his role local government, and for putting the screws to Thatcher when few would; Red Ken — I rather like the nickname even though it was coined perjoritively — is the kind of politician I wish we had a few of.

His words are stirring, but the reason you should read and bookmark them is because they are a good example of the kind of emergency letter or speech most minister will need to give at least once in their careers. Firm, caring, directive, and hopeful. With a recognizable structure, which is an aid to writing and listening when the stress is high. Just barely long enough to get the message out without being tedious.

Livingstone was being a good leader here, and good leaders need good models.

Hattip: Philocrites and others.

Options for ordination: UCC

Chuck Currie forwards without comment a news release about a proposal that will come to the United Church of Christ General Synod (Atlanta!) this summer.

Since the subject of alternative formation and fellowship has come up several times before, I can’t help but be interested. Now, I have to wonder if there is a difference here despite the historical ties between the UUA and the UCC. We have a rare ministerial glut. Perhaps the UCC doesn’t. There’s also a different, semi-Presbyterial mechanism for ordination.

But, like the UCC, we have an underused “equivalent to M.Div.” proviso standard. We also have a history, via Universalism, of licensed ministers, though the use has morphed in a couple of small ways in local areas.

There’s a link to the proposal at Churck Currie’s blog or the UCC press release.

But a line makes me consider the purpose of the proposed change: to open up the ministry more effectively to ethnic and cultural minorities.

Episcopal bishop (for the American churches in Europe) Pierre W. Whalon wrote an article (read to the end) about how that would work under their alternative ordination Canon 9 and another on the importance of recruitment to the ministry. Both are worth a read.

Unfellowshipped ministers mistreated?

James asked the question at Unity, and bid me reply. Sure.

He writes:

I have been led to believe that although the UUA affirms congregational polity, and thus the right of a congregation to ordain whom it chooses, that the professional association — or at least professinals within the UUA — look askance at such ordinations, that they can professionally hurt the person ordained and can also serve to hurt the ordaining church. Is there any truth in this?

Well, yes, I have heard that but I think it depends on the area and the unfellowshipped minister. Though note the official line is that the congregations are free to do as they will, and so is the UUA. As I’ve written before, the clergy also have freedom and should use it when persons with gifts for ministry are denied fellowship but seek ordaination.

A good barometer for treatment is whether or not the district UUMA chapter allows unfellowshipped ministers — usually on the recommendation of a fellowshipped member — some kind of membership. A good reputation goes a distance, and I’m guessing the onus is less on those who serve outside of parishes and far more on those who make an effort to represent themselves as Unitarian Universalist ministers to the press and whatnot.

I’ve heard of “cease and desist” letters going from Boston to the latter group, but I can’t imagine what the UUA secretariat could or would do to such a minister, especially one who was ordained locally by a member congregation of the UUA. After all, anyone can send a letter to anyone else for any reason, right?

All of this presses a bigger button: what is the benefit of fellowship? And what are the costs?

Discussing ministerial formation and ordination

I’d like to point those interested in ministerial formation and ordination options to a paper from the “third-way” Vineyard USA: a group that’s notoriously hard to pigeon-hole. (To describe them is to say more about yourself than them, so I shan’t.)

Get a copy of their 2002 paper, Ordination, Licensing & Commissioning from Tri Robinson, the senior pastor of the Boise (Idaho) Vineyard. (See also the Boise Vineyard’s Estes-filled Vineyard College of Mission.)

It is in PDF, and you’ll find it at the bottom of their articles page.

Take about twenty minutes to read it. I’ll be back once you have.

The role of the church in ordination

Let me be quite plain. Despite some vestiges of Universalist polity in the Unitarian Universalist Association, particularly around ministerial formation, credentialling, and ordination, the Universalist structure is defunct. By church, for these purposes, we have to consider the congregational, not the trans-congregation meaning of Church. I might (underscore, might) want to see it restored, but this isn’t likely and what we have (in reverse order) is congregation ordination, associational credentialling, and academic formation. Let’s consider what we have.

There are some problems here — the role of the ministerial college, for one. It should be more pronounced: ministers should be central to the formation of kindred ministers. Today, this relationship carries the weight of folk tradition, and is levied/applied very unevenly. (I was fortunate to be adopted by mature minister as I was coming up. But then again, there were so few Christian seminarians, that I rather wonder if I was being tended like a whooping crane or panda.) Academic seminaries carry the lion’s share of ministerial formation, but to whom are they beholden? Some denomination? Perhaps. Ours? For most seminarians, no. The congregations that will receive the neophyte minister? Well, one would hope. We live in hope, but have come to expect, well, I’d rather not say.

But the main, core issue is that the church — or the church’s direct assigns, prayerfully considered, but the church as local entity in either case — needs to be the primary venue for forming its leadership. Ideally, a church helping one of its own grow into ordained ministry would help select a course of study and secure adequate guidance, but this is unlikely to happen. This may mean considering ways of developing ministers that we have never considered before. Nevertheless, the Christians in the UUA ought to be careful to make sure it can happen. Despite the new sunny era, we are still dependent on clergy, and the UUA has proved itself a powerful revolving door for all clergy. In such a climate, minorities will be disproportionally hurt.

We need to know — really, feel to the guts — that ministeral formation is the job of the churches. This means being able to support emerging ministers, and if the occasion allows, being firm in the local, unfellowshipped ordination of the same.

Here the principled and strategic combine: to take and hold the awesome responsibility of dedicating a member for Christ’s ministry on earth.

Framework for ministerial education

Call me funny, but some kind of structure in the ministerial formation meta-curriculum is a good thing. Indeed, that’s what you get in a theological education, and your accredited seminary isn’t going to let you go with an M.Div. without a basic education.

But that gets back to what’s basic.

This isn’t going to be popular, but the Unitarian Universalist Association is a denomination, at least “denominationish”, and that’s the Universalist inheritance. Not “denominationy” in all places, but certainly in the realm of ministerial formation. The member churches don’t just “associate” for common mission, the corporate unity (“Unitarian Universalism”) credentials ordination candidates and ministerial transfer. That’s why ministers serving churches have the right to vote at General Assembly; it isn’t all about the congregation. The much feared MFC? A pretty clear carry-over from the old Universalist Central Fellowship Committee. (Plainly, I wish the old Universalist fellowship committee power was still around. It had fellowship power over churches, which equalized power.)

Since that’s the case, it seems to be that the UUA should be very clear about formation standards. A firmer standard, and not one just held by the seminaries. With most ministerial students not going to Meadville/Lombard or Starr King, that seems right.

OK: is that scary? Then, if not that, then churches that choose to ordain need to take their reponsibilities seriously and establish standards for themselves. Seriously.

But here’s a standard to work with.

A Short Summary of What Candidates Ought to Know in Each of the Seven Canonical Areas

Wish list wish

Jim at Peregrinato did a kind thing and made the Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC) of the UUA available as an “so you’re” list.

Thanks — that’s the kind of thing we ought to do, by which I mean, produce time-saving conveniences for the common good. Which is why I’m linking it.

The list doesn’t seem that much different than when I went through, except the “dreaded” two-volume set of Wilbur’s A History of Unitarianism is missing. I’m not sure it was there to teach so much as to instill a common ordeal in the emerging generation. Plus it is very hard to find, and I’m not about to give mine up!

Otherwise, the list scans a bit — well — frumpy to me. Would it kill anyone to add a work of mission, evangelism, generational studies, or something — make that anything — else written in the last few years.

So here’s your assignment:

What should be on any Unitarian Universalist ministerial student’s must-read list? Please add comments.

Desert island selection #2

In the reading meme I wrote about, I mentioned I would memorize a classic work of pastoral care, if I was in a Farenheit 451-like situation.

I probably wouldn’t take along The Reformed Pastor, but I definitely would take . . .

2. Minister’s Prayer Book, edited and with an introduction by John W. Doberstein

. . . and I take it on the bus and when I travel.

Pastoral care seems to have once included ministerial spirituality, formation, and health. If you can be well and strong, how can you pastor your people? The modern work (1986 edition of 1959 original) includes a lectionary and worship aids.

But it is definitely for personal, ministerial use. I got mine used and there was a crease in the spine that makes it open to a quote from John Chrysostom: Hell is paved with priests’ skulls. That’ll remind you to fly right!

The work is essentially Lutheran with huge doses of Martin L. and Caspar Calvör’s The Ladder of Devotion, which was a “simple illustration of evangelical meditation in the tradition of Luther’s meditatio, tenatio, oratio.” That is: meditation, self-examination, and prayer. The book is worth it for this essay alone.

Tons of Richard Baxter quotations, too.

Makes a great ordination gift.