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 Amazon.com “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.

Graduation day

I know of at least two seminarians who became Masters of Divinity today. Such good news!

Today divinity, tomorrow the world!

Hit the Jackpot

Tom Schade at Coffee Hour, the new Unitarian Universalist group blog asks the “won the lottery” question.

What would I fund, after I got that platinum-plated electric kettle? (I prefer tea to coffee, you see.)

First, and this may seem harsh, but I wouldn’t give a penny to the UUA. Money is power, and both need to be distributed to keep fiefdoms from being established. A lot of Universalist money went into the memory hole of the newborn UUA, and from I understand the promises to honor the Universalist contribution – both in cash and tradition – were not kept. It is worth noting that some Universalists four decades ago had enough snese around themselves to hold on to their resources, and they dole it out by annual vote.

So, now to the funding.

  • Endow a chair in Universalist studies. Perhaps two, or if I was feeling bold, a house of studies. The house of studies model has a lot of merit – the Swedenborgians have moved to it, in league with the Pacific School of Religion, for the training of their ministers – and if I had to choose today, I’d install it at my alma-mater, Brite Divinity School, which has a Baptist House of Studies.
  • Host and fund evangelists’ conferences. Bring in experienced, sound church planters to inspire potiential candidates for church planting. All-expenses-paid church planter’s evalucations to follow.
  • Fund a recruitment committee to comb the seminaries for East Asian candidates for the ministry and church planters. Especially ethnic Koreans.
  • Fund a grant program for church planters and new congregations. As a rule, no more than three years of funding for new projects, at no more than 75% of TCM (total cost of ministry), with health care funding for another two years.
  • Fund urban work camps and urban ministry with an express mission plan to identify members of target populations (especially Latinos, African Americans, and immigrants and internal migrants of whatever nationality) for lay leadership, leading to new churches and ministerial training
  • Then later, Fund several locally-based lay training programs to create a first generation of locally ordained pastors for populations that have little or no representation in the ministerial college. This would parallel Presbyerian and United Methodist lay ministry models, and some use of Canon 9 ordinations in the Episcopal Church, to serve special populations.

I’ll find links to successes and models for this last idea, and post them later, or make a new entry, as needed.

Chicago, the home of "jazz killers" and . . .

Apart from changing planes at O’Hare, I’ve never been to Chicago: never have been to the Art Institute, never have ridden the El, and never have visited much less attended a certain double-initialed Unitarian Universalist-related seminary.

Last night, in a new members’ orientation, I told a U of Chicago grad-soon to be new member that I didn’t go because of the weather. (We’re having the first touch of fall in Washington.)

Matthew Gatheringwater rather coveniently spells out one of the two more compelling reasons I chose against Meadville/Lombard in his entries, “Pardon Me, I’m a Unitarian” and “Mysteries.” (The other was the cost of attending.)