Monday, December 15, 2008

Excellence in Ministry: Theological School Conversations

Our instructions at the Summit were clear and repeated: Go to the conversations where you have energy, not where you think you are "supposed" to go.

Therefore, I didn't attend any conversations about the Theological Schools' relationships to the UUA. However, they were the largest and longest conversations and they apparently bore considerable fruit. I want to share with you my sense of what happened there, mostly from the notes taken, but also from conversations at breaks.

The first conversation began, I gather, with an appreciative inquiry approach...what's right between the schools and the UUA? Among the comments:

There is good partnership between UUA staff and schools in curriculum development, there is some financial sponsorship of schools through the Pannel on Theological Education, there is coordination between Fund raisers at UUA and the schools in approaching large donors, and there is a good relationship between the UUA and at least some non-UU theological schools.

Perceived problems have been, among others,

There's a lot of painful history to get over.
  1. The realtionships between schools, UUA, and funding sources don't seem "natural".
  2. UU students are aware that their denomination is not supporting them at the same level that other denominations support their students.
  3. The schools feel that the UUA has mandated that they be very engaged in Anti-Racism etc. work but they have not always felt supported when they had resistance to doing that.
  4. There's a gap between the schools (uu and non uu) and the needs and understanding of congregations.

  1. The assembled group wanted to be partners, not competetors in the process, to create
  2. more UU scholars (Ph.D students),
  3. to have a bigger "pie" of financial support to divide up,
  4. and to have more exciting and creative conversations about ministerial preparation.

Three areas for continuing work were Accountability, leadership needs, and "the pie."


Wayne said...

Christine, as a convener or participant in all three Right Relationship between UUA and Schools conversations, I want to affirm your short summary of the most critical conclusions from those conversations.
Reading your summary and the summary of the keynote speaker's talk, you get a picture of both where we need to go in the UUA /Schools relationship and why it is critically important that we take very seriously the need for and the future of our two distinct UU theological schools.
I really appreciate the work you've done on this blog. I think it combines good journalism and the personal experience you had based on your own interests very well. Thanks for being there to do this!

Wayne Arnason

plaidshoes said...

I have been loosely following this discussion re UUschools/UUA. I do feel other denominations really support their theological schools and hope that our denomination will continue/increase the support of ours. I am not sure, though, why we need more PhD support. It already seems like there are so many within in the denomination. I would love to see more emphasis on the practicalities of actual ministry. Let's get our heads out of the books and into the hearts of our members. I would also love to see a better vetting process into whether or not ministry is appropriate for everyone interested. I wish I could have been there for the discussion!

Jess said...

Oh, I SO disagree with you, Plaidshoes. While my husband was in seminary at M/L I was absolutely APPALLED at the level of scholarship coming from many of the students. And in reading sermons and newsletter columns online by ministers all over the country from all kinds of different seminary experiences, I'm still floored by the lack of basic writing skills in many of them. Really, really basic stuff like the difference between your and you're, its and it's. These things push all of my buttons in all of the wrong ways, so I know I overreact, but still.

There is a real dearth of good theological scholarship within our wider movement, particularly due to the morphing of a minister's role from spiritual leader and theological scholar to quasi-CEO. We have only a bare few people within Unitarian Universalism working to advance the development of liberal religion -- I think we rely much too heavily on our Christian-Protestant counterparts and our voices are missing from the larger discussions of the very nature of religion outside of our insular communities. This really is something that needs to be addressed and supported, not only by seminaries but also by individual congregations giving their ministers the time and room to do this necessary work.

Think about it. What individual Unitarian Universalists have been major figures in liberal religion, not just Unitarian Universalism but all of liberal religion, advancing the theological dialogue, since James Luther Adams? There are a few UUs I can think of who _could_ be, but they're not all that visible outside of our small movement. Possibly Rebecca Parker and Rita Brock's new book will break the threshold, but I haven't seen it yet.

Robin Edgar said...

"I was absolutely APPALLED at the level of scholarship coming from many of the students."

You just might be absolutely APPALLED at the level of civility coming from a certain number of ordained and fellowshipped U*U Ph.D holders aka Reverend Doctors Jess. . . I'm still floored by the lack of basic *social* skills in some of them. Really, really basic stuff like the difference between polite and rude, honest and dishonest. These things push all of my buttons in all of the wrong ways, so I know I overreact, but still. . . ;-)

Robin Edgar said...
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plaidshoes said...

I don't feel having a PhD qualifies you as being able to advance theological issues. (Honestly, grammer issues should have been learned before college.) Being an example of our religion and being able to intelligently discuss it does. Having a passion about our faith and wanting the word to get out there is what makes us part of the conversation. I am not at all against scholarship, I feel our schools should be supported. We need to have our own theological schools. I just feel like we have many ministers leaving seminary not able to actually meet the needs of their congregation. I personally feel that we can not be a part of liberal religious discussions if we don't have a real grasp on what our congregations need and how to meet those needs. Without the people supporting the movement, there is no movement.

Christine Robinson said...
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Jodi said...

I think a D.Min. path would also add to UU scholarship in excellent ways due to the embodied nature of D.Min. studies.

Linda Laskowski said...

Thanks for doing these postings, Christine. There is something about (almost) real time impressions that really helps those of us not there who still need to understand the issues!

Linda Laskowski