Monday, December 08, 2008

Excellence in Other Places

Interesting post and comments on this subject here.


ogre said...

If you haven't seen (I'm assuming that you likely have, but...) the Pulpit&Pew titled "What Do Lay People Want In Pastors?", it's worth reading The points being made that the cost of an M.Div -- and other realities of today -- make filling pulpits in smaller and rural congregations harder and harder. For a movement which has largely grown from small congregation starts, that might elicit some ministerial concern.

I can't help but wonder if the way things seem to be going--rock hard defense of the requirements as laid out... along with grudging acceptance that more hands-on experience seems to be what's needed in practice... isn't heading towards a worsening situation (that being expanding the requirements, since nothing sacrosanct can be questioned...). If so, the long term result, I suspect, will be that a lot of smaller congregations will just ordain their own ministers (utterly their right), and encourage them to band together to form an alternative organization... even encouraging them to get their (still meaningful and useful) academic learning by taking advantage of online classes and intensive programs (like Meadville Lombard's, and like some that Starr King is developing).

I don't think that it's an immediate concern. But I think it's something that could develop, given the forces I see... a tighter economy and one that in some ways is unlikely to get all better. Debt is going to be come a more serious thing than it's been. Congregations are certain to feel the pinch (so the solution I've heard from one minister of just having congregations start to fund seminarians is, I fear... unlikely. They haven't been doing that in a very long time in better conditions. Why start now?). Affording a minister who carries a large debt load ($50-60k and up...) is going to be outside the capacity of many congregations. Those ministers will have to seek other work, or compete for the established pulpits that can afford them.

It's an elitism-building cycle. It's likely to push congregations that can't afford ministers out of existence or into the model of lay-led fellowships (with their issues of hostility to clergy...). Or... to just ordaining clergy who will get their academic chops over their careers (and stay current in the process).

I don't think that the desire for academic-grounding will go (we UUs tend to be too attached to academic credentials to go that way...). But... particularly given the research report's remarks...

"... the amount of the pastor’s education is unrelated to whether the pastor reports that the congregation has grown in the last five years,whether it is spiritually vital and alive, well organized,has clear mission and goals,or is interested in preserving its denominational heritage."

Can we say "ouch"?

Diptherio said...

Hear, hear, ogre. Coming from a lay-led fellowship myself, I can attest to the validity of your concerns. We've had difficulties in finding funds for even a once-a-month visiting minister. And we lost our most recent one (fresh out of seminary) to a larger church who could afford to pay more.

I would love to be able to go back to my home fellowship after (and if) I finish seminary, and they would love to have me, but with the inevitable debt-load, it seems unlikely that they will be able to pay enough to cover my loan payments, much less my (quite meager) living expenses.

It seems likely that we're headed for an extended period of economic stagnation. Now would probably be a good time to start seriously considering other, less pricey, ways of training new ministers. Of course, it's often a losing battle trying to get change out of those on "the inside," as it were (like trying to get campaign finance reform from congress members themselves dependent on the existing structure of campaign financing). But the options may well turn out to be: 1. reform the system from the inside; 2. watch as congregations like mine simply buck "the system" and possibly leave the national association altogether; or 3. [most likely] let our smaller fellowships continue to stagnate and limp along as best they can.

Personally, I'm hoping for #1. Goddess save us from #3, by far the worst option.

ogre said...

Diptherio, there's another way. Congregations aren't beholden to the UUMA or the UUA. We use those organizations because they offer services and do try to assist us--but in ways that (no surprise! It's utterly natural) fit inside the agendas of those institutions, including surviving, and tending the needs of THEIR members. The UUA may be more responsive, since it represents member congregations. Maybe. But clergy play a large role there--and so far, I've found ministers who nod and agree that there are concerns... but circle back to stand with the UUMA. So it goes. No surprise....

But congregations could stay in the UUA... and keep asking for access to ministers not in fellowship AS WELL. Sooner or later... people will notice. Particularly if smaller pulpits are in the meantime being filled with... ministers who aren't part of the UUMA, but get ordained by UU congregations.

At a certain point, the pressure is there--either the UUMA tries to hold all the cards and stand against a tide (and uses its place within the UUA--bylaws and ministerial members of the board, etc...) or it decides to facilitate a new paradigm.

Mind you, I'm only arguing that a sole path to ministry, and one that mandates the likelihood of a crippling debt, is damaging to the movement and our smaller congregations. I'd expect some pretty rigorous standards to be developed for ministers who travel alternate routes for the UUMA to (reasonably!) see such ministers as full and equal members.

But having found that ouch cited above, I have to ask WHY the M.Div. is a requirement for being fellowshipped and permitted into practicing ministry. Everywhere I turn I find people talking about how ministers get into "the field" and find that their seminary experience really didn't prepare them for... ministry. I'm enjoying the heck out of my studies. I'll get the M.Div. But I'm wondering what practical, ministry purpose it is serving. A few classes in key areas--liberal theology, ethics, polity and UU history (on the academic side) and courses in the actual arts of ministry, and then some practical ministry classes (admin, etc...), CPE... and I think someone would have the basic footing.

There's enough to ministerial formation that I wouldn't dream of suggesting someone who'd done that was ready for full fellowship and to be unleashed on the whole of UUdom. But to do ministry in the familiar environs of their home congregations which already know them, would ordain them, and could NOT afford a full-blown, fully-debt-burdened minister? What's the harm to the congregation? The movement? From that point, someone could obviously learn by practice, be formed in the doing (and yes, fine, the screwing up--but is no minister at all preferable?), and in taking some additional classes over several years.