Saturday, December 06, 2008

Ministerial Support

Yesterday, I ended a 48 hour retreat with the New Mexico UU Ministers cluster, and met in the afternoon with the interfaith clergy support group I run as a part of the Lilly "Supporting Excellence in Ministry" initiative.

So I guess you could say I believe that ministers should get together. I'd go so far to say that you can't be an (XXXXX) minister for many years if you don't get together with other ministers.

At the UU group we did a day of meditative writing with a local Catholic priest who leads these kinds of retreats and we spent the remainder of the time sharing about our lives and ministries, socializing, and resting. (and eating, and worship, goes without saying...)

The interfaith group is sharing and prayer group. Both are very nourishing.

At the UU group we talked for a while about what factors contribute to excellence in ministry, and we agreed that some kind of clergy support/study/prayer/accountability contact is absolutely necessary. So one thing I'd put on the
to-do list for the Excellence in Ministry outcomes is to foster a set of initiatives that would support an expectation that all of our ministers would be in such a situation. Everyone has different needs, of course, so there should be many options. How much money would it take, for instance, for a UU minister in an isolated place to say to three colleagues of a liberal persuasion, "My denomination feels so strongly about my having the support of my colleagues that they've given me a grant. Will you join me for breakfast once a month in a quiet corner of the local diner? We can have breakfast, each person can share something about what's going on in our ministry, we can pray for each other..."

Just a thought. (but it's not so far fetched. I got my start in interfaith clergy support groups in a group run by the Chaplain at Baptist Medical Center in South Carolina. They fed us lunch every other week for 7 years. I have a soft spot in my heart for Baptists to this day.)

There are more obvious ways we don't take to urge and support this kind of support. The UUMA, for instance, will only give program money to chapters, not to small groups of ministers. But chapters are big and unwieldy and offer less and less opportunity for real intimacy. My district chapter covers tens of thousands of square miles, must have 80 colleagues in it, never do the same 40 come and rarely more than two or three come whose work much resembles mine. I make myself go once a year and am often sorry I did. They rarely spend the money available to them for programs. In contrast our New Mexico cluster...which covers more area than all of New England, (leaving out Maine) gathers 10 colleagues twice a year, often with retired and community ministers able to drop in for at least a while, and has a level of sharing and collegiality which we all find very precious. But we have to pay for all of it ourselves.

Sub-chapters are so much more likely to provide real support. Why can't we fund them better?


ogre said...

Can the chapter seek a UUMA grant which it will administer to fund such support programs for clusters?

With all the warm buzz about how good and useful and effective a good cluster is--we heard a bunch of that from Bill Sinkford and others over the past couple years--I'd think that we'd find some way to support such things.

Berrysmom said...

My chapter holds a FREE overnight retreat once a year (in addition to almost-monthly five-hour meetings with program). There is a nice and not too expensive retreat center within decent driving distance for all of us (yes, it's the East and we're closer together). We start with lunch and end with lunch the next day, and in between there is some retreat-type program and plenty of time for schmoozing, sharing and socializing.

We fund this through our dues, which are rated at $1 for every $100 of our salary and housing income. If your annual S&H is $60,000, then your chapter dues are $60 - honor system, natch.

Many chapter expenses are negligible, so we have enough $ each year to fund this retreat, and of course most of us attend.

I know this wouldn't work everywhere; we are fortunate to be not terribly geographically isolated in the Joseph Priestley District (northern half). But it works for us.

KJR said...

I wonder what it takes to be a chapter.

Berrysmom's chapter is only half a district.

Perhaps New Mexico could suceed from the union?