Tuesday, December 02, 2008

One Definition of Excellence

I just realized why this "excellence" language is not alarming to me..I've been speaking it for about 5 years. I've been a part of a Lilly grant in a program called "Sustaining Pastoral Excellence". It's all been about supporting ministers; about retreats, sabbaticals, support groups, learning communities, spiritual growth...wonderful stuff.

This granting program spares no costs to get various grant recipients talking to and learning from each other. Even at my level of involvement (I lead a pastoral support group for one of these grant programs and have once traveled to be a part of this peer group learning) I've been impressed. Anyway, I've been conditioned to respond to "Excellence" with relief, as in, "somebody has noticed my hard work and its importance and wants to help me do it better."

Another advance reading for our UU Excellence in Ministry Summit was a list from one of the SPE peer learning groups as they attempted to define pastoral excellence. You can see the original here. I'm going to take a stab at translating into UU lingo and add a few ideas of my own (they're in blue)

Excellences in UU Ministers

  • Passion for the potentially saving message of Unitarian Universalism
  • Integrity and self-awareness grounded in grace/ a grace-filled understanding of the bounty and beauty of the Universe
  • The ability to articulate liberal religion.
  • The ability to listen with compassion and respond with wisdom.
  • The ability to work collaboratively and lead with vision in institution and in community
  • Commitment to spiritual formation and disciplined life that includes rest, spiritual practice, work, worship, justice, and service.
  • Life-long inquiry, unending curiosity, continuing discovery, and lively imagination.
  • Hospitality and generosity of spirit that embraces diversity and receives the gifts of others, including “the least of these.”
  • Humility before God and one another.
  • Agility, energy, and balance in responding to the demands of ministry.
  • Holistic health, in mind, body and spirit.
That was great fun! I wonder what lists others might make!


Kenneth said...

I'm loving these posts, Christine. Much of my Quaker life was spent pondering and practicing ministry, along with the questions of what makes a minister, what makes an elder [Quaker term of art for someone who supports, encourages, and guides ministry], how does one "improve" as a minister when ministry is a gift, and what is my ministry.

The SPE document you link to begins to get at a fundamental difference between what I understood as ministry from a Quaker perspective and what I think I see in UUsim. In Quakerism, "ministry" is something that comes from God (however we may define that, and there is perhaps a broader range of definitions among Quakers than among UUs). Academic training is neither necessary nor sufficient (and has, in fact, often been viewed with distrust). A "minister" is someone who, in the experience of their co-religionists, more often than not feeds the congregation with ministry. The term was usually in the past used mostly for people with a gift in vocal ministry, but has expanded in recent years as people have reclaimed it after years of not being in much use among liberal Quakers.

What I see among UUs is an emphasis on ministry as a profession, an academic status, and able to be controlled remotely by the denomination and a professional association.

ogre said...

Kenneth, there's certainly an element of that.

Even though there's some legitimate basis for the concern, I'm troubled that the UUMA and MFC go to such lengths to exclude ministers called to UU congregations who aren't from inside the UUMA.

I say that as someone on track to be on the inside, not having colored outside the lines.... Our history and polity asserts and defends the absolute right of every congregation to call its own minister(s), period. There's no way that the UUA can impose on that... and yet, the system has been set up to do just that, cunningly by requiring ministerial students to agree NOT to seek and take calls without the approval of the UUMA--with sanctions defined for doing so. That looks disturbingly like "the club" acting to protect the membership (that there is a degree of legitimate concern doesn't obviate the appearance).

At least for me, calling (both personal and congregational) outweighs in import and significance the interest (reasonable and historic, too) in having suitably educated persons called to ministry.

Eve said...

I'm concerned about the requirement of healthy mind and body. Can a minister who has well-managed mental health issues or physical disabilities, excel? Does the word "holistic" take this into account?