Monday, December 01, 2008

Resources for Excellence

David Pettee of the UUA staff provided the EIMS (Excellence in Ministry Summit) with some advance reading. The blog cited in the last post was one of those. Here is another. This is an article by the speaker who will deliver the keynote address. He's just written a book about the future of seminaries in general and how they might need to change to serve a new era. Both his description of the new era and his thoughts about the challenges for institutions are very interesting. Once again, it's good to notice that our problems are not so different than those of our mainline colleagues'.

One point he makes is that in the past few generations, there has been only one path to ministry in the Mainline religious world, and that is a masters degree from a residential program. Now there are several.

1. One can still go live in a Seminary community and get a degree.

2. The largest mega-churches are serving as their own seminaries, educating and interning their own next generation of ministers, and the majority of persons entering ministry. I have to say I am getting more and more interested in this way of doing ministry formation, but it is currently very frowned-upon if not impossible in the UU world. It is our bias that you can't learn to be a minister "in place"; that the move from "lay" to "minister" is too hard to make amongst the people who "knew you when." This is something that may be true in smaller churches, but not in larger ones. As I watch interns move around this 750 member church I see the nooks and crannies they find to practice their new skills and self-understandings. I'm also suspicious that some of these rules exist in a good-hearted but perhaps dysfunctional attempt to level the playing field of ministry. I hope that we will be able to have a look at these rules as a part of our conversation. I think that moving in the direction of "better" should mostly be considerable creativity on the part of institutions, rather than most imposing scary ideas on ministers.

3. Even amongst us, there is a large number of ministers who don't "go off to seminary," but who take courses in seminaries near their homes while continuing to work are raise families. They trade off the immersion in the "monastery" aspect of seminary for a longer, slower simmering of their call while they are immersed in life. (for a wonderful and gripping example of this style of ministry formation, check out this blog of a young seminarian whose baby has been treated for cancer.) These second-career ministers come into ministry with life experience, skills, and wisdom that 20-somethings just don't have, but for many reasons, they need a different kind of seminary, different options for internships, and new ways of thinking about supporting persons in ministerial formation.

I'm getting excited about this conference!


James said...

What is adequate preparation for our liberal ministry is a fascinating question.

While I loved almost every minute of my seminary experience, and have said on more than one occasion that if they offered a benefits package I'd never have left, as far as directly useful to me as a parish minister, about all that I can without reservation name were my internships, parish & CPE.

I really believe we'd be better off as a denomination if we were open to alternative methods of preparation, particularly authorizing forms of in-care, apprenticeships...

ogre said...

It's particularly bizarre... when you consider that our earliest roots are to congregations that called and ordained their own ministers from AMONG their own members.

Granted, I think that there's a lot to be said for the academic learning. But I don't think that it's the essence of ministry. That's in the doing and that mysterious but real thing called formation. Cart and horse issue.

There's probably an excellent argument for breadth... but that might mean getting practical experience in more than one congregation as well as some basic set of academic training (and again, I'll argue for some sort of ongoing education...).

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, I live in Montana. The fellowship I attend is lay-led, and rather small. We've never been able to afford a minister on anything other than a once-a-month, visiting basis. This has had it's advantages, in that I've had the opportunity of presenting several sermons to my congregation, as well as being involved in many aspects of fellowship life.

I've been recognized by my fellow members as someone called to the ministry, due to my actions and lifestyle and well-recieved sermons. I feel called to the Chaplaincy, and am told that UU Chaplains are in rather high demand due to our ability to speak in many religious vocabularies. However, going to seminary "in my area" is not an option, as there are none, and the traditional academic track to a job in the ministry seems, well, wrong to me. As ogre says, academics are valuable to, but not the essence of ministry. For my part, I have a hard time devoting myself to something which is not "essential" to my work in the world (See Kierkegaard on the difference between Relative and Absolute concerns). Addittionaly, being something of a reader, I wonder how much book-learning an academic program can even offer me at this point. What to do...bite the bullet and shell out for the "classical" route to ministry, or try to find some other way into the Chaplaincy that is more amenable to my particular financial and existential situation? Any suggestions are welcome.

Josh Davis