Saturday, February 28, 2009

Excellence in Ministry: Final Links and Comments

You can find the notes which others took at this event, here. (If you're new to this discussion, scroll back to late November to begin the conversation. iMinister was the official blogger for this conference.) They also promise more news and presumably the report which will be made to the June UUA Board Meeting, so check back.

With this, iMinister respectfully resigns from her first and most educational experience as a journalist. It's an almost pole-opposite experience from her usual role as a preacher; comprehensive rather than focused and attempting to be fair rather than subjective. She has renewed appreciation for the journalists in her life. She thanks the Pannel who asked her and who have been kind in their feedback and is appreciative of all the work and thought that has gone into this project and will continue, she hopes, in spite of economic constraints.

She's discovered that her general and career-long interest in ministerial well-being has developed into something of a passion about the process of credentialing ministers, and she intends to continue to follow that discussion as a private citizen, so to speak. To that end she wants to hold up again, a fascinating article from last Fall's New Yorker, which deals with the credentialing of teachers. It can be found here.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Imagineers of Soul

This month's UU World features my article, Imagineers of Soul, which is a version of last year's Berry St. Essay. I was so pleased that they published it; after spending a year's worth of creative energy on that Essay, it's awfully nice that it's getting a second life!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Eulogy for Web Kitchell

On my trip to Santa Fe, I thought about dropping by the Dunkin Donuts, purchasing a couple of dozen heart busters, and seeing if Web's Kitchell's friend Coyote would show up to converse with me. That's how Web did it, and he got three books of sermons out of the conversations he had. He called his books God's Dog, forever changing my view of these smart, adaptable animals. Web died last week after having a fairly miserable time with Parkinson's disease.

Well, no fairly about it.

Coyote would insist on the truth.

So, this is the truth. Damn, but that was a hard end for a good man and a good minister, and I've been missing him and his furry friend for a while now. No amount of donuts will get either of them back, and I'm sad. He was very supportive to the young minister with the unexpectedly hard job to the south of him, and oh, did my congregation love to hear him come and talk about his conversations with Coyote!

Happy Trails to you both!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Praying for the House

I offered a prayer to our State House of Representatives this morning.
I have strong feelings about public prayer. I was asked to lead the Representatives in prayer, and that's what I did; reminding them of their gratitude for our beautiful state, our democracy, our connections, giving them a moment to call to mind those they wished to pray for and asking a blessing on their work. No big deal.

But expressions of gratitude and appreciation I got suggested to me what my Santa Fe colleague confirmed, which is that too many persons of the cloth preach rather than pray, or pray only with and for persons of their own faith tradition.

I was glad to have offered something of value to hard working legislators!
And glad to see that the Domestic Partnership bill has had a sudden resurrection for this year's session.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Another conversation about excellence

....went on last year, when a list of core competencies for large church ministry was put together in anticipation of the "Thinking Big" program which is giving a small group of ministers advance training in Large Church ministry. Their work was published in the Alban Institute's "Congregations" last month and can be found here.

This list of competencies was formed with Large Churches in mind, but there's not much in it that doesn't apply to good ministry in every size of church.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Ministerial Authority

One of the interesting turns my career has taken in the past few years is exposure to seminarians, interns, new ministers, and lay persons who are taking on ministry roles. It's given me a new lens to look at my own ministry and has been a very enriching experience.

Among the things that it has made me wonder is whether it is a good idea to expect persons to have developed a sense of ministerial authority before they are ordained.

This is one of the things the Ministerial Fellowship Committee looks for, and when they don't find it their diagnosis often utterly baffles candidates who don't know what to do with this feedback. It's such a "I know it when I see it but can't explain it" item...which is to say, it is extremely subjective, that I've been uneasy with its increasing cachet among students who are, naturally enough, anxious to develop this mysterious ministerial quality.

I've reached a few conclusions about this.

One conclusion is that this quality does exist. It is related to feeling secure in the knowledge that you, in your ministerial role, have something of value to deliver and you know the conditions of delivering it. So you march right up to the boss nurse in the ICU and request the room number for the patient who, she says, won't even know you are there. You know that you and the patient and the patient's family need you to be there and you stand in front of her until she lets you be there. Since you know that your listening ear and someone else's ability to speak freely really has a healing effect, you help someone you know needs to talk to move with you to a private corner. Since you know that this fractious group needs to take a break and a deep breath, or that this scattered group about to eat together needs to be recalled to their gratitude before they eat, you take the risk of suggesting a break for a moment recollection of our deep values or grace and a recollection of our deep thanksgiving. That's ministerial authority.

A second conclusion I've reached is that while ministerial authority is a good and important thing, no ministerial authority is better...far better... than fake ministerial authority. Fake ministerial authority comes from a person acting the way they think they are supposed to act, rather than out of a deep knowledge of the value of their action. At worst, it comes from a person who is so in love with their role that they're over-eager to exercise it. They come across as self-important and give ministry a bad name. In its more common form, fake ministerial authority is an honest attempt to do what one understands one is supposed to do, but since it lacks the inner authority that makes the risk-taking work, it...doesn't work.

A third conclusion I've reached is that I started my career deficient in ministerial authority and I've developed it over many, many years. I started way young in this business, and I'm downright bashful by nature, and in the UU circles I grew up in, "ministerial authority" was not a valued quality...quite the opposite. I was fortunate to have the guidence of a lay leader who came from a long line of Baptist preachers in my early years in ministry, and who several times found ways to instruct me. ("Christine, Lisa (whose husband had died while they were vacationing) is coming home in a private airplane with Joe's coffin. You'll be meeting the plane, won't you? (significant pause) It will be in at 11pm. And then I've invited you both to drop by the house and visit a bit while my husband goes to her home and gets the lights and the furnace on. ", actually, it hadn't occurred to me that I should meet that plane. I'd been planning to call the next day, after the widow had had a good night's sleep. Clueless, clueless me! But when Frances spoke, I paid attention, learned, and through those experiences came naturally to believe that there are powers of healing and renewal that sometimes focus themselves in the relationship between a person and their minister, and that it's the minister's job to take the risk of reaching out to them and creating the conditions in which they can appear. I hasten to say that in spite of that developmental need of mine, the congregation thrived even with their very young, very green minister.


I'm coming to the conclusion that you don't learn much about this until you are a settled minister in a community. Internship and CPE might give some ministers a taste of ministerial authority, but then again, they might not.


I think that one might have a general clue about ministerial authority...enough, at least, to navigate around a congregation, and not be able to come close to dredging this up in what is, for most candidates, the single most nerve-wracking hour of their career, their interview with the MFC. My guess is that very best that most candidates can do is fake it. That requires knowledge of a sort, but I don't think we want people to learn to fake it, or feel that they must fake it.

All of the above and other reflections are leading me to think that we have our whole certification process backward. It's the entry into Final Fellowship that ought to be the nerve-wraking one, where one demonstrates that one has figured out what ministerial authority is all about, can produce references and stories that demonstrate one's ministry as one has actually done it, where one has successes and failures to discuss and reflect on. The entry into preliminary Fellowship should be a much broader gate, perhaps a matter of UUA staff checking off the Candidate's To-Do list. Internship with generally positive feedback, CPE with generally positive Feedback, Degree, UU Experience (we should pay more attention to this than we do.) Reading List. Comprehensive Exam (we really need this!), Background check. References checked at least as well as a new employer would check them (including checking with persons not on the candidate's list.) If major questions came out of this check list process, perhaps an interview, but for most people, the interview would be at the time of entry into Final Fellowship, when one's success in ministry and development of ministerial authority could be more realistically judged.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

UUA Presidency

iMinister came out in support of Peter Morales for president of the UUA months and months ago. She agrees with him that the UUA needs to see, not just a little change, but transformational change if we are to be healthy in this new era. She's sure that our dialogue about diversity has been woefully lacking in Hispanic voices, which Peter would bring, and she loves the energy and commitment to our shared enterprize which he brings to the campaign.

Here's what I mean.

In a candidate's forum, this question was asked.

Imagine five years have passed and imagine that your vision for UUism is fully alive and thriving. What three to five goals have been realized?

Here are their written responses.

Peter Morales ...
The goals that will have been accomplished in five years are intimately interrelated. The guiding vision behind them all is a revitalized Unitarian Universalist movement that transforms lives and that helps to heal the world. In five years we will have a new sense of urgency and excitement across our movement. The following accomplishments are manifestations of living out our mission:

1. We are growing at a rate of three percent per year. Growth is not the goal, it is the measure by which we determine whether we are meeting the fundamental human need for religious community. We are growing because we are doing a better job of welcoming the seeker, retaining our youth, and engaging our existing members. As we grow we are becoming more diverse in terms of race, class and culture. Our growth rate has tripled and is accelerating.

2. We are more engaged in the great moral issues of our time. As a natural outgrowth of a deeper sense of compassion and connection, we are a more powerful force for justice, understanding and environmental stewardship. At the local level, it means that more members of our congregations are involved in social action and public witness. At the Association level, it means that we are building on our tradition of public witness and that we have forged a new partnership with the UUSC on social action.

3. We have developed a strategic vision for ministry and are beginning its implementation. Our strategy for ministry has been developed through consultation with stakeholders. Our strategy is a comprehensive approach that includes recruitment, training, placement, mentoring and development of professional ministry.

4. The UUA staff has a culture of transparency, accountability and effectiveness. As a matter of course we evaluate our programs and our people. We learn from our mistakes. Our staff is more involved in being the means for sharing best practices and innovative ideas across congregations.

5. We are forming strong relationships with groups that share our values. This includes international Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist movements, public policy advocacy groups, the UUSC, and others.

Laurel Hallman's written response:

1. Our children and youth will participate in UU congregations as adults.

2. Our UUA endowment will grow to a sustainable level, and our dependence on its income for operating expenses will diminish.

3. We will wed our religious and theological future to our historical past, and will experience the power of that synergy.

4. The Free Spirit will become a source of inspiration, activism, humility and strength in our association.

5. Our alliances will enlarge our effectiveness in the world.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Reporting on the Excellence in Ministry Conference

The Rev. Sarah Lammert who attended the Excellence in Ministry conference as a delegate from the UU Minister's Association, posted her reflection on the conference on the UUMA Website.