More interesting to me, the end of this document poses some very interesting questions that they feel the UU World (that is, all of us, not the magazine) needs to discuss and think about. So...I thought I'd do that and start conversations on this blog and other places. Here's the first question:
• Given that many congregations now and in the future will struggle to afford full time ministry, should we open up our ministerial credentialing system to some variation of a deaconate – a lay leadership program to serve in entrepreneurial and part-time ministry settings.
I believe that if we are serious about being a religious body; that is, a faith that helps people deepen their spiritual lives, we have no choice but to have a program which trains and authorizes lay people to be agents of deepening spirituality in their lay-led congregations. Otherwise, not only will the religious needs of people in lay-led congregations be largely un-met, but there will remain a substantial minority of UU's who will be resistant to this focus because they themselves can not benefit from it. (And it is my opinion that if we don't embrace this focus, we will not survive the next century. Hardly anybody, anywhere, is going to join our congregations in order to experience freedom from religion any more.)
However, it is also true that authorizing lay ministers make professional ministers very nervous, and should make us all a bit nervous.
- There is the issue of possible competition. A Lay Ministry program would probably seem to some ministers as hampering their ability to get a job. It would no doubt happen that some congregations would opt for talented and energetic lay leadership over an ordained minister who might not, in their opinion serve them as well. (in my opinion, we ministers have to let this one go, for the good of the whole.)
- There is the issue of congregations choosing Lay Ministry because they don't want to be challenged to be the best UU congregation they can be. (I think this objection can be met by a good training program)
- There is the issue of creating a group of people who do not have the training or boundaries of professional ministers "acting like" ministers and doing harm. (I think that this objection can be met by only authorizing "local" ministers, ie, you're a lay minister when you are doing the work of ministry your congregation has asked you to do, nowhere else, and no longer than that work lasts.)
- There is the issue of determined lay people forcing themselves on their overwhelmed, lay-led congregations, creating a situation where a close-knit group doesn't feel free to say, "no" to an aspiring lay leader. (I think that this objection can be met by carefully created criteria of authorizing lay ministers).
There are probably other issues and I look forward to hearing what some of them might be. Just to throw out a proposal, here's mine
Authorization for Lay Ministry would begin by a person's successfully completing several very substantial weekend moduals...as RE directors, for instance, have had in their Renaissance program.
It would continue with an inquiry from a local congregation about bringing this person on as a PAID (even if only at "honorarium" or "expense-only" lay leader in some capacity. (nothing like budget implications to give a group good boundaries!) That congregation would be helped to put good personnel practices into place and form a "Lay Minister" committee which would help this person continue their formation. (like an intern committee) Training opportunities would continue, the aspiring lay minister would be assigned to a peer group, and to a professional minister-mentor. If all went well after a trial time, the lay minister would acquire an official title; perhaps with an installation service. However, that title would only be valid in that place.
I would not start this program by allowing lay ministers to serve in entrepreneurial (self-gathered) situations. There is a substantial extra burden of risk of dysfunctionality which we should avoid, at least at first. However, I do not think we should preclude full-time work by lay ministers, especially in large congregations.
Ok, readers, go to it! I look forward to seeing your comments and programs you lay out on your blogs!