Tuesday, December 30, 2008

iMinister Reviews

Certainly the blogging highlight of my year was blogging the Excellence in Ministry conference. Sometime this blogging business seems like an exercise in journaling; quite solitary. I go weeks on this blog with no comments and only by studying my hit counter do I realize that anybody reads this blog at all. So it was a pleasure to be asked to blog the conference, and it was an even greater pleasure to be there. And, what fun...that hit counter went wild, with 4-5 times more hits than average for that week and my highest ever daily count, 350 readers on December 12. (average daily count is about 35...I love you all!)

The most popular single post by far, far, far and away, however, was the first post of the year, "How To Find Your Daemon", a meditation for the intergenerational worship service the week before, which focused on the movie, "The Golden Compass", and which, according to my afore-mentioned hit counter (which also tells me what google searches brought people to my blog) brought people to my blog week after week, all year long. Most of those folks were probably not UU's...hope they got an eye-full of liberal religion!.

February brought a post on gun violence, tragically refered-to in August after one of our churches saw yet another incident, which I discussed here.

There were a number of posts on what turned out to be the biggest tempest in a teapot of the year, checking of ID at GA.

And my single favorite story of the year, Our Pentacost Visitor.

But the biggest story of this year for our our world was the election, summed up, finally, in the post called, "Tears" If 2009 brings us even a fraction of the hopes of that night, it will be a wondrous year, indeed.

And may your year, dear readers, be also blessed and your lives and work be a blessing to you and those around you!

Buzz about Ministry

Two interesting additions to the conversation in the blogsphere about ministry, ministry preparation, certification and other areas of interest.

Politywonk has an important post about updating the overall ministerial ideal which comes to us from the Renaissance/Enlightenment.

And, there's a whole new blog devoted to the question of things to think about as we consider our ministerial certification processes. Calling Ministers is authored by a new minister who came to us with experience in Human Resources.

As I read his early entries, I reflected that this is a very difficult area to talk about. It's hard for the folks with left-over anger and pain to talk about without seeming bitter, it's really hard for the folks who failed to talk about, (and they usually leave us completely anyway) and it's hard for the folks who sailed through to talk about without seeming to brag. I think it's no accident that only a few people came to the conversation on certification at the EIM conference, and most of them came to listen rather than to talk, and yet the topic got a large number of votes in the non-conversational voting process. I'm glad we're talking.

Friday, December 26, 2008

New Blog from a UU Scholar

I invite you all to check out The Naked Theologian, a new blog devoted to "stripped down theology" by UU Ph.D candidate Myriam Renaud. (U.Chicago) Myriam is a deep thinker and a good writer, and she came out of the Albuquerque church, so we're right proud of her!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Starting Ministerial Education from Scratch

What a heady idea!

Here are a few things I've been thinking.

I've been thinking that our current model of: go away to theological school-go away to internship-leave internship for a fresh start as a new minister just has to go. It's a model that only works for the young, unattached persons for whom it was created. It worked great for me but doesn't work for persons whose spouses have careers, it doesn't work for people with school-aged children. This pattern means that many interns leave their spouses and even their children for nine months of internship, a situation that, I submit, is contrary to our values and to our best interests. Developing what amounts to three different support systems in the span of 4-6 years is extremely stressful even for footloose and fancy free seminarians. All this moving adds hugely to the expense of an already expensive education.

We're already starting to develop things like Modified residence and distance-learning experiences for Seminary, and this is helpful to many students. I think we should also start to develop some training-in-place options such as doing an internship in one's home church and allowing interns to remain on the staff of the churches they intern in.

There are two crucial and difficult keys to success at these innovations. The first is that we have to find ways to help people grow into ministry among people who know them as lay persons or as interns. Our current theory is that if a congregation has known you as a lay person, they'll never really treat you like a minister, and, if the congregation suffered through your internship clumsiness, they'll never really respect you. You have to move away to leave your old role behind.

Well...I've recently had experience with helping an intern move into a staff position (with all requisite special permissions etc.) and....it had its tricky moments. (Also tricky; I've been an internship supervisor who became, with a break of only a few weeks, the colleague of my old intern. There's no doubt about it...it was a transition.) But 15 months later, I think I can say with confidence that that's done. The transition has been made. I think others could figure out how to do this. And I think that it is even more likely that a person could transition from lay leader to seminary student to intern within one congregation. (I know...one issue is getting more models of church in one's experience. But many seminarians already have that in their life experience and anyway you could get that experience with well-planned trips and short residencies, and most of all from listening to colleagues and fellow students.)

The other, probably more difficult issue of allowing "in-place" transitions into ministry is the issue of boundaries. Can the home church be real with the seminarian's weaknesses? Evaluate their "favorite son" accurately? (I gather that most internship supervisors and committees don't do that well already, so perhaps this is a difference that makes no difference.) Will churches which have enjoyed their interns and need a new staff person be honest with themselves about what they really need for that new position and do the painful work of saying "no" to an intern who wants to stay? Our experience as UU's with these kinds of issues is not that good. But we already make so many exceptions to these rules that "granting waivers" is a significant part of the MFC workload. Perhaps we could simply develop some new policy that would aim to reduce the moves a student was required to make from 3 or 4 to 2 or 3.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Women and Excellence

I posted this document from the folks at Harvard Div School
a couple of weeks ago. It is a self-study from Harvard about their own efforts to educate fine UU ministers. Someone left a comment noting that all the research was on sole/senior pastors, leaving out an increasingly important category of ministers, those who serve on staffs (Assistant, Associate, Co-, MRE, etc.) The commenter noted that ministers are not well socialized to serve well on colleague teams, and I would certainly second that comment, note that our larger congregations require that skill set from all the ministers who serve them, and that our lone ranger ministerial culture permiates our lives deeply and not just in theological schools. Serving with colleagues is to be a square peg in a round hole every way you turn.

I re-read the document to make sure that the commenter was correct (s/he was) and found something else that needs comment.

For part of their study, the good folks at Harvard wanted to interview some "excellent" ministers to ascertain what parts of their education experience had been most valuable to them. How to figure out whom to interview? Here's what they did. "David Pettee surveyed several long-time Unitarian Universalist officials and asked them to give us a list of the ministers within the movement whom they would characterize as excellent."

They then compiled a list, apparently only by choosing all the names that appreared more than once. Although they note that they got a good sampling of ministerial tenure (grads from the 60's-90's,) and type of ministry (7 parish, two community, presumably the two UUA staff who made the cut) they don't comment about the fact that they interviewed 7 men and 2 women.

Now, the last I heard, our ministerial pool is more than 50% female and has been that way for a good long time. (10 years? 20?) So any research sample of ministers which is almost 80% male has to be questioned. Hello! Research 101! Sample demographics should match real demographics!

The fact that this was the sample used and that it was used with no comment is disappointing on three scores. First, one can intuit from the text that "longtime UU Officials" have a decided bias (STILL!!!!) towards a masculine norm in their, probably, off-the-cuff assessment of who is an excellent minister. This is not a big surprise, but it is the sort of dreary disappointment that confirms what one never wanted to bring to consciousness. You wouldn't necessarily expect them to review their lists to see if they had anything like a proportional representation of women and ask themselves if they were being real in what was probably a very informal process. Still it's a sad comment on the state of feminism amongst us, isn't it?

(Don't even think it might actually be the case that only 2 persons in a pool of 9 actually excellent ministers would be women. More than 1/3 of minsiters serving large churches are women, 1/2 of the "listening to experience" group of 12 ministers who had grown their churches significantly were women, there are plenty of women serving "Breakthrough congregations..." just to name three kinds of excellence that are easily quantified. The Excellence in Ministry conference participants were close to half and half male and female. Frankly, I can't remember the last time I was in a minority of 20% in any ministerial gathering that wasn't mostly Evangelical in 20 years.)

Anyway, I WOULD expect this kind of review of bias from a group of people doing RESEARCH at HARVARD, because, if this is not a huge sampling error, it sure LOOKS like a huge sampling error, and it needs explanation, if not remediation.

Is it a difference that makes no difference? Hardly. I'm only an informal expert on this subject, but every study I've ever seen suggests that there are profound differences in how men and women receive their education and go about developing in their careers and in what they most value from their experience. So, thirdly, this is a disappointment because I think a better sample would have given them better information for the current, real world, in which, last I heard, considerably more than 50% of persons in ministerial formation are, in fact, women.

Temporarly Wallowing in Exasperation and Disappointment,

Your (Female) Excellence in Ministry Blogger

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Getting Around Inaugration Prayer Blues

I've been reading lots of commentary about Obama's choice of Rick Warren to pray at his inauguration this weekend.

I'm inclined to assume that this master political mind has good reasons for his choice...which might even be that, ministerless as he is right now, he'd be comforted on his big day with a prayer from a man he knows personally.

There are a lot of people who feel something between disappointed and victimized by the choice, though, and I wonder what the church can do for them. The solution we're working on at the moment:

Our local Inaugural prayer service. Being two hours west of Washington, we can schedule a noon service, record Obama's speech to play for whomever comes, bookended by our prayers for liberty and justice for all people. (and for peace, for good health and effective leadership for our new president, and whatever else anyone wants to pray for.) We think we'll then serve a quick lunch for those who need to go back to work.

It would be great fun if a whole network of local prayer services sprung up around the nation.

Friday, December 19, 2008

It Really Was the End of the Beginning

A preliminary report from the Panel on Theological Education, which put on the Excellence in Ministry conference, is that they had a major post-conference epiphany. With the help of their facilitator, they realized that the UUA's funding of theological schools and theological students was a broken and dysfunctional system and had been so for long enough that people were starting to withdraw from the conversation. In such a mess, it's not possible or useful to play the blame game, the only functional approach is to go back to the drawing board with fresh minds and hearts (and faces, it sounds like.)

With that they saddled their horses and fled home in front of the storm.

They meet again mid-January, and it's that meeting that next tasks in the eight selected areas will be assigned and a report crafted for the UUA board, which will follow the next weekend.

One of the interesting things about this conference was that it was as if it was two conferences being held at the same time; one about theological school funding and another about all the other topics; lay theological education, spirituality and ministry, certification of ministers, ministerial culture, anti-racism, and all the rest. It was the crisis in Theological School funding which engendered the conference, and I imagine that all of us who were spending most or all of our time staying away from that conversation knew that. (And I guess that epiphany was spot on; I stayed away because I didn't think I had anything to add to the impossible tangle it had become.)

I'm glad we're not going to try to fix what is apparently not fixable. I pray that we will have the creativity and courage, flexibility and independence to find and take a new road through this very high mountain called Theological Education.

I also hope that those other seven areas find good homes and innovative leaders, and that a conversation continues among all these layers and centers which create and nurture the leadership of our precious faith.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

It's Christmas?

It seems to be, suddenly, the busiest season of the minister's year. So no more Excellence in Ministry for a while. But for those with an insatiable appetite and an interest in the problem of predicting excellence (or even competence) as persons enter ministry, check out this very engaging article from the New Yorker on the problems of predicting excellence in entry-level quarterbacks, financial professionals, and teachers!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Theological Schools/UUA Relationship: Money

Money concerns ranged from a concern that new ministers take on huge debt which impacts their careers, choices, and ability to serve congregations, to generosity building in our movement in general and the equitable distribution of the resources we do have. The point was made that in spite of that huge debt load, no theological student pays more than 40% of the real costs of theological education. Theological schools give hugely to denominations!

There was concern that "theological education" is larger than M.Div, but includes lay education and ministerial continuing education.

The point was made that two of the greatest weaknesses in faith communities are poor theology of stewardship and poor theology of institutions. (in that case, no wonder our theological school are suffering!)

Congregations are generally disconnected from theological schools; often don't know what schools their ministers attended and usually making no contribution to schools.

There was considerable discussion about the fact (apparently seen across denominations) of persons entering theological school without deep connections to congregational life. (just as many new members of churches don't have deep connections to a denomination) How should that fact be handled and remediated?

There was concern expressed that as a whole UU community we do not have a shared vision for theological education and that it's not clear who would appropriately articulate such a vision. Such a compelling vision would assist in fund-raising.

This second conversation recommended that this vision be created.

Also that other paths for support of theological education be developed and supported.

And that the UU theological schools and the theological schools educating the largest groups of UU students put time into their relationships.

Scattered through the notes like little chimes of warning were comments about the failed attempt to merge the two schools about 18 months ago. That was the subject of the next conversation and will be the subject of tomorrow's notes on this blog.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Excellence Documents

Readers might be interested in this document, from Harvard Divinity School, of a small research project related to Excellence in Ministry at that school
Report to the Panel on Theological Education

Excellence in Ministry: Theological School Conversations

Our instructions at the Summit were clear and repeated: Go to the conversations where you have energy, not where you think you are "supposed" to go.

Therefore, I didn't attend any conversations about the Theological Schools' relationships to the UUA. However, they were the largest and longest conversations and they apparently bore considerable fruit. I want to share with you my sense of what happened there, mostly from the notes taken, but also from conversations at breaks.

The first conversation began, I gather, with an appreciative inquiry approach...what's right between the schools and the UUA? Among the comments:

There is good partnership between UUA staff and schools in curriculum development, there is some financial sponsorship of schools through the Pannel on Theological Education, there is coordination between Fund raisers at UUA and the schools in approaching large donors, and there is a good relationship between the UUA and at least some non-UU theological schools.

Perceived problems have been, among others,

There's a lot of painful history to get over.
  1. The realtionships between schools, UUA, and funding sources don't seem "natural".
  2. UU students are aware that their denomination is not supporting them at the same level that other denominations support their students.
  3. The schools feel that the UUA has mandated that they be very engaged in Anti-Racism etc. work but they have not always felt supported when they had resistance to doing that.
  4. There's a gap between the schools (uu and non uu) and the needs and understanding of congregations.

  1. The assembled group wanted to be partners, not competetors in the process, to create
  2. more UU scholars (Ph.D students),
  3. to have a bigger "pie" of financial support to divide up,
  4. and to have more exciting and creative conversations about ministerial preparation.

Three areas for continuing work were Accountability, leadership needs, and "the pie."

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Quick report on the end of the beginning

Prioritizing done, we met for preliminary conversations and a chance to sign up to continue to work on the areas that interest us in the 8 chosen areas. Some of the "near miss" areas were noted and incorporated into the chosen areas. The group shared a few thoughts about the whole process, and then we had another of the very excellent worship services which punctuated our work together.

All the information we generated was turned over to the Panel who continue to meet today. All the participants have been invited to continue this conversation by adding their reflections and I hope some will.

Some final thoughts from the group conversation

Every conversation that happened was important. Every connection made was important, and we won't know all the benefits and outcomes of this meeting for some years. The "winners" were the conversations which seemed to need focus and attention to carry them forward at this time.

What surprised people about the final list

The focus on spiritual grounding was a nice surprise. The depth of discussion and willingness to take spiritual risks was an unexpected and wonderful part of the two days.

The non-focus on anti-racism by the white people at the summit was an unpleasant surprise to those persons who did focus on this area, who were surprised that this was one of the subjects that made the final cut. There was more doubt expressed about our denominational readiness to continue to work in this area than in other areas, and this sadness and disappointment cast a shadow on the last discussion.

There is some interest in discussion of our theme speaker's comment that anxiety about excellence tends to arise when there is some other problem that is being avoided, but we were out of time before that was vocalized.

There was disappointment that children and youth issues didn't make it into the final cut of next steps. There was hope that the needs of children and youth (and adult needs for the voices of children and youth) would be folded into each of the projects that are undertaken.

In informal conversations I head the same thing expressed about mentoring, internships, and recruiting for ministry. Since those fit into the areas I'm most interested in myself (depth and maturity in ministry, ministerial culture, and the certification process, I intend to keep that in mind.

As I wandered around looking at the comments in all 8 chosen areas, I thought I saw that most groups had taken the conversation to heart and had noted places where their subject intersected with children and youth affairs, and our multi-cultural work.

There was a final discussion about how to keep this work transparent and available to everyone who wanted to see it but final details on that are being worked out today. Stay posted!

With thanks to the able facilitator, the staff of University Unitarian who kept us comfortable and
printed mountains of paper, the cooks who fed us extraordinarily well and the worship leaders who nourished our spirits, I fly home to sunshine and to Christmas.

Friday, December 12, 2008

And the winners are...

Wow, that was fast. These are the clear areas of excitement in the interest/importance voting the group just completed. The winners are:

1. Lay Theological Education (diaconiate internet resources)

2. Fostering emotional maturity and spiritual depth in ministry

3. Right relationship between UUA and Theological Schools.

4. Collaborating for collegiality and continuing education

5. Anti-racism, Anti Oppression, Multiculturalism and Resistance

6. Ministerial Culture, Credentialing Process, and Growth

7. Whose are We? (deep conversation about spiritual experience)

8. What is the nature of the church we are planning for?

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Some Recommendations that Caught My Eye

Now we are at the part of the process where we are reading you don't want to know how many pages of notes from the discussion groups. Each group was also supposed to produce some recommendations. We are going to vote on which discussions we think are the important ones to follow up on.

Here's a list of the recommendations that caught my eye. They have not been voted on, and not even I think that these are the most important things to follow up on. They just caught my eye.
Be not attached...things will no doubt change as radically and quickly as the Seattle weather is about to change....

We need to create a space for testifying to the spirit of our faith in our personal lives.

We need to add suffering and failure to our theological understanding

We need to support multi racial and multi-racial adoptive families. There are resources for retreat programs on DRUUUMM website.

Enrich our ministries by having conversations about holy experience/transcendence with colleagues. Allow ourselves to be more vulnerable.

Talk about our holy experiences/sense of God in our congregations and with our congregations. Model this so they can do it too.

Review the Fellowshipping Process top to bottom. Look for unintended consequences of the Fellowshipping process.

Look at Asistant/associate ministers situation. Produce a best practices document. Do more training of ministry teams in teams.

look at the culture among ministers which discourages entreprenurial ministries.

Allow ministerial internships at camps and conference centers.

create more spirituality-based education for youth beyond youth group.

About three dozen recommendations from the three or four groups which discussed the relationship between the theological schools and the UUA. To summarize boldly: Let the past go and get going on the future.

The Enlightenment is over. We don't quite know what is coming next, and it is heartbreaking to watch it die. But if we want to be relevant, we have to move, too.

It's not enough to be a learned ministery, we need to be a learning ministry.

Enough for now! By the next post, we'll have started focusing in.

Another voice on Excellence


Notes on the Keynote

Notes from the president of the American Theological School Association, Dan Aylshire

(notes mean...please don't expect complete sentences or criticize my spelling!)

He works with schools diverse on every end of a dozen continua. What they all have in common is that they talk about excellence! What, then, could this word possibly mean?

Excellence might be one of those terms that everyone uses because nobody knows what it means.

The word "excellence" can be a proxy for the way things used to be done. The word most often hurts minorities, women, and newcomers. It can be a word that is really used to exclude rather than to increase quality.

But what's the alternative? How could we mount a campaign for, say, mediocre theological education?

two questions:

1. Why are so many people asking about excellence right now? He's speaking next Fall on this same topic to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and The Lutheran's Missouri Synnod.
We don't ask this question when things are going well. We only ask when things are falling apart around us and have to be re-built. He suspects that concern about excellence is a way to get at some unspoken issue. He wonders what our "real" issue is.

2. He comments that we most often calls ourseves a "movement," rather than a denomination. He remarks that we share this sensitivity with the Assemblies of God and wonders what we have in common with them? His suspicion is that we're both anti-institutional.

Excellence has to have a definition that transcends the individual and serves the community.

(This man groks us....)

His perceptions about excellence in ministry

He is professionaly committed to excellence in ministry. He's a church man. He knows the pain that less than excellent ministers can bring to churches, and the pain that toxic churches can cause even the most excellent ministers.

His guide for thinking about excellence in ministry comes from his Association of Theological School guidelines.

the goal of theological studies should be deepening the aptitude for theolgical reflection that results in responsible life and faith. (paraphrase)

Ministerial work requires skills and abilities, but must be undergirded with wisdom.

Ministry is not a group of skills, it is who a person is as a human being.

Seminary grads do not come spiritually and morally mature; that's a lifelong journey. The journey is necessary to ministry.

They need a certain body of knowledge about religious topics, not just as information, but as useful, integrated wisdom.

They need to know how to do some things that are a part of ministerial practice...public speaking, counseling, working with volunteers etc. These things can't be taught in isolation. They are integrated with each other and with the above integrated wisdom and journey.

Ministers with great spiritual sensitivity can lack theological sophistication
Ministers with great intellectual ability can lack person skills
Ministers with great skill and ability can fail for lack of humility.

Excellence is not, therefore a matter of piling up certain kinds of skills and knowledge, it is the integrated whole of it all.

If that's a good definition of excellence, how do we do theological school?

Theological education is deeply dependent on two kinds of learning

1. classroom teaching. (the classroom is a nearly universal learning envrionment...ordered, safe, transformative, attached to a learning plan called a curriculum)
2. contextual learning. (challenging, disordered, chaotic, blurring of categories. This is, after all...life.) (Just the sort of damned learning experienced that civilized, ordered learning experiences try to spare people.)

Both of these are necessary and they require schools to multi-task, to get both kinds of learning integrated which is the goal of theological education.

The place of Theological Schools in Theological Education

(besides the training of religious leaders)
We need teachers and centers of study.
We need a place where the overall story of a movement can be looked over and critiqued
We need a place of research to help us continue to reinvent ourselves.

The education of leaders is a function which any theological school can provide

(He comments that as he moves around the theological school world he notes that any school that wants to brag to him about their open-mindedness makes a point of telling him that they have UU students.)

The second function of a theological school is to provide connection shared culture. It is more difficult for a school to provide this to any one movement. To have connection and shared culture, there has to have a critical mass of students.

He tells of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (the liberal splinter of the Southern Baptist wars of the 1980's) The designate some schools are educational partners, serving by educating some pastors.
Some of their schools were "identity partners" . Some theological schools need to think of their mission as contributing to the denomination as a whole, to worry in the middle in the night about the health of the denomination. (Here's a transformative idea!)

He quoted from a review of a book either by or about Unitarian Ted Sorrenson, speechwriter for John Kennedy. (this will be a paraphrase)

Once, Kenedy asked Sorrenson if any of his Catholicism was rubbing off on Sorenson. "No," said Sorenson, "but I think my Unitarianism is rubbing off on you." Sorrenson believed that he was bringing his own faith into the drafts of speeches he wrote for Kennedy and more and more, Kennedy was being swayed by his thinking.

Alshier concluded:

Somewhere along the way, Ted Sorenson was influenced by some ministers, by Unitarian Universalism.

Maybe excellent ministry, extended by an excellent mind, made our nation more human, at least for a time."


Please comment about the pros and cons of having a majority of ministers coming from multi-faith schools vs. denominational schools?

All faith groups are experiencing this. The phenomena of second career ministers means that most people must attend the closest seminary. We're not alone in our problem.

One need of a religious leader is to be deeply imbeded in their community of faith. (roots). One way to get roots, especially for a person who didn't grow up in the faith or have more than one congregation, is to go to a UU theological school.

Another need is the ability to relate to the whole world. Some people need that experience, especially those too embedded in the UU tradition. (wings)

Question: What would be the effect on the UUA if one or more of our historically related schools closed up shop?

Answer: Theological schools are massively stressed by current economic issues. Some may not make it. This tiny movement has two schools that reflect different parts of the movement, in different parts of the country. He believes we are not over-supplied with theological schools and we would lose more than we would gain by losing one of them. Those two schools don't just educate leaders. They hold identity.

Questions: Can you give us good models of healthy denomination/theological school relationship?

Answer: I've got more bad examples than good ones. One good one is this: Historically Black Theological schools, for instance, just did a big research project on the Religion and the Black prison experience. No predominately White school could have done that research and it was needed. He also spoke of Quaker and Mennonite seminaries as well connected. The model: a story of mutual support and worry. It's all in the family. Appreciation of that connectedness.

A joke to end: (Garrison Keillor just remarked that he identified as an Episcopal, but he's "more piss than capol")

Sleeping on it

A new morning dawns (really late up here in the north country!)

I have been thinking about the really compelling parts of the conversations I was in

(And I repeat my invitation for other participants to email me their thoughts for posting, because I could only be in three of the 20 conversations that went on!)

I have been remembering the sheer excitement of talking with others about how to serve lay people who want more depth and learning than Sunday morning or adult ed can provide. I got back in touch with my enthusiasm about retreats and conferences. I loved someone's idea about "Seminary for a Day" cluster programing. I suggested that one good use of a little pot of money would be for someone to investigate distance learning (internet, mostly.) Colleges do a lot of this. So could our best ministerial and lay teachers but I know from experience that you have to have the right platform and you have to know more than I know about how to use it. If the UUA could help us figure this out, the courses we provide could be available to everyone. We also tossed around pros and cons of having some kind of UUA-certified para-ministry/deacon/elder/wise lay person program...something to challenge and then certify persons who have already been the president of their congregation, advised the youth group, and been to leadership school and feels a real yearning towards ministry of some kind but not a call (or ability) to enter seminary with its debt, uncertainty, and moving away, eventually, from their home. There are some very exciting possibilities, as well as shoals, to navagate there.

I have been remembering the conversation about fostering spiritual depth and emotional maturity in ministers. You can't force that river. depth and maturity are moving targets; they involve the ability to suffer, reflect on, survive and celebrate what is happening in your life, and these experiences happen as they will. One thing I learned was that the program of offering therapy grants to ministers to help them with the above has returned.

And I have been remembering a conversation about our certification process; that terrible connundrum; you have to have standards. Are our current standards the right standards? Are we able to discern what we have set ourselves to discern with the processes we use? How do we get recommendation-writers to be truthful and, well, discerning? Is it possible to have an effective threshold that does not leave those who have to cross it feeling angry, hazed, or misunderstood? Big questions.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Impressings from a long day

We had four 90 minute small group conversations around the topics below, and after dinner, we got together to share impressions.

One of the largest conversations was the Right relationship between UUA and theological schools, which went on for two sessions and is schedueled for another one tomorrow. There's a lot of energy around this presenting problem.

Some other comments from people about "ahah moments"

"Uneasiness there we don't all know the back story between the PTE and theological schools"

Not "Excellence in ministry" but "soul-satisfying ministry."

There's a core base of UU knowledge and identity that we want our ministers to have.and ..lots of ideas about how to impart it.

An individual's pride in being an excellent minister can be an obstacle to relationship.

Surprise (from a lay person) at lack of accountability structures/support/supervision for ministers in final fellowship.

Our language conflates the act of ministry with the title minister

Frequency and passion with which people talk about the need to deepen spiritual practice.

Importance of transformation

We have a ways to go before we can authentically raise the issue of diversity and pluralism in our congregations.

There's a difference between welcoming (persons of diverse race, ethnicity, etc.) and acting on their presence.

Low expectation for spiritual leadership to come from anywhere but ordained leadership.

As to my impressions, I have to say, I have rarely spent such a pleasurable day. Deep, respectful conversations with people who care about things I care about...how could you go wrong. Even defending my perceptions of our certification practices (MFC) to a skeptical audience, while not fun, seemed important and fruitful.

I was a part of a conversation on ministerial culture, including the culture we create with the ways we evaluate candidates, a conversation about fostering emotional maturity and spiritual depth in ministry, and a third which was called "Lay Theological Education," but which was really about the resource gap for persons who have taken all their congregation's adult ed, but don't want to go to theological school. That was an exciting conversation. But they were all good.

But speaking of skepticism, it's hard for me to imagine that these free-floating conversations are going to produce outcomes that will increase excellence in ministry. Oh, me of little faith. I'm suspending my disbelief, as I've seen this facilitator bring an even more confusing conversation to a fruitful end once

Tomorrow will tell the tale

Who is at the Excellence Summit

Bill Sinkford Panel
Barbara Merritt Panel
Marvin Ellison Panel
Gini Courter Panel
Rob Hardies Panel
Virginia Jaroch-Ernst Panel
Doug Gallager Panel
Tamara Payne-Alex Panel
Beth Miller Panel
David Pettee MPL
Wayne Arnason MFC
Emily Gage MFC
Lee Barker Meadville Lombard
Sharon Welch Meadville Lombard
Dudley Rose Harvard Divinity School
Dan McKanan Harvard Divinity School
Nancy Bowen District Staff
James Coomes DRUUMM
Danielle DiBona DRUUMM
Nick Carter Andover Newton
Burton Carley UUA Board
Jackie Shanti UUA Board
Rob Eller-Isaacs UUMA Exec
Hope Johnson UUMA Exec
Sarah Lammert UUMA Exec
Rebecca Parker Starr King
Susan Ritchie Starr King
Anne Bancroft LREDA
Susan Archer LREDA
Ken Wagner District Presidents Assn.
Erik Wikstrom MPL
Kay Montgomery UUA
John Weston MPL
Jory Agate MPL
Marlin Lavanhar Guest
Abhi Janamachi Guest
Victoria Safford Guest
Vail Weller Guest
Dan Aleshire ATS
Barry Andrews LREDA Futures
Keith Arnold UU Musicians Network
Jason Shelton UU Musicians Network
Deb Holder Society for Community Ministries
Paul Johnson Shelter Rock
Ned Wight Shelter Rock
TBD Shelter Rock
Wayne Walder UUMA CENTER
Erik Kesting UUA Young Adults
Mara Dowdall UUA Young Adults
Susan Beaumont Alban Facilitator
Kiera Wesley Youth
Caleb Raible-Clark Youth
Kevin Drewery Starr King Student
Marcia Stanard Meadville Lombard Student
Bill Graves Non-UU Student
Christine Robinson
Susan Gore Observer
Alicia Forde IDBM
Mark Harris St. Lawrence Foundation
Harlan Limpert UUA
Rick Heydinger Congregational Measurement
Wendy von Zirpolo ARE
Jon Luopa Host minister in Seattle

Proposed topics

1. Right relationship between theological schools and the association

2. Role of mentoring...with accountability...not limited to interns and persons in preliminary fellowship.

3. How we might serve the need of lay theological education, beyond sunday morning but less than theological school

4. What effect we want UU faith to have in people's lives.

5. Technologies and structures that support transformation, personal and societal.

6. Non-duelistic thinking and leadership.

7. Theological development for church staffs (non-ordaned)

8. Excellence, the need for it, and its shadow.

9. Non-congregational ministry such as conferences and camps.

10. How we train UU ministers (not protestant ministers with a difference)

11. UU ministerial culture and how it impacts growth

12. How we can best support seminary students in UU identity

13. How do we work together excellently across lay/ordained

14. How to foster depth.

15. How do we foster scholarship

16. What are appropriate models of formation for 20-something seminarians

17. The role of youth...what do we have to learn

18. Respect for clergy in our congregations.

19. How our values around anti-oppression and multi-culturalism are integrated into formation.

20. Balance between ministerial authority and comgregational polity. "My job, your job, and the ministry we share."

21. Anti-racism etc. How do we make sure it really sinks in, and how do we support people in congregation which resist making this a centerpiece of our faith.

22. Are lay ministers really ministers?

23. Money and other assets which will enable us to underwrite whatever we think we need to do. (Show me...)

24. V alue of UU theological schools in training UU ministers and developing UU theology and culture.

25. Structures to connect and support colleagues.

26. Governance and authority

27. Moving from competence to excellence in religious leadership formation.

28. Whose Are We?

29. Challenges and opportunities of theological education in. A diverse world.

30. Certification processes

31. Internships--re-invisioning

32. How to keep UU youth .

33. What we do when ministry goes bad getting back into right relationship with each other

34. What model of church underlies our discussion

35. Formation beyond internship

36. Teaching Elders?

37. Collaborative training opportunities for lay and clergy together

38. Internship sites...the need for.

39. Spiritual practices and the role that has in our ministry.

40. Teaching and learning generosity.

41. What UU'ism would look like if we really put our children at the center of our life together.

42. What excellence means in the pluralistic current reality.

43. Sexuality and religious teaching

Some of these topics will be combined or modified, an more may be added this evening.

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Notes from each discussion (Susan is expecting that we'll have about 25 conversations) will be created, compiled, and given to each participant. Notes will include the who participated in each discussion, but not who said each statement. They will also be posted on the UUA's website after this meeting. So those who have a desire to read the detail of these conversations to do so.

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Open space and goals at the Summit

Open Space is a group facilitation method which allows agendas to bubble up from the group itself. It's a way to let everyone be heard. It assumes that the people who come, come with passion for some parts of the theme and it assumes that people will take responsibility for leading and following up on the conversations they suggest.

Open Space works best with topics which are complex, where there is diversity, passion, and potential for conflict.

This is just the sort of topic we're all here to discuss.

Susan, our facilitate laid out her goals for our two days.

1. Every issue of relevance to this theme which people want to raise will get raised.
2. All those topics get as thoroughly discussed as discussants want to discuss them.
3. A full report of all discussions will be created for each participant. (and presumably disseminated beyond. I will check on this point.) All conversations are open to anyone who wants to join them. There are to be no confidential conversations.
4. A fourth objective of this conference is to create new networks across what have been old lines.
5. There will be a final discussion of priorities and first steps to implementation.
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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Worship Words at the Summit

A cold coming we had of it
Just the worst time of year for a journey,
and what a journey!
The ways deep and the weather dark; the very depth of winter. (T. S. Elliot)


A story: One colleague spoke of a colleague of his, a catholic priest, beloved of all in his city, by all accounts, one is to gather, an excellent minister. When asked how he sustains his ministry, he responds, "I pray.".

This minister knows whose he is. He knows his excellence is not the result of his personal talents or hard work but is, at least in part, a gift from the Divine.


Come, come, whoever you are/though you've broken your vows a thousand times...

Other words...I didn't catch whether they were written by the person who read them or not...

We struggle with competition. The "shadow" comes out every time we talk about excellence, standards, raising the bar, continuing eduction....In all talk of the "best" there is fear that we are worst.

I struggle daily with the gulf between the deeply gratifying ministry I experience daily, and the sometimes flat, gray, reactive amalgam of life in the "larger movement."
How can I ever appreciate the full variety of effective ministerial styles?
I struggle with helping all the players not to duplicate efforts...I struggle with lack of trust between possible partners. I struggle with limited resources! Infighting! And recession-driven congregation! I wonder. What is the best way to help ministers become better ministers?
"It is provided in the essence of things that from the fruition of success, no matter what, shall come forth something to make greater struggle necessary."
(That must mean that all this struggle is the necessary aftermath of success!)

yep and amen!

Who's At the Summit?

(The Sanctuary at University Unitarian, Seattle)

They say that the first question anybody asks at a new conference is, "Who is here?" Which is why it is wise for conference planners to give people time, not only to greet old friends, but to get more comfortable with folks they don't know. This is going to be a well-planned conference. 55 jet-lagged participants gathered at University Unitarian Church for worship and a massive "get to know you". (10 got caught in a storm and we hope to see them in the morning.)

Who is here?

parish, re, community, and music ministers, other church staff, UUA staff (lots of those), seminary students and staff from at least 5 schools, two of which are UU. At least three non-UU persons, one of whom warned the others that it is possible to serve on a UUA committee in spite of not being a UU. (I wonder if anything could motivate me to serve on a Methodist committee?)

There were also youth, persons from the Panel on Theological Education, lay leaders, persons speaking for cultural and racial diversity, folks who have served or are serving on the MFC, and folks from the UUA Board. Many people, perhaps most, have multiple roles or areas of interest. Looks to be an exciting group.

I know lots of people here, at least by reputation, and had the delight of being in a small group with three I didn't know; UU's of multi-generational heritage, one of whom was a teen for whom this very densely scheduled conference constitutes a restful interlude from his usual life of full time school, nearly full time work, two bands and church activities.

The question we are to focus on for the next two days is:
What is the future of ministerial and lay leadership formation in the UU movement?

Looks like it will be an open space discussion technology. First thing tomorrow the group will generate the discussion topics related to this large question. Should be a very interesting day!

Wayne Arneson's Thoughts

Wayne Arneson shared these thoughts with participants in the Excellence in
Ministry Summit. Wayne is the chair of the MFC and is speaking only for
himself in these comments.

Thoughts on Competence and Excellence in Ministry
By Rev. Wayne Arnason, Chair of the MFC

Competence in Ministry

The competencies required by the Ministerial Fellowship Committee for
preliminary fellowship as a UU minister reflect the areas of knowledge and
skill that we believe any UU minister should be able to apply in any form of
ministry they wish to undertake.

The ability to apply an area of knowledge or skill does not mean that a UU
minister must be an expert or excel in that area. It does mean that the
minister needs to be literate in the field, and needs to have had supervised
experience in applying book knowledge to praxis in the circumstances common
to ministry. These can include conversation, discussion, debate and public
presentation where conceptual knowledge is required. These can include
interpersonal encounters in pastoral, administrative, or political roles.
These can include personal contexts involving spiritual practice, ethical
behavior, participation in groups, and continuing education.

A competent UU minister understands the professional roles and boundaries
in which the knowledge and skills of ministry must be applied and is able to
do so in ways that bring credibility and honor to the profession of UU

Excellence in Ministry

Ministers demonstrate excellence in the knowledge and skills of ministry
when their praxis is recognized by others as exceeding our standards for
competence, through observable achievement of stated goals, or through
personal validation by the individuals who have been the focus of a
particular ministry.

Ministers may achieve excellence in some areas of knowledge and skill in
their profession and not others. Ministers may achieve excellence that is
recognized only by a few, since there are often dimensions of a minister's
work that are personal and private engagements with individuals and
families. Ministers may achieve excellence that is recognized by their
colleagues, or by denominational leaders, but which is taken for granted by
the parishioners or clients that have come to know the minister well over a
period of years. Recognizing excellence requires experiences that enable
comparisons and many people have only one experience of a UU congregation,
minister, or ministry.

Moving from Competence to Excellence

To encourage excellence in ministry, we need to begin first with reviewing
our standards of competence to insure that we have a commonly accepted
understanding of them. This is a conversation that concerns the UU
theological schools, that involves the non-UU schools that prepare UU
ministers, and the Ministerial Fellowship Committee. A "bar" for competence
that is either too low or too high does not serve the interests of our
faith. Neither does a doctrinal approach to understanding competency, i.e.
a single standard to which all must be accountable, much like the "No Child
Left Behind" standards of the Bush administration.

Resources for Promoting Excellence

If we become clear about this competency bar, then how do we encourage
ministers to improve their knowledge and skills with the goal of achieving
excellence? Our preliminary fellowship review process is intended not only
to be preventative, i.e. it helps to catch problems that ministers may have
in their early years – it is also prescriptive, in that it tries to instill
patterns for collegial consultation and mentoring, continuing education, and
engagement with denominational resources and staff which encourage growth
towards excellence.

After a minister has achieved Final Fellowship, these are the resources
that a minister will either continue to draw upon regularly or ignore. The
UU Ministers Association, the Ministry and Professional Leadership Staff
Group and various networks and organizations created by ministers and/or
laity to promote continuing education have been the primary guardians and
advocates for excellence in ministry. Of these, only the MPL staff are
directed accountable to the UUA Board through the Executive (The UUA
President). If the Board wishes to set an end related to excellence in
ministry, this will have an impact on the conversation about resources that
are devoted to that end.

The UUA has historically relied on grant support to theological schools, or
to UUMA and ministerial organizations as their strategy for distributing
resources to promote excellence in ministry. In recent years, direct grant
support to students in the form of scholarships, and grants to ministerial
networks or congregations, have been suggested as a supplement, or a
substitute strategy for encouraging excellence in ministry.

Ideas for encouraging excellence in ministry abound among us. It is the
resources to fund these ideas that fall short. I would love to see a
Lilly-type fund awarding significant grants to fund creative sabbatical
projects for UU ministers. I would like to see more funding for projects
like Dreaming Big that are not staff-reliant but draw on congregationally
based leaders. I would like to see the substantial funding for UU
theological schools that would allow them to attract with grants and loans
those students who currently have no choice but to accept the healthier
financial aid packages other schools can offer them.

Wrapping up a Pre-Conference Discussion

Thanks, everyone, for your comments! Tomorrow evening, the conference begins.

If there are other participants who want to post on this Blog, I'm glad to share. Just email your post to crobinson@uuabq.org, and I'll get them up.

In reviewing the comments so far, I am struck with a couple.

Ogre's comment that while we UU's affirm many spiritual paths, we affirm only one path to ministry, (and someone else remarked that that path seems to get more and more specific, full, and rigid with passing years.)

KJR's comment that lots of good people come into ministry but don't stay because they don't find support in the inevitable low points.

Just these two subjects could keep a group well occupied for several days!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Ministerial Health

Eve commented sometime last week, '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? "

Of course, one answer is a resounding, "Yes!" It is possible to be a fine minister while coping with many kinds of health conditions. I suppose that most of us, at least after a certain age, manage some mental and physical health issues, and still excel in our work.

Another answer has to be more qualified. A certain level of health and ease of life (or at least a good match between one's needs and one's ministry setting) is necessary if one is to serve others with energy. And I'm aware that there is great concern in the Protestant ministerial world that clergy as a whole are not very healthy. Rightly or wrongly (both, I think) physical health and spiritual leadership are linked in most people's minds. As even traditional medicine begins to understand mind-body connections we're more and more realizing that our health and our choices and our self-discipline are intertwined. This is an uncomfortable new reality for many of us. It takes time and energy and money to care for one's health and those are things we ministers sometimes think we don't have enough of.

I imagine that most of us are aware of ministers whose ability to excel, or even work at all, was impacted by mental and physical health issues.

I myself went through a five year period of semi-related health problems. I had four surgeries in five years and then suffered a depression. There were many gifts in that period, and I think that I'm a better minister for having gone through that time. Certainly I'm a more compassionate pastor to my hospitalized, depressed, and worried folk! Been there. But I was not excelling in ministry in those five years and my church wasn't doing so well, either. If I had not been able to move out of that period and get and stay (relatively) more healthy, I would have had to move to a less challenging ministry. If I had known at the outset what I was in for, I probably would have felt the need to depart. I aim to serve, after all! But one doesn't usually know, and one doesn't always have choices.

I guess what I thought when I read that line about health was mostly about those coming into the profession. It's an emotionally and physically strenuous career in every size of church. I worry about people who come into ministry dealing with health issues because I think that the stress of ministry is all too likely to make those issues worse. But given that we probably all get our little list of "issues" as we age, perhaps that's just a fact of life.

Perhaps where excellence comes in is in dealing well with whatever life gives us, doing the spiritual, emotional, and physical work of health, and being realistic about whether we are able to continue to serve in a particular ministry.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

On another subject altogether

These are columbine flowers, and they are blooming at this improbable time of the year in my back yard. We're supposed to get snow tomorrow, but it's already gotten down into the low 20's, and what's this crazy spring flower doing BLOOMING!

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?

Friday, December 05, 2008

Apprenticing Ministers: Peacebang

Colleague-blogger Peacebang weighs in on congregational polity and ministerial education here.
Have a peek!

Supporting (xxxxx) Ministry

I had a meeting with the head of our local Sustaining Pastoral Excellence project leader today and told her about the conversations we're having here about excellence and about how my participation in her Lilly-Funded programs gave me a shifted attitude from what I was finding among my colleagues. (shifted from, "my God, how can they expect more of me," to "somebody cares about what I do and wants to help me do better.)

She said that even in the highly funded Lilly world, where resources flow like water, there was quite a bit of controversy about the word "excellence" as applied to ministry. Too business-y for most people, and that's in spite of the words from Paul's writings, "I will help you find a more excellent way."

Ok...it turned into a land mine, this word, excellent. When you find a land mine, the most noble thing is to step around it in service of the larger mission.

The larger mission is supporting (good, solid, competent, creative, satisfying,) ministry. It's fun to think about what that would look like, but even short of definitive definitions, we know enough about what prevents (XXXXX) ministry to begin thinking about better ways.

So let's think about what prevents (good) ministry. Let me start a list...please chime in!

1. No real recruiting leaves us relying only on those who feel called.
2. Limited opportunities for real Lay Ministry deprives people of the opportunity to experiment with their sense of call and encourages people who have "done it all" in their local church to take an unrealistic leap to ministry.
3. The cost of seminary. Perhaps we should put it this way:
5. The length of the ministry preparation period
6. The perceived capriciousness of the RSCC and MFC experience and how much a bad experience with one of these bodies can add to the time and cost of ministry preparation.
7. The (dreary old) fact that Seminaries and Certification processes have not entirely compatible goals.
8. Student Debt
10. The need of most people for some kind of accountability structures throughout their careers to motivate them to stretch themselves.
11. Churches that would find a (XXXX) minister to be waaaay too challenging.
12. The generally low salary, benefits, and continuing education packages in this career.
13. The fact that most ministers by necessity work in isolation from colleagues and rarely see other ministers at work.
14. The fact that in any career where the reward scale is fairly flat and opportunity to excel is limited, excelling is viewed with suspicion.

Please do keep going....

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Important Comments on Excellence

I hope my readers are also reading the comments of other readers, as some very important points have been made there!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

More Excellence

Here's yet another perspective on ministerial excellence from the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence outfit. It argues that Excellent, like exclusive, can be an ugly word, or a lovely one, depending on where you sit. (a great story about Carl Sandburg for your sermon-fodder file...)

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!

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!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The "excellence" problem

Here is a perspective on the use of the word "excellence" in church life from the blog, "out of URl"
It's an emergent church perspective. (Emergent church is out-of-the-box, youth oriented Christian church movement) It's an interesting blog... I always think it's nice to know we're not alone in our agonizing about churchy issues!

Just a few more thoughts of mine on this issue; firstly, I never thought that "excellent" and "perfect" were synonyms. secondly, I wonder what word between "competent", which we surely must expect of everyone, and "excellent", which is seen as out of reach, might we want to put forward? For myself, I'm leaning towards thinking of "excellencies", as a way of suggesting that there are many ways one can be doing high quality work and they are likely to look very different.

Finally, and most importantly, I do hope that we go forward with looking at how to move in the direction of "better" even if we have not found the perfect words to describe our initiative.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Full Disclosure

(Full disclosure. That's a funny phrase that's come into use around me the past three or four years. It means, "In case you don't know I have an interest in this situation...here's what it is.")

What should iMinister's readers know about her so that they can understand where she is coming from as she writes about the Excellence in Ministry Summit? Hummmm

Firstly, iMinister is a cradle UU*. When it came time for her to choose a Theological school, close to 30 years ago, she asked for advice at every turn. UU school or non-UU school? Someone said to her...if you go to a UU school, you'll be surrounded by people who think like you do and you'll really have to work at it to develop your own theology. And if you go to a non-UU school, you will be surrounded by people who don't think like you do, and you'll really have to work to develop your own theology!" Others gave practical advice. "Go to a UU school and you'll make friends and good colleagues and be in on the politics." and "Go to a non-UU school. They have better scholarships." The later proved to be very true. As to the former...iMinister knew even then that politics wasn't her great interest and it seemed to her likely that UU ministers would be willing to form post-seminary friendships across theological school boarders. That has been true for the most part. If she had known before she chose her school that she'd spend her career in the outback of Unitarian Universalism, she might have put more stock in Seminary relationships.

She chose Boston University School of Theology, where the ghost of Martin Luther King still walked the halls and where 25 Beacon Street and two theological schools full of UU students (and the right to cross-register into their courses) were a subway ride away. She got a fabulous education there, balanced between academics and practical education, and had the chance to work her way through school as a dorm director as well as do several kinds of field work. She graduated $500 in debt, a condition that allowed her to begin her career working part time in a promising small church and jump-start it into growth. The Christian world was quite an eye-opener to her, considerably widening her religious horizons, and being a stranger in a strange land was a character-building experience. The world of New England Unitarian Universalism was also an experience. She was mentored by wonderful colleagues, mostly UU Christian colleagues, to the further enrichment of her faith, and came to understand the deep differences between New England UU'ism and the post-Fellowship Movement Suburban UU'ism which was her heritage.

Those were also the four most severe winters Boston had experienced; the Blizzard of '78, the two successively coldest winters on some record, and the earliest onset of winter. South Carolina, and then New Mexico looked really good after that!

iMinister feels she had the best of all worlds by attending a non-UU school in Boston, but she knows that some students in non-UU schools are terribly isolated and have great difficulty amassing the variety of UU experiences that prepare one for effective ministry. She thinks there are a lot of reasons to have at least one UU theological school and hopes that proponents of those schools will make that case in the comments!

*cradle UU: Someone born or brought early into this faith. Sometimes called "birthright" UU, but that's an unfortunate phrase for several reasons. Not only did it get co-opted by the anti-abortion crowd, it really does have unpleasant overtones of privilege to the ears of those who found and chose us later in life. If we weren't so dang RARE in this denomination, we wouldn't have to talk about it so much.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Origins of Excellence

iMinister is not into politics, so she doesn't really keep up with the world of the UUA, but here's what she thinks is the origin of this conference, the Excellence in Ministry Summit.

There are two UU theological schools, Meadville Lombard in Chicago and Starr King in Berkeley. They are both small by Graduate School standards...they are probably both tiny by graduate school standards. They are too small to serve all UU's who want a theological education, and anyway, the majority of students who want a theological school education can't or don't want to go to those schools. They are also too small to be economically independent and they have been supported by yearly grants from the UUA. A few years back, the two schools got together to talk about joining forces, but decided that there were too many difficulties with that to proceed. iMinister only heard rumors about what those difficulties were but she noted a high degree of partisanship, not to say, polarization, in what she heard. (iMinister went to a Methodist Theological school herself. More on that, later.)

Further rumor goes that when the merger talks stalled, the UUA board got exasperated and cut down its yearly grants to the two schools. They defended their cuts by noting that most UU ministers are not studying at these two schools and it's not fair and may not be an effective use of the funds to give them all to Meadville and Starr King.

(IMinister is sharing these rumors mostly to get people provoked enough to start leaving comments which will help us all discover the fullness of truth.)

The Board used some of the money they saved to put on this Summit, and some to fund some innovative grants. iMinister knows about two grants; one which has created a pretty intense continuing education program for 12 ministers newly serving large or could-be-large churches to help prepare them for the special challenges of large church ministry(more disclosure; iMinister is a part of the program of this grant.) and one adding UU elements to the education of theological students studying at Illif School of Theology, a Methodist school in Denver. No doubt there are other interesting projects going on...once again, please leave comments!

Just to finish with the rumor-mongering, there was alarm and grumbling amongst some ministers about the name of this overall project, "Excellence in Ministry." Some people felt that they, or at least their colleagues as a whole, were being implicitly criticized by this title. "Are we not already excellent?" they asked. Keith left an excellent comment on the dangers of fostering excellence below.

iMinister tends to see excellence in a different light. It's a star we choose to shoot for; no one and no group has already attained it, and nobody will completely attain it. Nor is it any one thing. There are all kinds of excellences and any number of ways that an institution such as the UUA can foster them, directly and indirectly. And all kinds of ways that excellence can be hampered; unintended consequences of otherwise good ideas, programs, procedures, and goals. It's my hope that this will be the focus of our conversations.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Excellence in Ministry Summit: What's That?

The UUA will be holding a big meeting in a couple of weeks, called the Excellence in Ministry Summit. You can find a little more information here. Not much more information, however. Basically, it's a convocation of a variety of parties who are interested in Excellence in ministry through the ministerial lifespan, from recruitment through theological school through continuing education for ministers in place. Representatives have been invited from theological schools (UU and other) funding sources, UUA staff groups, UU Ministers groups, the Fellowship Committee, the UUA Board of Trustees, and Religious Education interests. The idea is to have an overall conversation about how to manage these tricky and expensive programs and institutions and produce that "you know it when you see it but can't really define it" product called "Excellence in Ministry."

More people wanted to come than could be included, and lots of people are interested or even concerned about the directions that might be discussed in this meeting so I was asked to attend and blog about it. It seems that I have a reputation for being an independent but sane thinker, grinding no axes but in no one's pocket...a designation that pleased me so much that I just had to say yes....to a three day trip in Mid December...just the busiest time of a minister's year.

I am crazy. But I do also care...I care a lot....about our denomination and I know of no single more important way to contribute to the health of our ministry than to be a part of discussions about fostering excellence in this profession.

After I said yes, I heard that the definition of "ministry" was expanded to include, not just the work of ministers but everything wonderful that UU's do in the world. I certainly hope that that's not the case. That would be a wayyyyyy to big subject for a two-day summit. I notice that the keynote speech will come from Executive Director of the Association of Theological Schools, so I have hope that our discussion will stay relatively focused.

The Summit is a couple of weeks away, but I thought I'd start posting about it, giving others a chance to weigh in in comments and perhaps help me to be more oriented when I arrive.