Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The cost of Ministerial Formation III

One more thought on this topic...

Another think I think we should seriously explore.

Given the fact that it is hard to know who is going to succeed in ministry until they succeed, I would suggest that the major "gatekeeping" function be, not at preliminary fellowship, but at Final Fellowship. At that point, the record of a new minister's ministry can speak for itself. Most will have clearly succeeded or failed and will not even need to be interviewed, which is no small expense for candidates or for the UUA. (The interviewing will have been done by one or more search committees who actually spend a lot more time with candidates than the MFC and whose judgment, in congregational polity, should be respected.) The requirements for Preliminary Fellowship might simply be the passing of RSCC, background check, and careful scrutiny of documents, not for "ministerial presence" (which only appropriately develops in ministry, after all) or preaching ability (congregations can be trusted to judge for themselves whether they want to hear this person) but for psychological health and a healthy attitude towards ministerial leadership.

Persons in preliminary Fellowship would be provisionally ordained and it would be suggested to congregations that they be hired for a three year term, with the possibility of a call extended after Final Fellowship is granted.

The advantage of this is that almost everyone would search for a church in their senior year of seminary and begin to work the next Fall, and when they were judged, they would be judged on their record, and that would, for most people be much less anxiety-producing. Lots of things to think through, of course, but I think this approach (more like what the Methodists do) is worth thinking about.


Ron said...

Thanks for revisiting this too Christine; I like it; I did a longer reflection on various related matters at my Planting God Communities at www.progressivechurchplanting.blogspot.com

Dan Hotchkiss said...

Your suggestion of waiting till a candidate has three years of ministry service before evaluating fitness is an interesting one. My experience as UUA settlement (now transitions) director, 1990-97, was that the search committees not only gave more time and attention to candidates, but also were the only part of the system that consistently had the spine to say no. The seminaries had a financial incentive to say yes; the MFC caught flak whenever they said no, and so did I. My impression is that the MFC says no a little more often than it did then, but that the Department has relinquished the gatekeeper role. So more than ever, the search committees are the place where the buck stops. When they make a mistake, though, three years' bad experience is a high price for the congregation.