A guest Posting from my colleague Clyde Grubbs
The UUA has since the merger maintained a list of ministers in fellowship and the Board of Trustee's has appointed and exercised oversight over its Ministerial Fellowship Committee. The mandate of the MFC is maintain the list of ministers in fellowship. The UUA Board of Trustees jealously guards its fiduciary responsibility over ministerial fellowship. I recall when I was on the UUMA exec there were discussions with the MFC of the UUMA being involved in panels that would work with ministers seeking specialized ministries that would be recognized at Final Fellowship. The UUA BoT said no way, the UUA has sole responsibility for Fellowship. (No outsourcing.)
My observation of the UUA is that an attempt at fundamental change to the principle of a unitary MFC overseeing the whole process would meet massive institutional resistance. Such a proposal would need a broad and committed constituency to enact such a radical change. Since, I do not see that constituency, I think that it safe to assume the MFC will survive as long as the corporate UUA survives.
I think the discussion has indicated that present process is dysfunctional (works with pain) and not user friendly (seeks objectives unrelated to the perceived needs of the students.)
We could compare our credentialing system to other professions, and conclude that ours is just as terrible as others, but that does not help us seek some possible reforms that might make the credentialing process work a little better and with a little less pain.
1. First, our present system is trying to do too much with too little funds. So proposals must be redistributive, take money from somewhere and put it somewhere else. We can't add on to the present system, without cuts.
1. When the Regional SubCommittee(s) on Candidacy was proposed in the early 1990s it was supposed to function as a UU version of an in care system. The advocates talked of retreats and getting to know the students and finding ways to discern who should continue and who should not. By the time the RSCs were actually instituted in the late 1990s the vision had been watered down to a way to discourage unlikely aspirants to the ministry before they acquired to much debt. The RSCs have failed even this more modest goal.
3. We must conclude that the RSCs have devolved to just another hoop for students to jump over, granting candidate status based on an interview and paper work. They function simply to prescreen aspirants and while that function takes some burden from the MFC it does not change the quality of the ministerial formation process at all. Students are screened rather than nurtured and formed. Like child abuse victims many survivors enter our ministry resentful and regard the good people who serve on the RSCs and MFC as "strangers," "people with their own agendas" and other language indicating alienation rather feeling collegially embraced. For me, the Unitarian Universalist Ministry belongs the community of Unitarian Universalists and we together serve that community. Our process of credentialing must be part of a process of formation for full participation in that Unitarian Universalist Ministry.
4. Based on the above, I propose we seriously think of phasing out the RSCs and instead building an in - care system for formation, discernment and support closer to the students. I pray for a in care team made up of ministers in final fellowship and experienced lay folk who would work with a aspirant through the candidacy process and to the point of appointment with the MFC. The MFC would extend candidate status when the local in care team recommend that the aspirant has the potential to pursue fellowship. The student would make an appointment with the MFC when the local in care team recommends that they are ready to see the MFC. Since these local structures would not need funds for travel, hotel and what not they would free up funds for program costs. (Things we require students to do like CPE and Career Evaluation should be paid for.) The MFC could also meet more often or be expanded so it could meet with students on a timely basis. Long waits are cruel.
4. I am convinced that theologians need supervised clinical practice and reflection on that practice. But we do need to find ways to help pay for the cost of taking Clinical Pastoral Education.
5. I think theological education must evolve away from expensive residency programs toward on line and week long intensives. This would mean students would be less concentrated in Boston, San Francisco Bay, Chicago etc. and could continue deep relationship with congregations. It would mean in care and formation would be shared by a larger cadre of ministers in the vicinity.
6. The above wouldn't work for everyone. Lots of folks go off to theological school to discover themselves and end up in our ministry and would find the long time nurture and more intimate locality of an in care system an imposition. They would long for the day when becoming a UU minister was just a series of hoop jumping exercises. But one can't please everyone.