Sunday, December 27, 2009

Continuing the dialogue on credentialing

Earl Koteen replies here to Wayne Arneson's post which is, here.

Here are my thoughts on his thoughts:

On the subject of who should be involved in credentialing ministers...
I think that our current system of having ministers, lay persons, and representatives of the denominational institution all involved in ministerial credentialing is the single strongest aspect of our ministerial credentialing process. Many professions attempt to be self-regulating and disaster lies in that direction. All the stakeholders in the health of Unitarian Universalism should have a part in the creation of the standards and in the examining process.

I have my doubts about regional credentialing, since few ministers stay in one region for their career. I would prefer to think about dividing the massive MFC workload in another way. Currently one MFC deals with all levels of credentialing, from setting the standards in the first place, through overseeing the RSCC, through the Preminiary Fellowship Process. It also does all the work (increasing) of granting waivers to MFC rules (whether an intern can remain for a time in the employment of the internship church, for instance), deals with the renewals of Fellowship during the probationary period and granting of Final Fellowship, and finally, deals with complaints about ministers and the disciplining of ministers.
It seems to me that this could be broken down into as many as four areas; the standard-setting itself, the admission into preliminary fellowship (and waivers needed up until that time), the probationary period leading up to admission into Final Fellowship (and waivers), and the disciplinary process. Yes, once upon a time it made sense to give all this related work to one committee for the sake of consistency and buy-in. With a ministry twice the size and quadruple the complexity of a generation ago, it is time for a change. This would have the additional benefit of getting more people involved in this important process.

Earl writes:
3. The broader question is the following: Should there be a substantive review/examination before a candidate is accepted for preliminary fellowship, or should a candidate automatically be accepted for preliminary fellowship when the candidate has successfully completed all the requirements (M.Div., CPE, internship, etc.)? This question revolves around whether this examination is worth the resources expended. Without going into a long argument here, let's just note that some ministers have reported that getting a "3" (do "X" and come back for a 2nd interview) helped prepare them for ministry.

Two issues here...
First, there's no question in my mind that we need a substantive review before new ministers are allowed to serve churches. It is quite possible to get an M.Div but with such poor grades that one's fitness is in question, to complete a CPE or internship but with major red flags raised in evaluations. Someone, staff or volunteer, has to go through this material and make recommendations and decisions. The question in my mind is how this gets done. Interviewing might not be necessary, at least not in most cases. On the other hand reference checking, (by phone and email) something that is not now done, might be a much more useful and cost-efficient way to get a picture of the candidate.
As to the issue of folks who got a "3" finding the work they were required to do useful, hopefully, that is what mostly happens. If you've got to spend a year you didn't anticipate preparing for a career, with the shame, the financial costs, and the family issues it often raises, then the strongest candidates will find a way to make that year useful and will be smart enough to say so to the committee. (That doesn't mean that the extra year and work were necessary, only that they were useful.) But it also does happen that people who must return for a second interview are basically told, "it just wasn't a very good interview. We don't have any real recommendations, you seem to have a lot of strengths, we just want to see you again." This, as a matter of fact, is what happened to me, lo these 30 years ago. And I've heard of it happening since, more than once. It's actually inevitable with this system of a high-stakes interview. Sometimes the candidate will have a bad 45 minutes, sometimes the committee will have a bad 45 minutes. Sometimes the committee will have helpful suggestions, sometimes they just "don't see a minister", and leave the candidate with this baffling information and an invitation to, in a year, try again. Maybe it's the only way. Useful as it may be for some, it is dreadfully expensive for all.

I was struck with Earl's recommendation that during the probationary period of a young minister that a more independent evaluation be made than currently. At the moment the MFC relies on the minister's self-evaluation and two evaluations from within the congregation; usually the Board and the Committee on Ministry. Ministers in preliminary fellowship live in fear that some rogue person on one of those two committees will get enough licks in that their application for renewal will be denied. It seems to me that the fear of this is heightened in the past 30 years, but perhaps I was so isolated from most of my colleagues during my preliminary fellowship years that I missed this. At any rate, I would note that District Execs often have a more holistic view of a ministry/congregational relationship than either party and their wisdom should be a part of the mix of Preliminary Fellowship renewals. I also wish that the mentoring process for new ministers was much stronger; that mentors made site visits and the relationship was something more than 9 or 10 phone calls a year. But that's another subject.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

What Would I Do About Credentialing?

David asks what I would do. The most important thing I would do is study, talk to people, and learn, not only in our denomination but from other faith communities, for the potential for unintended consequences in any changes to our credentialing processes is very large. I have loved this creative conversation...I think it's the "out there" ideas that will help us thread our way through the many aspects of our needs and hopes.

I do have a list of things that I think warrant further study and conversation.

  1. The impact of credentialing on the time it takes to prepare for ministry, and the cost/benefits to Unitarian Universalism and individuals of that time.
  2. I myself am biased against the idea that the best way to figure out who is qualified to be a UU minister is a brief, high stakes interview. Maybe this is the only way, but it disadvantages the people who don't perform well and those who fall outside "the norm", whatever that happens to be at the moment. And really...isn't it basically out of sync with ministry, which is a deep, relational, long-form career?
  3. There have always been interesting congregational polity issues when the denomination "keeps the list of ministers" who are deemed qualified to serve congregations-who-are-free-to call-whom-they-wish. It seems to me that this issue comes down to two points. Firstly, there are some things that congregations just can't do very well, so denominations do them. Publishing RE material is an example. Doing the hard work of ministerial credentialing is another. But what exactly can denominations discern in ministerial candidates that search committees can't? I think we should give that a hard look. In his piece, Wayne talked a lot about what congregations want and need, but actually, I think we're both guessing on this score and doing some wishful thinking. I also think that there is a legitimate reason for denominations to care about the quality and preparation of "its" ministers, irrespective of what congregations want. Most congregations really don't care whether their ministers know how many districts there are in the UUA, or how the MFC is selected, but you could make the case that a denomination should least that "its" ministers can generally answer and quickly find the specifics of these questions. However, I think that it would be best to be clearer and more transparent about who needs ministers to know what.
  4. Speaking of factual knowledge, I think that if we decide a certain level of factual knowledge is important, that written, comprehensive exams are much fairer to candidates than hit or miss questioning in a high tension environment and I think that this should be looked into.
  5. If ministry is one of many careers in which you can't really predict success until someone is actually doing it, (see this very interesting article) then our three part credentialing series is out of whack. Let's talk about that!
  6. Finally, any system we create has to be doable by the ordinary volunteers and staff that we can afford. At the moment most UU's couldn't possibly serve on the MFC; the work load is massive. Overworked volunteers making pressured decisions....this is not a recipe for quality. And I would like to see processes in place by which the process could be evaluated. Records, statistics, and open reporting is the friend of the excellence we all strive for.

A Modest Proposal on Credentialing

I am remembering back about 15 years, when John Weston re-worked the settlement process. When I first entered ministry, the process could only be described as paternalistic. The Settlement Director, using his knowledge of ministers in search and of congregations, created lists of applicants for each search committee. If the settlement director didn't think you were an appropriate candidate for a particular church, you could submit your name without recommendation, but that put you at a huge disadvantage and was rarely done. If the settlement director thought you should broaden your search horizon, your name might appear on lists you had not imagined. (That's how I got to Albuquerque, as a matter of fact. I had limited my search to the east, but my name was submitted in spite of that. I got over my anoyance, I was wooed, cupid struck, and 22 years later, here I am. I was also not permitted to apply for a church that I and others felt I was qualified to apply for and had to appeal that decision to the director of the Department of Ministry. By the time my name was actually sent, that search committee had made it's choice of pre-candidates. I tell these stories not because I'm mad but to illustrate the power that position once had and how it was used.)

There is no doubt in my mind that those who liked that system could have written many paragraphs about how it had developed very logically and sensibly and with the needs of search committees, applicants, and the denomination as a whole, and why it was the best possible system but for reasons I don't know, other than John Weston's passion for congregational autonomy, it was changed.

Now the process is much more open and search committees have much more responsibility to discern for themselves who will best serve them. All information about churches is posted, any minister who wants to apply can apply, and then the vetting begins. Among the consequences that I am aware of; some of our large churches are served by young and new ministers, ministers who would not have seemed to the "powers that be" to have earned the right to apply to a prestigious pulpit. Some of our fastest growing large churches are served by these ministers who otherwise would not have had the opportunity.

As we look again at the ministerial credentialing process, I think we should start, not with how we got to where we are, but with what congregations actually need and expect from beginning ministers, and how we can maximize the openness we espouse for congregations while carefully doing whatever examining and gatekeeping we feel we need as a denomination both for the good of the whole and for the good of individual congregations. As a for instance, I think that search committees are often not able to discern the presence of some kinds of personality problems which can wreak havoc in ministry. Things like psychological testing and in depth reference checking might be best done for search committees at the denominational level. As another for instance, we as a whole denomination have a stake in a ministry which is well-grounded in our history and polity; issues of relatively small import to search committees which have much more local concerns in mind. Therefore a credentialing process which looks at a candidate's knowledge in these two areas is important (though I believe that this should be done mostly through written comps, not through the hit and miss spot checking of factual knowledge in an interview process.)

As we take a hard look at our, lets face it, paternalistic credentialing process, I think we should take a good look at what happened when we did away with our paternalistic search process. We might find some cautionary notes, but mostly, I think, that hard look will give us the courage to imagine change.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Yet More Voices on Ministerial Credentialing

Polity Wonk has an interesting, extensive reform proposal here.
Calling Ministers asks the crucial question, "What does a minister look (sound, feel) like" ( in a credentialing interview?), here

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Blogging, Facebook, and Collegial Conversations on Credentialing

This Blog appears automatically on my Facebook page, and I have noticed in the past few months that there are more comments on my blog on my Facebook page than on the blog itself. So, if you want to read more, join up with Facebook and ask to be my "Facebook friend."

The march of technology is marching on..

The next three blog posts are from Wayne Arnason and are meant to be read in reverse order, so skip ahead and read back for the greatest understanding of the points he is making about ministerial credentialing. Some good comments have been left here, too

How We Got to our current ministerial Credentialing System: Wayne Arnason

The comments made thus far make me want to review my own understanding of the reason we have a centralized Ministerial Fellowship Committee system. As I understand it, it's because the representatives of congregations serving on the UUA Board (mostly lay people, with some ministers) decided that congregations needed some system of assurance that the diversity of ministers who might be candidates for their pulpits all meet some agreed-upon basic standards of competence, apart from and independent of the standards created by the seminaries or the ministers association, neither of which are subject to the control of the association of congregations. The pre-merger system that the Universalists had, which involved accreditation of ministers on a regional basis (more like what the much larger UCC uses) was rejected. My presumption is that this rejection happened in part because of a Unitarian penchant for more centralized control, but I also think that the representative of congregations rightly believed that the different geographic regions of the United States and Canada had different kinds and concentrations of congregations and therefore different capacities for doing this kind of in-care and credentialing in a consistent way. From the beginning, we had the premise that our search and settlement system would be an open continental process, without any geographic limitations associated with the region in which you currently live or were credentialed (as is the case with some other congregational polity settlement systems). The system we created at merger believed that a centralized system for ministerial settlement would work better over time for an association of congregations our size.

So imagine with me a conversation that goes through the logic of the system we currently have. Imagine a group of lay members of search committees being asked to design a UU system for ministerial accreditation from scratch. Let 's assume that they have figured out that a system with most of our current requirements has merit. (This is a big assumption, of course, and the MFC is currently planning to review how we read the Career Assessments and the CPE evaluations,) For purposes of this essay, let’s assume that we agree that a system that requires from candidates an M. Div. or equivalent, a required reading list, a CPE, an internship or its equivalent, and recommendations from suitable lay leaders, teachers, and ministers is one we have agreed on. So after that the conversation might go like this:

"Person A: So who reviews all this to make sure it's in order?

Person B: It would have to either be done by volunteers or a hired staff person. I guess it depends on whether you see the review’s purpose as just to check off these requirement on a list? Or would this staff person or a volunteer group have to go through all the documentation to assure that it was in order and had no red flags?

Person C: I wouldn't want it to just be a check list system. The evaluative materials can have a lot of variation in them. They would have to be read through. So can this be done by just one person? How many of these new ministers would we expect to have to handle in a year?
Person A: Well, over time, as our ministry grows, it wouldn't surprise me if we had several hundred ministers in preparation and as maybe sixty or seventy a year who would be ready to have their preparation evaluated.

Person B: It's more work than a staff person could do. We would need a few of them.

Person C: Is this really staff work? Isn't it likely that the staff people hired to oversee a credentialing system would be ministers? I think we'd need to have significant lay involvement in approving credentials if the purpose of this is to assure congregations that the minister that can apply to serve them have a basic standard of competency.

Person A: I guess ideally you would like a blended group of experienced ministers and lay people. So maybe you could have staff members assemble and even summarize the evaluative materials that needed to be read and send them to readers, maybe one lay and one minister? and if they agreed that the person's written material was good to go, they could enter in "fellowship" with the UUA and be recommended to congregations.

Person B: I guess that could work -- but would these two people never actually meet the candidate? I've been on a search committee before, and we read through several thoroughly prepared packets, but the choice we eventually made for who would be our minister was finally influenced by the interviews we held, and not just by the packet. Don't you think that the persons reading over the evaluative materials should also meet the person at least once and talk with them about their preparation? That's more like what really happens in a search.

Person C: That sounds like a good idea to me. But how would you feel about your minister being chosen by a group of only two people on a search committee? If we're going to create interviews I'm not sure the opinions of two people is enough when it comes to whether we “see a minister” in that person. It’s hard to get much diversity in a group of two! Maybe the interview should be done a full committee of people, at least six or seven.

Person A: A national committee of people? Sounds expensive! Why couldn't it be done by regional volunteer groups? Maybe you could avoid the interview if the people in a regional volunteer group already knew the candidate?

Person B: That could work in a region that has the occasional ministerial candidate coming out of the congregations in a district. But what about districts that contain one of the seminaries that many UU students attend? What about those with large congregations that might have three or four candidates for ministry emerge over a period of a few years? How do regional volunteer groups work when a candidate for ministry has left the area to attend a seminary or where there are many candidates in a small geographic area? Does each have their own in-care evaluative team? How many volunteers would this need? Who would gather them and to whom would they be accountable?

Person B: A centralized national evaluative group would likely be less expensive than the cost of supporting district based committees. If you go with the premise that an interview is valuable, then a regionally based system would still require face to face meetings and the expenses they incur. I guess the cost would depend on how big the regions were. I'd be more comfortable with a system where I knew that no matter where a person went to seminary, UU or non-UU, and no matter what size or style of home church they came out of, they all get reviewed by a group of people who have developed common standards and disciplines from this review.

Person C: When would this review and interview happen? Maybe we could have a local checklist system that allows a person who has completed all the requirements to be ordained and begin working? The congregation or agency would evaluate the person after three years and then the person would be interviewed by a national credentialing body that would grant them final fellowship.

Person A: I'm not sure whether I'd want my congregation to be served by someone whose preparation had only been affirmed by a seminary or regional body. That is, unless it was someone we already knew who had a history with our congregation? I'm starting to get the feeling that regional credentialing would somehow need to be matched with a regional settlement system, and I'm not sure that the UUA is large enough for that to work. The regional volunteer demands on lay leaders and ministers are already pretty heavy."

Here ends this imaginary conversation that suggests to me the way that the logic of the current system has evolved. The values that inform it seem to me to be consistency of standards and good stewardship of limited resources and volunteer time. As we continue this discussion about credentialing, what I’m hearing from the President and the Board is that the reason we’re doing this is to insure we can attract and form new ministers who can not only serve the congregations we have but also help transform and create the congregations we need for the future. While suggestions for reform of particular parts of the current process are and will be welcome, I would like to see them framed by consideration of the resources required to make the change and the payoff in terms of formation of the ministers we need.

Wayne Arnason

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Ministerial Credentialing: Four Questions from Wayne Arneson

My perception is that there have been four major questions about the architecture of the current accreditation system mentioned on this web discussion so far.

1) should the UUMA be responsible for accrediting ministers or should the UUA? Several people posting have suggested that it should be a UUMA responsibility although without much elaboration on the practical difficulties of that proposal. Clyde Grubbs has noted that the position of the UUA Board always has been that credentialing must be owned by the congregations, not the ministers, and their view is unlikely to change.

2) should there be a centralized credentialing process or should it be done by regional systems? Some colleagues posting believe that a regional system would be inherently more intimate and authentic than a national system and that there would be no issues with consistency among regionally based systems.

3) should there be an interview? So much anxiety seems to focus on the interview. Would our credentialing process be just as effective without it? Steve Eddington argues it would.

4) should there be preliminary fellowship? or should those who complete the documentable requirements be ordained, allowed into settlement, and then evaluated for fellowship one time, after three years of service.This is a possibility that Christine Robinson has explored.

Wayne Arnason for the MFC has thoughts to share

This guest post from Wayne Arnason comes in multi parts. Keep checking in!

I've hesitated to join in on this very engaging thread about ministerial credentialing, because as Chair of the MFC I run the dual risks of being seen as a defender of the status quo, or being seen as the spokesman for the MFC or the UUA (as "owner" of the MFC). In posting these thoughts, I hope I am neither. I affirm Christine Robinson's appreciation for the quality and tone of most of this conversation. I do appreciate and believe in the many assurances from colleagues who are sharing their opinions while noting that critiques of the current process are not intended to reflect personally on the individuals charged with implementing and overseeing it. Thank you! The delay in posting this was brought about by this week’s meeting on the MFC which demanded all my attention.

Last spring the MFC requested an outside review of the UUA's credentialing process by the UUA Board because the demands of our routine tasks allow too little time to undertake a comprehensive self-evaluation. As this review gets under way, with the review team still to be named, I will suggest that Tamara Payne-Alex, the project manager appointed by the Board for excellence in ministry work, follow this discussion on the iminister blog. Tamara is a lay leader who does not have access to the uuma chat. The “Calling Ministers” blog written by Early Koteen also has reflections on ministerial examining and interviewing that would be of interest to all reading this thread.

Despite our time limitations, the MFC is routinely undertaking evaluative continuing education at each meeting that brings a particular aspect of our process or our required competencies under scrutiny. This year our work has been focused on the interview itself and the way we ask questions. We are also reviewing the possibilities for a competency for ministers in sexual health.