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From Dating to Getting Married (August 22, 2012)

posted Aug 22, 2012, 2:19 PM by Neal Jones   [ updated Sep 12, 2012, 10:26 PM ]

          It's old news that I passed my examination interview with the denomination's Ministerial Fellowship Committee in Boston back in December and was granted "preliminary fellowship" as a UU minister, thus making me eligible to be "called" by our congregation in contrast to being hired.  What is new news is that our congregation's Ministerial Transition Committee, under the leadership of Pat Mohr, is presently leading our congregation through this transition.       

          What exactly does this transition mean?  Practically speaking, very little.  Instead of signing an annual contract, which is effectively the Board's hiring me for another year each year, the congregation will be given the opportunity to "call" me as minister via congregational vote, which means I would serve as your minister indefinitely.  I would continue being your minister and continue doing all the things I have been doing as your minister.  I suppose an analogy would be dating someone compared to marrying him or her.  Being hired as minister is like dating a congregation, going along on a year-by-year basis; being called is like getting married, making a commitment to stand by each other over the long haul.                                        

          Given this new designation, it might be helpful to define the terms involved in this process:                                                                                                       

          Ordained.  Ordination is the act by which a person is designated a minister.  This is what puts "Reverend" in front of a person's name, and it's a title the person wears throughout his or her life.  Once ordained, always ordained.  Ordination is carried out by a congregation that has firsthand knowledge of the person, usually his or her home congregation or the congregation at which one serves during one's seminary internship.  The congregation knows that the person possesses the gifts of ministry and the character of a minister.  I was ordained 26 years ago after completing my Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree by my home congregation, the First Baptist Church of Smithfield, NC, and all four congregations I have served have recognized my ordination as a minister.                                                                

         Fellowshipped.  Whereas ordination is an act of a congregation, the granting of fellowship as a UU minister is an act of our denomination, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA).  To be fellowshipped is to be admitted into the ministers' "union," which sets strict standards to insure that the person properly develops his or her natural gifts for ministry in order to serve the denomination's congregations with competency.  Some of these criteria are to earn an M.Div. degree, to complete a residency in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), and to serve an internship in a congregation.  In all, a prospective UU minister must prove that he or she has competency in 16 areas of ministry:  theology, world religions, Hebrew and Christian scripture, church history, UU history and polity, social theory and ethics, human development, spiritual development, religious education, worship, pastoral care, leadership, administration, professional ethics, sexual justice, and anti-racism, anti-oppression, and multiculturalism.  The gatekeeper of the ministers' union is the Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC).  The MFC grants a minister "preliminary fellowship" initially and "final fellowship" three years later.                                                                                

          Called.  A congregation formally invites or "calls" a minister to be its pastor.  Typically, a congregation forms a Search Committee, which reviews the profiles of ministers from the denomination's list of ministers who have been fellowshipped as UU ministers.  However, since we have congregational polity, which means that each congregation is autonomous to run its own affairs, a congregation is free to hire whomever it chooses.  Eight years ago, our congregation chose to hire me as your minister -- an ordained minister who was not a fellowshipped UU minister.                                                                                       

          Installed.  An installation is the recognition that a minister has been called to serve a particular congregation.  In UU parlance, we often say that the minister is "settled" in a congregation.  This term raises the possibility that some of our UU ministers are "unsettled," which is something that many of us have long suspected.  Assuming that our congregation votes to call me as minister this fall, we will have an installation service on January 27, 2013.  An installation service is like a wedding service in which a minister and a congregation celebrate their coming together to embark on a shared journey, and as such, it has all the hoopla of a wedding service, with ceremony and ritual, out-of-town guests, and cake, hopefully chocolate cake.                                                                                                                           

          In the coming weeks, the Ministerial Transition Committee will be passing out surveys,  conducting feedback sessions, and interviewing me to gather our perspectives on our ministry together at the UUCC.  A wedding is one of life's mile markers which give us pause and cause us to reflect on where we've been and we where we're going.  The transition from being a hired to a called minister is providing our congregation the same opportunity.