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The Making of a UU Minister (April 28, 2009)

posted Sep 3, 2009, 12:32 PM by Neal Jones

            The making of a UU minister is the result of a three-way covenant among the ministerial candidate, the sponsoring/ordaining congregation, and the Unitarian Universalist Association:

1.         The ministerial candidate identifies his or her calling as a minister.  In the old days, that subjective sense of calling was understood as being called by God.  Today it is more likely to be interpreted as an individual’s assessment that he or she possesses the gifts of ministry. 

2.         The individual’s sense of call is supplemented by his or her congregation’s sponsorship in the fellowshipping process.  Sponsorship usually consists of moral support and sometimes even financial support, but in either case, sponsorship represents the congregation’s confirmation that the ministerial candidate is gifted for ministry.  (By the way, our Board has voted to sponsor me in the fellowshipping process).

3.         The third party of this covenant is the UUA, which insures that the individual properly develops his or her gifts for ministry through the fellowshipping process, which is overseen by the Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC).  MFC also stands for “major frigging commitment.”  The fellowshipping process is modeled on the military’s boot camp in terms of the time and energy required to complete the process.  Few finish the process in this lifetime, and there are reports of some ministerial candidates finishing the process in the afterlife.  If you don’t believe me, just look at this list of requirements to become a fellowshipped UU minister:


            (1)       Complete the initial inquiry phase, which includes submitting three essays on why you want to be a UU minister and being interviewed by a UUA staff member.

            (2)       Complete a career assessment at one of the UUA’s approved career assessment centers.  (When I was a fulltime psychologist, I used to conduct career assessments for the Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Moravian churches).

            (3)       Submit to an interview with your Regional Sub-Committee on Candidacy and be approved by the committee for candidacy status.

            (4)       Obtain sponsorship by a UU congregation.

            (5)       Complete a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree.

            (6)       Complete an internship at a UU congregation.

            (7)       Complete a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at a credentialed CPE training site.

            (8)       Complete the MFC reading list.

            (9)       Submit to an interview with the MFC.


Once a person meets these requirements, the MFC grants him or her the status of being a “Minister in Fellowship,” which means the MFC believes the individual has suffered long enough and is now a member of the UUA’s professional association of ministers.

            The fellowshipping process insures that a ministerial candidate meets minimal levels of skills, talents, and expertise to serve any congregation in our UU association of congregations.  A fellowshipped minister is then ready to be ordained, an act conferred by a congregation, usually the aspiring minister’s home congregation or internship congregation.  Fellowshipping and ordination are separate acts conferred by separate parties, but both are seals of approval that the individual is now a minister and is ready to be called by a congregation as its minister. 

            Not every candidate in the fellowshipping process is a minister in training.  Some of us are ministers who are transferring from another denomination, yet we must complete the same process.  I was ordained a minister 23 years ago by my home church, the First Baptist Church of Smithfield, North Carolina, having earned an M.Div. degree and completed not only a unit but a year-long residency in CPE.  However, I never served a Baptist church, as I left the Southern Baptist denomination and received ministerial standing first with the United Church of Christ and then with the Moravian Church.  (I guess I’m a spiritual nomad).  I began the fellowshipping process while I was serving as the minister of the UU Fellowship of Waco, Texas, in the late 90’s.  I completed the initial inquiry phase and career assessment, and the Waco UU served as my internship.  When I moved to Columbia ten years ago, I dropped out of the process, as I was working as a fulltime clinical psychologist.

            Four years ago, you hired me as your part-time minister and then made me fulltime.  Because UU congregations are autonomous, they may call whomever they choose as their ministers, even those who are not fully credentialed UU ministers.  When I became your fulltime minister, I decided to re-enter the fellowshipping process.  I met with our Southeast Regional Sub-Committee at All Souls UU in New York and was approved for candidacy status.  To supplement my earlier theological education, I have taken courses in world religions, UU history, and UU polity, and I have been making my way through the MFC reading list.  Once I complete the online polity course and reading list, I will schedule an interview with the MFC.   

            Despite my complaints about this laborious ordeal, the fact is that I want to be a UU minister and one who is officially recognized by our UU association of congregations.  I love being a Unitarian Universalist, and I love serving as your minister.  I’m tired of shacking up.  I want to make it official.