Who's In Charge Here?: Historical Context
How this is the context for Rev. Hitchen and the East Lyndon Fellowship conflict over sermon talkbacks I don't know.
The Commission went off track back in the discussion of the Cambridge Platform. Because they did not unpack the meaning of the authority of the minister over the "ministry of the word", the only thing that they could take from the CP was that congregations hired and fired ministers. Starting from there, they followed a "hiring/firing" thread through UU history, but ignored the hundreds of cases in which ministers were fired, forced to resign, or beaten into submission over the content and conduct of worship. What is left in our history are the cases of ministers who aroused controversy through their public ministry. And those conflicts were often with denominational officials and other ministers.
The way that the Commission uses the phrase "granting and revoking authority" to describe three different kinds of conflict is confusing. Conflict between a minister and congregation over roles is not the same as conflict between a minister and the denomination over credentialing. And neither conflict is the same as the struggles for recognition, reputation and power among the ministers as a group.
We love our self-image as a movement of heroic radical ministers challenging the powers that be. And we certainly don't want to be those prosperous Boston textile manufacturers and cotton merchants who cramped Channing's style. Nor do we want to be those awful denominational officials who tried to repress John Haynes Holmes.
But our weakness is not in our public ministries. Our weakness is inside the walls and on Sunday morning. I hear intense frustation over our worship styles: too limited, too mono-cultural, too formal, unable to connect with the real life struggles of real life people. The ministers I know are even more frustrated than everyone else. Yet, each one works in an environment where their authority over worship is so diffused that it is difficult to change even something that most people aren't happy with. The watchword among ministers is 'you have to go really slow at changing worship. There are all kinds of mines buried in that field. You can lose your job there.'
The historical context I want to know about is how that situation came about.