But congregations are the source of ministerial authority.
In days of yore, congregations themselves ordained ministers; now ministerial authority is bestowed by the fellowshipping process. In practical terms, the Ministerial Fellowship Committee says who is a recognized and legitimate UU minister. But by what authority? By the authority granted to it as a body of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. In theory, congregations have created a common system for doing what they each used to do on their own.
Our congregationally based system of conferring authority will be called upon to credential lots of ministers for post-congregational settings. It does that now, (community ministers), but awkwardly, and in small numbers. A system that is designed to produce and evaluate chicken eggs will be asked to evaluate duck eggs and ducks. A system designed to form parish ministers will have to form missionaries, evangelists, apostles and community organizers.
Training people to be a UU parish minister is an expensive and lengthy process. Is it the best way to train people to create liberal religious ministries that are not based on the parish model?
If we are to answer the call for liberal religious leadership in the society at large, we will need to deploy dedicated religious leaders in numbers we cannot imagine. How are those leaders to be formed, evaluated and credentialed? The skills and presence needed may not look like those of parish ministry.
Who decides who is a UU minister? The very category of "UU minister" becomes an anachronism if we take post-denominationalism, post-congregationalism, and laicism seriously. Look at the Sunday Assemblies: they're growing with non-professional "ministry."
The value of the present system is a process of accountability and standards of ministerial professionalism, ethical behavior, personal stability. That matters. God knows, it is an imperfect system, but I hear no one saying that we ought to get rid of it, and just let anyone claim to be a UU minister.
We are at a turning point. Someone has to discern what the essential qualities of UU minister are in non-congregational settings, and devise a process to form and evaluate future religious leaders on those qualities. The present body of UU ministers are the obvious choices to do that work. But it will require self-transcendence.