has inspired some comments and responses. Check all the comments on that thread, but I wanted to respond to these two.
We have lived with this tension between an individual’s call from beyond and congregational polity for a long time, but I am not sure we can survive unless we begin putting the call from beyond before the congregation. Polity and governance are important, but they should not block our mission to help people find a religion of their own. By maintaining the centrality of congregations, we are saying the same thing to kindred souls who are seeking a religion of their own as we said to Community Ministers. As long as we affirm the centrality of the congregation we will not attract those kindred spirits.Paul Dodenhof writes:
An interesting post for me and a growing number who minister to UU congregations but who are not in fellowship with the UUA. I was ordained in a non-traditional seminary after quite a few years as a lay minister. I have a B.A. (Magna Cum Laude) in Religion and did grad work towards a masters in American Religious History though stopped just short of completion. I've been a UU for 14 years.
For two years now, I have been ministering to a small congregation that was once much larger. Now having about 40 member with an average age of 50 or so, they are at a crossroads and we have been woking to move towards a less congregational kind of community and to attract younger members. Difficult work to be sure yet starting to move forward.
I consider and refer to myself as a UU minister. I'm UU and I serve a UU congregation. Yet my denomination doesn't recognize me as such which makes for a very frustrating and often quite painful sense of separation and non-acceptance by my fellow UU ministers and UUA leadership.
Steve and Paul are talking about, of course, two different things. Steve is talking about the resistance of the UUA structures to recognize community ministry, with fellowshipping. Paul is talking about the unwillingness of UU structures to grant fellowship to people who have not gone through their process, even though they serve UU churches in a ministerial role.
They both turn on the process of "fellowshipping" or "credentialing."
So my question comes back? What is the fellowshipping process in a post-denominational, post-congregational world?
We know, from experience, that to claim the role of 'religious' or 'spiritual' leader is to claim significant social power. You can trade it for money, power, fame, and even sex. I want anyone who claims religious or spiritual leadership associated with Unitarian Universalism, in any capacity, to have submitted to process of evaluation to find out if they can be trusted with that power. I am not really concerned that Paul does not have an M.Div from an accredited Div School; I think a case could be made that such is not an ironclad requirement. But I am concerned that he has apparently not had to turn in a CPE supervisor's evaluation and an intern supervisor's evaluation, and a career assessment report and a psychological evaluation to the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, but serves a UU church as its minister. I am very glad that he is pursuing fellowship now, and wish him well.
Steve's impression was that the Ministerial Fellowship Committee didn't really know how to evaluate him and his ministry -- even though he had fulfilled its requirements. That they were trapped in a parish-centric frame of reference. He seems to wonder if any denominational authority can evaluate "the call from beyond," the beyond being the world outside the church walls and the congregation.
Of course, nobody needs the approval of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee to devote their life to a religious vocation. But doesn't there have to be somebody who decides who is a UU minister, especially community ministers, where the structures of accountability are not usually populated with UU's?
Right now, the MFC does this work. Community ministers say that it is not quite right, because the MFC and the UUA is too parish-centric. So consciousness-raising and sensitivity training is in order.
Isn't it typical that we think we can solve structural problems by thinking better thoughts? The MFC is part of the UUA, which is structurally an association of congregations.
I think that the only way forward is for the Community Ministers, in consultation with the UUMA and the UUA, to take over the credentialing of community ministers. I also think this of Parish Ministers. As we move "beyond congregations", I believe that the only people who can systematically evaluate whether a person is embodying this tradition of liberal ministry are other ministers themselves.