Saturday, January 17, 2015

A candid summary of UUMA Connect So Far

I have written a candid summary of the online continuing education platform, UUMA Connect, and posted it there. Because it is of interest only to UUMA members, I am not reprinting it here, but linking to it. It will require a UUMA sign-in to read.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Breaking Down the Walls to Build the New [Landrum]

Tom Schade has been writing about the adaptive problem facing Unitarian Universalism and offers
this premise:
For debate: Resolved that the material and professional interests of the UU clergy hamper the development of new ecclesiological models more suitable for UU evangelism.
I can see how this is true in several ways.  For one, clergy are the great generalists.  I love being a UU minister.  And, truly, one of the things that I love about this profession is that it's a generalist profession -- UU ministers do a little of everything at a basic level of competency.  The draft of the new MFC competencies outlines seven:
1. Leads Worship and Officiates Rites of Passage
2. Provides Pastoral Care and Presence
3. Encourages Spiritual Development for Self and Others
4. Witnesses to Social Justice in the Public Square
5. Leads Administration
6. Serves the larger Unitarian Universalist Faith
7. Leads the Faith into the Future
The truth is, though, that not all of us are great at all seven of these, and that when you're focusing on #1-3 and 5 for your congregation, and maybe #4 as well, a lot of us do very little of #6, and then are too invested in the ways we're doing #1-6 to really do #7.  Even when the interest is there, the needs of the congregation in the model of church we now work in fights against #6 and #7. 

And we're not all equally interested in all seven, and we each have our strengths. Previously only our large-church ministers had the luxury of not attempting to do all seven -- they can divide the tasks according to their strengths.  Senior minister not so warm and fuzzy?  Associate minister does pastoral care.  Associate minister not so riveting in the pulpit?  That's okay, senior minister is.  Meanwhile, we expect all the rest of the ministers to be very strong, even excellent at #1, and hopefully at least competent in all the rest.  And then we have strong guidelines requiring non-interference in each others' ministry settings, protecting our mediocrity from threatening outside involvement.  (And I'm not saying those guidelines aren't necessary for other reasons, but they also have this effect.) 

What if this unknown future Tom Schade is pointing to, the one where individual churches may not be the model that serves liberal religion, doesn't make ministers irrelevant, but makes us better?  What if it frees us up to serve our areas of excellence and rely on the excellence of others better in the areas where we are weak?  What if it means that we don't have to be all things to our people?  What if new models can emerge that make us more connected, more interdependent, where we're using our own strengths and the strengths of others, and the result is a Unitarian Universalism less mediocre, less amateurish, and more prophetic?

Our silos are breaking down.  If your congregation members want to read what I have to say about social justice, they can.  If my congregation members want to hear you preach, they'll find your podcasts.  The idea that we each serve only our own set group of people and that no other minister serves them makes less and less sense all the time. 

Are We There Yet? More

My blog post "are we there yet?" asked the readers to consider the following qustion:

For debate: Resolved that the material and professional interests of the UU clergy hamper the development of new ecclesiological models more suitable for UU evangelism.

Part of the argument that I am making is summarized in this paragraph:

One theme in modern UU history is the narrowing of our evangelical concern to the growth of congregations. We want congregations to be bigger and stronger, and for individual congregants to be more generous with their resources. And practically, the unit of measure that we use to chart congregational growth is ministerial employment. "They went from quarter-time to half-time ministry." "They just added a full-time associate minister." And, "They reached fair compensation level in their package."

More than just the practical difficulty of creating stable prosperous churches in today's economic climate, the problem is that most people don't want them. Or, to be more precise, not enough younger people want them to give the whole project a long life expectancy.
Read through the responses here and on Facebook. Some responses have pushed back against my pessimism about parish/congregational religious organizations. Some cited anecdotal evidence that the future of congregations was bright, because, after all, they have seen healthy, vibrant congregations led by young ministers. As I write this, it's freaking cold out, and yet the planet is warming. Anecdotal evidence is an oxymoron. Anecdotes are interesting, but they are not really evidence.

I think that the reason people push back about this is the very anxiety about our ministerial economics I am trying to name. It is simply too scary to think our profession was getting caught on the wrong side of social, cultural and technological change. Like independent book store owners. Like Video tape rental stores. Like cab drivers. Like small scale printers. All served fundamental human needs: knowledge, entertainment, transportation, and communications, but they had a bad business model. My analysis is that religion is a media project with great content but a terrible business model. I appreciate other's optimism, but I think that the optimism can be desperate and cover a fear.

My goal is not to talk down the future of congregational based liberal religion. My goal is to name the fear that ties us to the present forms.

I am tremendously bullish on the prospects of liberal religion. We are living in a time of strong social
movements toward all of our most fundamental values and understandings of life. I think that liberal religion offers people a way to live happily, healthily and with integrity in this world. I just don't think that the organizational form that we depend on will speak to the needs of the people we are trying to serve. Of course, some congregations will survive and thrive. However, if we narrow our evangelical project to the growth of congregations, we will be very limited.

We need an evangelical strategy that directly asks people as individuals to start living out in practice the values of liberal religion: values which they already share. Joining a local congregation may be one of those ways for people to make that commitment. But we should recognize that in today's cultural environment, many people will not be drawn to that commitment. So how do we forge and maintain relationship with religious liberals in other ways? Clergy self-interest inhibits our thinking there.

Change comes when people ask questions for which they do not have an answer. And change comes when people really grasp that the old ways will not work any longer, and they have to set off into the unknown, even though it is frightening.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

MFC moving toward adopting Fulfilling the Call as statement of Competencies.

Available at UUA Bookstore.
The UUA's Ministerial Fellowship Committee, which credentials candidates for the UU Ministry, has been reviewing the way that they name and categorize the competencies that candidates must have. They have just released a progress report on that effort. What is newsworthy is that the Committee is moving toward using the Fulfilling the Call as a model for their competency framework. 

What effect does this have? It shapes how candidates will plan and document their skills and learning as they move toward fellowshipping. It means that the Fulfilling the Call schema, which is available everywhere, is becoming an association-wide set of definitions of what ministers are expected to do. It gives a common language for talking about a minister's performance and skill. 

Fairly objective, commonly understood, and universal standards by which ministers are evaluated, whether by the Fellowship Committee, Search Committees, or congregational leaders, are necessary to treat ministers fairly, and nurture a diverse ministry. Subjective standards, like "ministerial presence" or "fit" are the ways in which prejudice and bias enters into the evaluation process. 

Here is their report.
 -- Tom Schade

The Ministerial Fellowship Committee’s Competencies Review
An Update to Stakeholders
December 2014

What is the Competencies Review?

In September 2012 the UUA’s Ministerial Fellowship Committee began a review of the competencies that are required of all candidates for fellowship as Unitarian Universalist ministers. The review began by inviting input from stakeholders about the existing competencies and ones not yet defined. At the same time that this review began, the UUA and the UUMA entered a partnership with Education Development Center Inc. to create a model for UU ministry in the 21st century, published in 2013 as a handbook titled Fulfilling the Call. Drawing on input from stakeholders and inspired by the response to the model found in Fulfilling the Call, the MFC is releasing an initial draft of new competency descriptions and describing the next steps of our work.

How the Ministerial Fellowship Committee is using Fulfilling the Call.

While the MFC will continue to require academic ability as well as applied knowledge, Fulfilling the Call provides a considered approach to other duties and tasks required for 21st Century ministry in our faith. The rubrics described in Fulfilling the Call has offered the MFC new insights into the baseline competency they are looking for in successful candidates for UU ministry, as well as for the crossing the threshold into final fellowship.

Fulfilling the Call is more than an assessment framework; it is a potentially transformative look at the depth and breadth of the applied art of Unitarian Universalist ministry. (Fulfilling the Call, p. 5). Our new competencies involve some paradigm shifts in what the MFC will look for in candidates for ministry:
Paradigm Shift: 
FROM :                                            TO:           
Knowledge–based competencies

Practice-based competencies

Learned Ministry

Learning Ministry

MFC tests academic subjects

MFC focuses on applied ministry skills.

MFC tests in 17 subject areas

MFC simplifies and focuses on 7 priority areas

MFC competencies are unique to this process

MFC competencies are aligned with other rubrics, specifically “Fulfilling the Call” and the RE credentialing process.

Anti-Racism, Anti-Oppression and Multiculturalism (ARAOMC) as well as Sexual Health and Boundaries are tested as separate subjects.

 ARAOMC and Sexual Health and Boundaries competency questions are asked as applied ministry questions in relevant competency areas.

Draft  of New MFC Competencies
(Based on Fulfilling the Call)

One   Leads Worship and Officiates Rites of Passage
·        Prepares holistic and inclusive worship, liturgy and rituals.
·        Demonstrates awareness of multicultural and multigenerational approaches to worship.
·        Prepares and delivers clear, composed, engaging sermons, homilies and reflections.
·        Develops lay worship leaders.

Two       Provides Pastoral Care and Presence
·        Provides direct pastoral care, recognizing differences between pastoral and therapeutic      counseling.
·        Sets healthy boundaries and demonstrated knowledge of professional ethics.
·        Recognizes different cultural and generational needs for pastoral care in ministry setting.

Three    Encourages Spiritual Development for Self and Others
·        Models spiritual depth or offers spiritual direction
·        Leads curricula, workshops, or retreats for congregants, clients, or organization members
·        Promotes increased depth of spirit in others and the organization
·        Promotes spiritual development for children, youth, and adults through religious education 
Four Witnesses to Social Justice in the Public Square
·        Stays informed about justice issues in the local community and in the larger world
·        Uses the pulpit and the public square to work for justice
·        Integrates social theory/social ethics into this ministry
·        Learns how power and privilege operate in society and is able to apply that lens to the work
·        Determines how to work in partnership with persons of other faiths and community groups
·        Absorbs the history of UU justice engagement and can connect it to the present

Five       Leads Administration
·        Guides the mission and strategic planning of an organization
·        Manages professional staff and volunteers
·        Promotes excellence in stewardship and fundraising

Six                  Serves the larger Unitarian Universalist Faith
·        Collaborates with colleagues—both Unitarian Universalists and those from other faith traditions.
·        Engages with Unitarian Universalism at a congregational, regional, and national level.
·        Familiarizes oneself with current initiatives and issues within the faith movement.
·        Contributes to on-going scholarship and support of professional ministry.

Seven                 Leads the Faith into the Future
·        Uses a wide range of media technology to extend the ministry of the institution.
·        Creates a vision for the future, assessing opportunities and challenges for Unitarian Universalism in a changing society.
·        Builds alliances to advance the values of Unitarian Universalism.
·        Identifies social and cultural trends and their impact on Unitarian Universalism and articulates a vision for the future
·        Employs new ways of outreach (includes new media and intercultural hospitality)
·        Explores entrepreneurial approaches to ministry

A Draft - Advice to Candidates on New Statements of Competence

As you begin to fill in your statements of competence, the MFC has found it valuable to point out a few areas of emphasis that make these documents as illuminating as possible as we try to discern your preparedness for ministry.  Please pay attention to the guideposts listed below:

§  Do more than list courses and book titles.  As much as possible help us to understand how you have applied what you have learned.  Don’t attempt to tell us what you know; show us how you do the work of ministry.  How has your preparatory work shown up in how you minister?  (E.g. How did the course in administration impact your skills in time management or other practical aspects of helping the organization or congregation run smoothly?)

§  Don’t try to say it all.  Your packet will convey a great deal about the formative experiences you have had in seminary and elsewhere. You have 400 words for each area of competence to summarize the impact of certain jobs, experiences, courses, etc. on your understanding of yourself as minister.

§  Tell us more than what knowledge you have gained.  What skills, practices, and tools for ministry have you learned to apply to the work of ministry?  There is an art to ministry, and there are practical ways to apply your skills that help the art come alive.  Share the ways you have found to uniquely and personally apply the arts of ministry.

§  The competencies should serve as an overview and introduction.  In reading these statements, the MFC should be able to glean both the course of study you have pursued, and how it has intersected with your emerging ministerial identity.  The competencies are meant to show us the overall shape of your path in ministerial formation.  The rest of the packet adds detail, color, and depth to the outline the competencies have drawn.

Tasks for the MFC to continue working on during 2015:

·        Further communication with stakeholders about this draft
·        Revision/Update of the MFC Reading List
·        Collaboration with the seminaries about coursework and trainings
·        Reimagining the Candidate’s Packet based on new competencies
·        Convene Focus Group of recent Candidate Liaisons re the packet requirements
·        Align Preliminary Fellowship renewal forms with new competencies
·        Work with Regional Subcommittees on their new authority for waivers increasing flexibility in requirements for dedicated community ministers.
·        Align internship requirements and evaluations with the new competencies.
·        Align RSCC and MFC interviews with the new competencies
·        Create guidelines for Boards of Trustees and Committees on Ministry for using Fulfilling the Call and the forms that guide evaluations during Preliminary Fellowship.

Please note that since several of these tasks will extend throughout 2015, there is no expectation that the current competency requirements for candidates with appointments with the MFC through September 2016 will undergo mandatory changes. As changes are implemented, candidates may be given the option to use current or new requirements or forms as they are implemented.


The Chair of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, Rev. Wayne Arnason, welcomes written feedback through March 15, 2015 at his church email address:
The feedback will be compiled and reviewed by the Process Working Group of the MFC and be influential in the next steps of this review process during the MFC’s April 2015 meeting. 

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Are We There Yet?

I posted the following debate topic on a thread on Facebook, where it will get lost among other worthy discussions and eventually be lost forever in uncatalogued sediment of Facebook discussion.

For debate: Resolved that the material and professional interests of the UU clergy hamper the development of new ecclesiological models more suitable for UU evangelism.

I felt a small tremor in posting it, because the subject is scary to me. 

I am a minister, duly educated, credentialed and ordained. Ministry is no longer my source of income, and thanks to a very talented and well compensated spouse, the wolf is not at my door, or even in my neighborhood. So I have the privilege of not being anxious about such things as ministerial compensation, ministerial job security, ministerial retirement, and ministerial educational indebtedness. I try to be aware of how that shapes my perspective.

On the other hand, my childhood was shaped by my father's inability to earn enough money as Unitarian minister to support his family. He left the ministry and went to work in a steel mill. It was a downwardly mobile move, out of character for both his and my mother's ministerial families. It still reverberates through my life and life choices. 

Nice office, nice chairs, nice books, nice life !
So, I identify with the professional ministry, maybe even in an unhealthy way. I want every minister to be well-paid, to have great benefits, to be free of debt, to have a lovely office at the church and a cozy office at home, to look forward to a gracious retirement, and to be able to buy books the way some people buy lettuce. I also want them to have enough authority in the congregations they serve to be able to lead us into the faith of the future. I want our community ministers to be respected among us and supported by the faithful. 

That said, I wonder if there is some fatal mismatch between what Unitarian Universalism (and all progressive liberal religion) needs and what ministers need at this point in time.

Ministers, as we are presently constituted, need a large institutions with healthy budgets able to support a professional ministry. There are some congregations who can do that, but not nearly enough to support all the ministers who aspire to a fulltime life in the parish.  And even that is not enough, because it does not deal with the problem of the cost of ministerial education and debt. 

That's what ministers need. But those institutions are hard to create. The ones we have are stretched and trying to hang on. 

One theme in modern UU history is the narrowing of our evangelical concern to the growth of congregations. We want congregations to be bigger and stronger, and for individual congregants to be more generous with their resources. And practically, the unit of measure that we use to chart congregational growth is ministerial employment. "They went from quarter-time to half-time ministry." "They just added a full-time associate minister." And, "They reached fair compensation level in their package." 

More than just the practical difficulty of creating stable prosperous churches in today's economic climate, the problem is that most people don't want them. Or, to be more precise, not enough younger people want them to give the whole project a long life expectancy. 

In terms of organization, liberal religion has to be able to swim in the currents of modern culture. Institutional loyalty is low. Information flows freely. No one has authority that lasts. Influence, like fame, comes in 15 minute units. People have very wide circles of acquaintances and small numbers of friends. In the age of google, no one has privileged information.

Liberal Religion needs to be able to create networks and nodes of purposeful groups of many sizes and shapes. The edges of liberal religion should be accessible and culturally familiar. 
If we study this chart long enough,
will it all make sense ?
If we step back, we don't know what "church" is now; we don't know what religious community looks like that isn't inward, and self-protective, and an escape; we don't know what "ministry" does beyond tend to those communities. But the material interests of the clergy drives us inexorably toward the maintenance of insular and inward looking religious communities when we know in our bones that we need to be expansive, outward looking, and boundary-crossing.

I'm not blaming the clergy. It is a mutually reinforcing relationship between congregational leaders and ministers. After all, our most dedicated and generous lay leaders are deeply committed to what we are now doing.

They say that change can start to happen when you identify the question for which you do not have an answer. Are we there yet?