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. 

1 comment:

Steve LaBonne said...

I have to express some skepticism. Unless I'm badly misreading you (and Rev. Schade), we are talking about a vision in which liberal religious communities of a sort would rely heavily on the Internet and would attract people who are not prone to commit to physical communities such as congregations. But I think the track record of online progressive political activism provides little reason for optimism that very much can be accomplished this way. There is no substitute for a genuine community, and I think that a lot of young people who currently are pleased to consider themselves allergic to joining anything will rediscover this timeless wisdom as they get older. By the way, my first (and very positive) experience of UUism was in a lay-led fellowship, so my views on this point are quite unconnected with the interests of a professional ministry, which in a pinch can be dispensed with (though I certainly prefer not to).