Wednesday, 04 January 2017 00:00

The Reverend's Reflections - January 2017 Featured

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As the New Year arrives, my ministry with UUFCO turns towards conclusion. In the remaining months, my task is to prepare you for a relationship with a new minister – a task I’ve been working on throughout, in fact. A newer dialogue is arising about the congregation’s part in a partnering with a minister: how the congregation relates with a minister, not only how the minister relates with the congregation. This is rich territory for UUFCO in the midst of seeking a new partnership.

UUFCO has had professional ministry since 2004, starting at a quarter time and growing to fulltime in less than ten years. The quick growth of the congregation is a source of pride and amazement. I’ve witnessed a huge expansion in awareness of our connections to the denominational community and awareness that we are part of a liberal faith tradition. Yet, for a fellowship to develop a full understanding of ministry, and hit its stride as an experienced partner in shared ministry, would be exceptional in such a short time.  Especially so for a fellowship lay-led for 45 years.

As you go forward into a new ministerial partnership, it will be helpful to understand more about the process ministers go through for credentialing. It will impact the nature of your partnership, especially in the formation of a new Shared Ministries Committee or Committee on Ministry. There has been a lot of justifiable confusion about these names and roles.

To become a minister, one needs to achieve: a degree, clinical pastoral education training, an internship, a two-day psychological assessment, diversity training (anti-racism, anti-oppression), and more. All this is summarized in a ‘packet’ submitted when one wishes to go before the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, or MFC.  My packet was 100 pages. Then one travels to Boston to be tested by the MFC panel in person. The candidate’s readiness is determined on a scale of 1-5, and success means being granted ‘Preliminary Fellowship.’

Next, a candidate must create a Committee on Ministry to meet with monthly for three years, and submit to three annual evaluations by the committee, approved by the MFC. This Committee on Ministry’s purpose is to support the development of a new minister as they take on the mantle of professional authority.  During this time, the minister also has a parallel process with a mentor. ‘Final Fellowship’ is granted after 3 successful evaluation cycles.

UUFCO’s first two ministers, Rev. Jeanne Pupke and Rev. Heather Rion Starr, were in Preliminary Fellowship when they arrived. Each needed a Committee on Ministry as a requirement of their learning and credentialing as a minister. Both Rev. Alex Holt and I arrived to UUFCO as fully fellowshipped ministers, tested and proven professionals, affirmed and recognized by our colleagues as knowing the bounds of our authority, and experienced in our work as ministers.

Often a fellowshipped Minister will also have a Committee on Ministry of an entirely different nature: same name, very different function, and very confusing. This Committee on Ministry is a group of highly trusted members appointed to reflect with the minister on the congregation’s ministries independently of the board or committees, and to work with the minister in areas where issues are detracting from the wellbeing of the whole or a congregational goal needs extra support. Examples might be the presence of a culture of insularity, entitlement or poor behavior such as gossip or triangulation, lack of member engagement, or size-transition issues like UUFCO’s.

In this case, the minister’s role is as key participant in conversation, sharing perspectives and reflecting with the group on the deepest dimensions of the congregation as community. Everyone in the group is sharing and learning together. Evaluations are about the whole of the congregation. When such a committee exists and works well, its reflection processes unite and guide the congregation’s leadership, lay and professional.

To describe this relationship more accurately and distinguish it from the preliminary fellowship ‘Committee on Ministry,’ congregations have been encouraged to rename this latter the Shared Ministries Committee, the title now enshrined in UUFCO’s bylaws. As UUFCO moves into a new ministry, knowing the difference between preliminary and final fellowship and these two kinds of committees will be important navigational tools for your promising future.

Rev. Antonia

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