I am a parish minister currently serving the Eliot Church of Natick MA. Eliot Church is a Community Church affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ. Any statements made and postions held in "Unity," however, are solely mine(of course, they may be used with appropriate atribution). Therefore if you disagree, please do not blame the church!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Ministry Training

Boy in the Bands has a post about the concept of the Personal M.Div. It has gotten be thinking about how those of us who are in the clergy learn our profession. There are days in which I am pretty sure that I haven't learned anything! But seriously, it seems worthwhile for people, both clergy and laity, to sit down and give some thought to how we go about doing this training thing.

Here are some questions I have had for a long time:

1) Do we all need Master's Degrees? My first settlement was in two churches in northwestern Maine (you can see them here and here). Both are quite small and neither is being well served by the UUA's current structure. It is one that makes it hard for them to find long-term ministers. These are congregations that would work well with a bi-vocational minister or even a lay pastor. Both of these are hard to find and support in the current system. I know that when I was up there very few of the Methodist clergy had been ordained. Mostly they were folks who were living in the area anyway and felt the call to ministry. This didn't mean that they didn't do good work! It was quite the opposite. The UMC had set up a system to support and train them that was continuous and ongoing. They were (and are) an extremely dedicated and creative bunch.

I know that we sometimes worry about uninformed people running roughshod over the tradition, but it seems to me that we could do a better job of helping our small, rural churches deal with the costs and challenges of maintaining a good pastoral presence. They are many. Ministers (though, yes, the salaries are low when compared to many other professions) can be expensive! Also, I think that with the proper supervision, these lay pastors could end up doing a better job than the rest of us...

2) Could there be an alternative way to train? I, frankly, do not see this "Personal M.Div." as anything other than a mildly interesting and pleasant diversion by itself. I know few people who would really be self-starters enough to read all those books! There needs to be some kind of accountability in our education. Scott mentions the old way of doing things, namely an apprenticeship to a senior pastor. Now, I don't think I could wedge anthother person in the parsonage. However, maybe there is a way to train those lay-pastors by combining some course work with quite a bit more practical experience and independent reading. Done right, it could keep the ol' debt load down...

3) Why don't we do that anyway? I read the books and wrote the papers and Meadville/Lombard. It was a blast, really! I wouldn't have missed it for the world. However, there are whole trimesters of that experience that have been completely useless in my professional practice. Certainly it was good for me. One of the gifts I recieved from seminary was the ability to articulate and sustain my own faith, after all. However, my internship at the Grosse Pointe Unitarian Church and my first ministerial settlement were more helpful. Similarly, the books I read on my own I remember much better (and use more) than those that were assigned.

4) I thought I should briefly piggyback on something Daniel Harper wrote recently about how we trian ministers (I linked in in a recent post). How do we train our ministers to deal creatively with churches that aren't standard to our denomination? That is, UU churches that are economically, regionally, ethnically, theologically, or culturally different as well as those that are growing or (gasp) shrinking may need something different from what we are trained to do. How do we address the continuing education needs of our clergy and how do we pay for it?

Anyway, these are just some thoughts from someone who doesn't really spend as much time as one might think on issues such as this. Also, I shouldnote that I have my "UU" hat on when I write this. I am not all that familiar with the UCC system.