We all knew it was coming, but it’s official now. At their December, 2004, meeting, the Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC) voted that beginning in September, 2005, they would no longer require candidates for the ministry to concentrate in one of three “tracks” or categories of ministry. In the recent past, new Unitarian Universalist ministers declared a specialty in parish ministry, ministry of religious education, or community ministry. The MFC is the body that credentials new ministers by requiring minimum standards for study and knowledge (including a master of divinity degree), minimum standards of psychological health and flexibility, practical experience including a ministry internship and a chaplaincy internship, and face-to-face interviews.
In the real world, the tracks have been blurred for some time. Parish ministers have been taking positions as ministers of religious education, and ministers of religious education have been taking positions as parish ministers, and similarly with community ministers. My feeling has been that the tracks just meant more paperwork for us ministers — and there really hasn’t been all that much difference between the tracks.
There’s a downside to this decision. Both community ministers and ministers of religious education have worked to expand our understanding of Unitarian Universalist ministry — especially our community ministers, who have taken UU ministry far beyond the bounds of local congregations, out into the wider community through social justice work, community organizing, chaplaincy, etc. I hope that continues.
But on the plus side, I think search committees will feel less restricted. This gets us away from that stark choice — parish minister, or minister of religious education. Now search committees should be open to looking for someone with a mixed set of skills — a preaching minister with lots of experience with children, or an associate minister who would oversee religious education, and have expertise in pastoral counseling for all ages, and so on.
As our church here in Geneva begins to look for a permanent second minister, the MFC’s decision comes as good news. My sense is that the congregation would prefer a second minister who has primary responsiblity for religious education, and who spends a lot of time on worship and administration, and helps Lindsay with pastoral care — in other words, would prefer a sort of mixed minister, with expertise in both parish ministry and the ministry of religious education.