Q. Is the Board of Trustees taking a position on this vote?
A. Yes. The Board, the Settled Minister Search Team, and UUCC staff have each taken a unanimous position in recommending a vote AGAINST this bylaw change.
Q. Why is the Board opposed to the amendment?
A. The Board is entrusted to act on behalf of the current congregation and in the long-term service of members in generations to follow. We have spent several months learning about the search process and listening to comments and questions from the congregation. We are concerned about potential negative consequences from this vote, and it would be irresponsible for us to stay silent.
The Board fully supports the current Search Team, and we must consider future ministerial searches, which also would be affected by this proposed bylaw change. Further, we are focused on maintaining a continued healthy relationship with the UUA and the larger Unitarian Universalist community.
Q. What is the Search Team’s position?
A. The Search team is very positive about the UUA process for calling a settled minister. It is thorough, well-documented, includes how we reach out to the congregation for their thoughts and is timed with all other churches or communities going through the process. This ensures confidentiality and fairness for the ministerial candidates and all congregations in the search process. For all other reasons noted by the BOT, the Search Team is unanimous that we should vote against the requested bylaw amendment.
Q: I’ve heard that there is a shortage of ministers and UUCC might not find a candidate. Is this true?
A: It is true that overall, there are not as many UU ministers seeking jobs as there are UU congregations with ministerial positions to fill. That said, fairly compensated (including benefits), full-time, called positions in healthy medium-to-large cities are attracting robust numbers of highly qualified candidates.
Ministry positions are more likely to remain open if they are for less than full-time hours, in a remote location, pay and benefits that are under UUA fair compensation guidelines or do not meet the cost of living for the area, and the overall health of the congregation.
Red flags for ministerial candidates can include a congregation in active conflict, one that lacks clarity or agreement regarding their mission and vision, or one that is not clear and transparent in sharing a nuanced picture of congregational strengths and weaknesses.
Q: What does it mean to be “In Fellowship” with the UUA?
A: In short, to be “In Fellowship” with the UUA is to be a credentialed Unitarian Universalist Minister.
The phrase “In Fellowship” refers to the minister’s preparation/credentials and their connection to Unitarian Universalism. Being in fellowship is much more than a philosophical alignment between a minister’s thoughts and values, there are specific requirements that a minister must satisfy to be considered in fellowship. And being in fellowship provides essential safeguards to the congregation through accountability to the Ministerial Fellowship Committee and the Professional Guidelines and Practices of the UU Ministers’ Association.
Q: What are the requirements of Fellowship and who makes those rules?
A: The UUA’s Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC) presides over all phases of ministerial credentialing. Candidates for ministerial fellowship are interviewed by the MFC before fellowship is granted. Additionally, the MFC has the authority to remove ministerial fellowship.
Fellowship requirements include:
- Master of Divinity degree from an Association of Theological Schools (ATS) accredited seminary
- Full psychological evaluation and career assessment
- One-year full-time (or equivalent) internship at an approved site (usually a congregation)
- At least 400 hours of chaplaincy training
- Multiple interviews & references
- Ability to demonstrate competency in 17 areas of ministerial function
The UUA provides a rich and valuable array of resources to fellowshipped ministers, including the UUA retirement fund, continuing education opportunities, financial grants, mentoring, counseling, and more.
Most ministers in Fellowship are also members of the Unitarian Universalist Minister’s Association (UUMA) or another professional organization. The UUMA is a professional organization of UU ministers that operates independently of the UUA. The UUMA provides collegial support, mentoring programs and training, good officers, continuing education, and more. A non-UU minister would not have access to any of these benefits.
Q: What are some of the concerns if we recruit ministers who are not in fellowship with the UUA?
A: First, ministers hired outside of fellowship may not have the qualifications listed above and may not be knowledgeable and articulate about UU history, theology, polity, and values.
Second, the UUA defines a protocol for ministerial misconduct and provides a review process to which UU ministers are accountable. Ministers hired outside of fellowship would not be accountable to this system which hears and adjudicates complaints of ministerial misconduct.
Third, rather than “expanding the pool” of potential candidates, the Board and Rev. Lisa are concerned that removing the fellowship requirement will in fact limit the number of fellowshipped ministers considering a placement with the UUCC.
Q. In what ways might the proposed bylaws change hurt our ability to recruit fellowshipped ministers?
A. If the proposed change were approved, it is likely to raise at least two significant concerns among fellowshipped ministers.
First, the UUA has a well-structured settlement process that matches available candidates with congregations. Considering candidates outside of official channels could negatively impact the UUA’s matching process, in particular the timetable, and hurt fellowshipped candidates who select UUCC as their first choice. Therefore, it is likely that a congregation considering candidates outside of the established UUA search timetable will lose potential candidates within the system.
Second, whether or not we consider candidates outside of Fellowship, the vote to include them without limitation is a likely red flag to potential candidates. It would create the appearance that the UUCC is moving away from our association with the UUA (which provides guidance and leadership but does not control us).
With that as background, a vote by the UUCC to remove the ministerial fellowship requirement may lead potential candidates to conclude that our congregation as a whole opposes the UUA. As a result, ministers who are in fellowship are less likely to consider us an attractive option.
Candidates for any ministry position naturally seek informal “references” from colleagues who have served a congregation. Potential candidates have already begun reaching out to Rev. Lisa for insight into our congregation and she will be honest/transparent with them.
Q: Are there circumstances under which a congregation might consider a non-fellowshipped minister?
A: From time to time a UU congregation will choose to hire or call a minister from other denominations, seminarians who are not yet in Fellowship (but have been approved for search), or other candidates outside of the MFC process. These hires can be successful if the candidate is formally accountable within an equivalent denominational or other structure. If a minister does not hold ordination or formal standing with a denomination or has been removed from Fellowship with the UUA, they have no framework for being held accountable for their professional conduct.
Q. Our long-time minister Rev. Sidney Freeman came to us outside of denominational channels and still held a successful and beloved tenure here. Couldn’t we call a minister outside of fellowship and require them to seek fellowship?
A. Yes. However, the process normally takes a couple of years and ministers who are not currently fellowshipped may not be interested in doing so.
In addition, Dr. Freeman came to us at a very different time (1950s), when the congregation was much smaller. This was also prior to the consolidation of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America into the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA).
UUCC member Tom Nunnenkamp, a friend of Rev. Freeman’s for many years, shared details about this unique situation and Rev. Freeman’s time serving the UUCC here. While Tom’s perspectives are his own and do not necessarily reflect the perspectives of the Board, we appreciate that he has shared his own experience with Rev. Freeman.
Q: If the bylaws language is changed, will the Search Team be required to consider outside candidates or barred from considering candidates in Fellowship?
A: The Board and Search Team will retain the right to determine which type of candidates are considered even if the vote passes. Search Team members will not be obligated to consider candidates outside of Fellowship. It is important to shield them from outside influence so that they can continue to operate independently.