The licenced minister application

This is the text of the form — it fits on two sides of half-sized piece of paper — used by applicants for a letter of license in the Universalist Church. I pulled this from a filled-in example from 1920 in Indiana, but variant date back to the 1880s and forward to the 1950s.

Interesting stuff.

Universalist Church licence application (detail), 1920

Form 1.

Application for License

To the Committee of Fellowship of the [State] Universalist Convention:

Brethren:

I desire to devote my life to the work of the Christian Ministry, in the Fellowship of the Universalist Church. I respectfully apply for a Letter of License to preach under its auspices. The motives are expressed on the other side of this paper. I cordially accept the essential principles of the Universalist Faith as follows:

The Universal Fatherhood of God;
The Spiritual Authority and Leadership of His Son Jesus Christ;
The Trustworthiness of the Bible as Containing a Revelation from God;
The Certainty of Just Retribution for Sin;
The Final Harmony of All Souls with God.

And I freely acknowledge the authority of the General Convention, and assent to its laws, promising to co-operate faithfully in all measures that may be devised by the General Convention, and by the State Convention with which I am connected, for the furtherance of the work and welfare of our Church.

Fraternally yours,
[Name]

[Date]


I hereby certify that the above named [Name] is a member, in good standing, in the [Church name] Universalist Church.

[Name] Pastor
[Date]

(over)

Why do you desire to preach?

What led to this desire, and under what circumstances?

Why do you see to preach under the auspices of the Universalist Church?

What preparation have you had, or what experience in public address?

How long have you been a member of the church named on the other side?

What further references as to personal character can you give?

Have you applied for License to any other Committee? If so, to which, with what result?

[Name]
[Address]
[Date]

Harder to return to blogging

I’ve only written one blog post since before General Assembly, and is was of a “what do you think” format. It’s been for a number of reasons:

  1. There’s been lots of work at work, and sometimes writing this blog seems like added work.
  2. This is my family’s season for birthday and anniversary celebrations, plus a family wedding this year. That’s more fun that blogging.
  3. Selection_153I’ve spent the last month “conquering” (their term) the Duolingo Esperanto course. Mi skribas kaj legas Esperante pli bona ol unu monato antaŭ, and the gamified process was quite fun and rewarding. I even got a certificate.
  4. I didn’t have much to add to the discussion of the vital issues of the day, except that, at some points, I thought that writers were lost in delusional or self-serving arguments. And I decided to keep my own counsel.
  5. Oh, and I think that Unitarian Universalism has a grim future — as bad or worse as the mainline — and that forward progress is likely to look like a salvage and reconstruction exercise.

So it’s a bit hard to get back into blogging.

So, any take away thoughts from General Assembly?

Even though I didn’t go to General Assembly this year — there was a very nice family wedding the same time — I tried to keep up with the news as best I can.

And saying that, I’m glad I didn’t go. There seemed to be a lot of feeling there — and camaraderie — but (as I’ve suggested elsewhere) I can meet my friends elsewhere (online included) and the amount of forward motion the UUA generates doesn’t seem to justify the effort of GA. (Indeed, a lot of the work of the UUA seems to be solving problems of our own creation.) That and there seemed to be a good bit of grievance cultivating there. Enough.

But if you were there, perhaps you have other experiences. Better ones, worse ones. And perhaps you have a special way of actually participating in General Assembly. (I think the attend-every-possible-session approach is certain death.)

Feel free to share your thoughts.

And as of now, I do plan on attending the General Assembly in Columbus, Ohio next year.

After the killings in Charleston

The grief and horror Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church must now be facing is hard to get my head around, but the killings are not themselves inconceivable.

Brother Roger, Oscar Romero, and the “troublesome priest” Thomas Becket were each murdered in worship. When I was in seminary (and just after) there was a spate of church killings. And we can’t forget the shootings at a Unitarian Universalist church in Tennessee, with one fatality two fatalities. Each one was a bit different, all devastating. I remembered not feeling personally safe when alone at church in my last pastorate. But Emanuel lost four ministers, including the senior pastor…

Churches are supposed to be welcoming and outward-facing, but that feeling makes them vulnerable, sometimes to malicious people, sometimes to predators, sometimes to the violent and murderous. It’s a tough balance between mission and safety. For nine people to die… I’ll just have to leave it there for the moment.

What then can we do? First, this is assumes there can do. I’m avoiding online commentaries that suggests that these murders can be addressed by study, or progressive action or better ideas. And I’m double-avoiding any notion that adds a burden to that church, Charleston or the increasingly beleaguered African American community. If you can’t help, take a pass. Words are nice, but contact is better and (since a casserole is impractical) a gift of money is better still. It adds heft to those nice ideas. Lots of gifts big and small reminds us — us Southerners particularly — of the outpouring of gifts to The Temple in Atlanta when it was bombed. (That was a plot point in the film Driving Miss Daisy, in case it sounds familiar.) Gifts of money will cover costs the church will have. Maybe help the survivors. But that’s for the church to decide; I have faith in them.

I got a little, unexpected windfall today. I thought it right to tithe it to Emanuel AME. You can give at their church website; it’s easy to do so.

If you don’t have the money to spare, that’s fine, too. But if all you have are ideas that make things harder, just keep them to yourself.

So, who’s going to General Assembly? Who’s following from home?

Just a check in. And a roll call.

So, who’s going to General Assembly in Portland, Ore.? Who’s following from home? I’ll not be there in person, and I’m not sure how much I can watch: I may need to rely on bloggers and twitterers using #uuaga.

And a request for those who will be on-site: more photos. On Flickr, posted to Twitter or what-have-you. It helps those who can’t be there get a better sense of General Assembly.

The last of the licensed ministers

There has been some buzz, both associated with the #sustainministry theme and the fear of shortages in the ministry, that there should be some intermediate ministerial status. To which I noted to those within earshot that the Universalists once licensed ministers, and that we could consider doing so again.

There were licensed ministers — holdovers from before consolidation — within my time as a Unitarian Universalist. They even had their own section in the UUA directory, but year by year their numbers declined by death.

In time they were all gone; I don’t know who was the last. The right the UUA reserved (or at least claimed) to recognize such licensed ministers seem equally a dead letter, so it was cleaned out of the bylaws at a General Assembly.

When? More recently than you might think. The year 2000.

I was present at that GA and was both sad at the moment passing and thought that without a prior claim, any church was free to so license ministers. And I still feel this way.

Here’s how the bylaws read, just before the provision was removed, for those who want the details.

effective June 28, 1999
[…]
Section 11.4b
[…]
The Ministerial Fellowship Committee may also with the approval of the Board of Trustees make rules pertaining to the status of, and recognition by the Association of, lay preachers and the granting of licenses to them.

A year later, that was gone. The bylaws effective July 1, 2000.

All Souls Miami set for UUA admission vote

So, I was reading through the Unitarian Universalist Association Board packet for the June meeting — as one does — and see that All Souls Miami is (alone) scheduled to be voted upon for admission to the UUA.

I’ve never never seen an application go this far and not be accepted, so I’ll offer my confident (if premature) congratulations. I welcome all new members to the UUA of course, but All Souls Miami is special to me because it’s Christian: the first Christian church admitted since Epiphany Church, Fenton, Michigan, joined many years ago and has since disbanded.

So, again, congratulations to All Souls Miami. You can read their application packet here. (PDF)


Also thanks to the formerly emerging Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Austin, Texas, which has dissolved, as reported in the packet.

Economics of Ministry, 1856 edition

Before the #sustainmininstry thread fades (presumably to revive at General Assembly) I wanted to meditate on how our ancestors coped. In my last blog post, I opined that ministerial shortages were practically a tradition. So is coping with meagre funds. This theme cropped up continuously when I worked on my never-finished master’s thesis — golly — about a quarter century ago. But those lessons learned over microfilmed antebellum newspapers made an impression.

  1. Have a sideline. Perhaps seasonal. Perhaps not farming.
  2. Your sideline? Call it media production. There was a reason why there were so many Universalist newspapers. (Which inspired me to create my first websites.)
  3. But don’t expect to get paid. Those minister-editors had a terrible time getting their subscribers to pay.
  4. Seminary may not be in reach, but an apprenticeship may be.
  5. If you can’t get a minister full time, perhaps you can be in a circuit. Some little societies only saw the minister every few months. But it was consistent. Ish.
  6. Be ready to pool your resources to memorialize a dead minister, or to support surviving dependents. But people may still mumble and grumble about the expense…
  7. Plant churches to make better use of public transportation. Who can afford a carriage, horsed or horseless?
  8. And follow migration patterns. When church members move, start a church where they go.
  9. Inactivate churches when there’s no minister, leadership or money. Call them dormant, but don’t lose contact with with a would-be reorganizer: it may be re-started.
  10. Use home hospitality at conventions. Well, I guess that one never really went away.

A ministerial shortage is practically our tradition

It’s hard for me to get too wound up about the prospect of a perceived ministerial shortage in the parishes, as reported in the UUWorld. (“Demand for interim ministers outruns supply“)

Until a generation or so ago, ministerial shortages were common. Low pay, poor prospects and frequently harrowing conditions meant that ministerial supply has been less than demand, often leading churches to do without a minister, or share one. A broader view of ministry means you can’t limit faithful service to the parish, and the whims of those who dwell therein.

What’s different today is that there are more ministers, but evidently no more who are willing to face the parish. And with so many churches reputed to be “clergy killers” or otherwise dysfunctional, who can blame them? And even if the church is even-keeled, the pay may be far less than what one’s skills would fetch in another field. Is it the minister’s duty to bear the time and cost of preparation, and then effectively subsidize the church through lost income?

Ideally, the burden should be (at least) shared. And since I don’t recall the same measure of concern in that relatively brief period when there was an oversupply of ministers, I have to wonder if the ministerial college isn’t expected to sacrifice too much again. Having a rich pool of ministers for parishes to choose presents huge costs for those preparing for the ministry and a huge financial and professional cost for those who have to necessarily “sit out” this year or that, and take whatever other employment is available.

Good people have left parish ministry, but not the ministry itself. The ecosystem will have to adjust, and congregations seeking ministers will have step up, or adjust.