Category Archives: Ministerial practice

Figuring on unpaid ministers

I was drawn to the online Economist article about the admission of women to the episcopate in the Church of England by a tweet by British Unitarian and Free Christian Chief Officer Derek McAuley. It had a wry caption about Unitarian (do see) but I don’t care much about that, or an established church or the episcopal form of church government.

I do care about ministers being able to live with the necessities of life, and in not creating systems that keep poor people from exercising a ministry.

See the chart that shows the growing bulk of Church of England clergy working in unpaid settings. Which means those ministers are scraping by; have independent wealth, family support or a pension (a class issue, surely); or work part-time in another job. At which point I leave the Anglicans, lest I get too wrapped up in their ways. Indeed, Universalists were all but planted in this country by a purse-poor evangelist and a wealthy spouse (who later suffered deep poverty) … and many a cash-strapped minister who gave up so much for the spiritual welfare of others.

But when the costs are too high for too long and the burdens go unshared, eventually the system shrinks and collapses. Let that be a warning.

An intransitive end to the ministers chat

I was dropped today from the UUMA-Chat mailing list, being removed because I’m not a member of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association. I rarely read it — the email went directly to a folder — and never commented. Mailing lists are a bit, um, old-fashioned and the content of the list specialized in asking for suggestion and resources. Liturgy, church admin and the like. Important, but not riveting. Hardly worth joining an organization for (seeing as I didn’t use the UUMA’s other services either) and certainly not worth hundreds of dollars in dues.

The UUMA shows every sign of contracting and this exclusion, while it can be formally justified, fails the sniff test. This dismission was announced; I’m not alone. How does it help to make a cost-free service (to the UUMA; the UUA runs it) have fewer members, when there is the added value of keeping loosely connected people attracted? Put another way, the most likely new members of the UUMA are the very people (like me) who have been dismissed from the list. You’d think UUMA could hold out membership as an upsell — the “freemium” model of membership being so well established now that it hardly needs explanation — but no. As a friend puts it, it’s their loss, not mine. True.

This action, far from wanting me to join, makes me glad I haven’t. Calls to “keep covenant” (but serve the needs of only some ministers) or to “ensure quality” (but not guarantee it, or effectively punish misconducting ministers) ring false. Clannishness, defensiveness, mismanagement, or spite (or some or all of these) seem more likely reasons to add this tactic — why now, after all these years? — to a list of overpromising and underperforming.

Some may ask, if I don’t participate, how can I expect thing to change? Well, to be plain, I don’t expect improvement. And singletons and small groups of people often do better to try something different.

Happy communion Sunday for the Hungarian Unitarians

Autumn Thanksgiving Day, keyed to Michaelmas, is one of the four times a year the Hungarian Unitarian have communion, and that’s today. Let us remember them in prayer, and see this video (from the same festival five years ago) which demostrates how it is distributed. The use of two cups in tandem and the refilling flagon is very smart. Note the bread and cup are given hand to hand.

An old idea about the status of the ministry

I’m thinking about the internal self-conception of mainline “learned ministry” or at least how I’ve seen it articulated in Unitarian Universalist circles. Without saying the pastorate is like a professorship, there are so pretty broad hints that there are — or have been — parallels between the two professions. The advanced degrees, the “life of the mind”, the independence in seeking after truth, summers “away”, the role of speaker — even the genteel or shabby (or both) social role, that even in its humble forms very often represented a gain in class standing. The fact that in many areas the Unitarian Universalist congregation is more a part of the gown than the town. But much of this is simple nostalgia for professors and clergy.

For one thing, the academy is changing. It’s almost the new conventional wisdom that colleges and universities keep their masses of untenured faculty underpaid, unsteady and overworked. How much life of the mind is there when you’re too busy keeping body and soul together. Indeed, one of my proudest achievements is not getting another degree (or following the siren song of the academy). I struggled enough to pay for my life for the ones I got, thank you.

But I can’t but think that this new reality colors how we see ministers, particularly since there are so many compared to open placements, and the cost of formation is so weighted to them and not the churches they serve. Again, not so much a likeness as a parallel…

So, which UUMA chapters welcome guests?

The discussion at Daniel Harper’s blog about the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association has some frustrating parts, which I’ll file under, “Make a fleshed-out argument about a Unitarian Universalist institution and your motives and character will be attacked.” Hardly the first time I’ve seen this, so here’s a constructive reply.

Some UUMA chapters allow non-UUMA members to participate, but there doesn’t seem to be a definitive list. Here’s an opportunity to share information.

If you have first hand knowledge, please comment and I’ll fill in the chart. (For this post, I’ll allow anonymous comments if you leave a genuine email address.) Also note if there are stipulations for this allowance (must abide by UUMA guidelines, for ministers not in fellowship etc.), if there’s a special fee or all-chapter assessment and if there is a web citation backing up this information.

Thanks –

UUMA Chapters
Ballou Channing Chapter
Central Midwest Chapter
Chesapeake Chapter
Clara Barton Chapter
Florida Chapter
Heartland Chapter
International Member
Mass Bay Chapter
Metro New York Chapter
Mountain Desert Chapter
Northern New England Chapter
Ohio-Meadville Chapter
Pacific Central Chapter
Pacific Northwest Chapter
Pacific Southwest Chapter
Prairie Star Chapter
Priestley Kingsbury Chapter
Southeast Chapter
Southwest Chapter
St. Lawrence Chapter
UU Ministers of Canada

Notice this blog post about the UUMA

Unitarian Universalist minister and blogger Dan Harper come close to speaking my mind about the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association: about its utility, cost and who benefits from it.  Except that I get even less than he (as a minister not in a settlement) so I’ve not been a member for years. Doesn’t seem I’m missing much, and I have plenty of colleagues for mutual support. I do wish his title didn’t undercut his important points.

Wanted to wait to couple of days to point it out, so he might get another batch of readers. Do read.

Selections from Parish Practice in Universalist Churches: on Salary

Here’s a window back to 1946.

Per a Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis calculator:

  • that $1,200 today would buy $14,300 (rounded)
  • that $2,300 today would buy $27,400
  • and that $6,000 today would buy $71,400

Seminary would likely been paid for, and the medical (and post-war housing!) situation is very different, but you can see what a period writer called the “mendicant order of Protestant ministers.”


Another option for a minister’s loose-leaf services book


I can't believe I'm suggesting this.

Some time in seminary (now many years ago) a seasoned minister advised me to “start getting my ‘book’ together” — by which he meant services for weddings and funerals. And uniformly in a half-letter-sized (5.5 by 8.5 inches) three ring binder. It was covered in black vinyl, which was utilitarian. if not interesting to look at.

I had used identical binders as a kid — we’re talking the early 80s now — for my stamp collecting, but at least they came in different colors! Around 2000, these black ones were all that I could find, and even these became scarce — they do wear out — so I bought a couple in case they vanished completely. But then they returned, even in colors, but in an over-designed way that made them better for a commercial office but ugly for worship.


Well, lo-and-behold if the new Martha Stewart line of home office binders doesn’t fit the bill, including this very nice one in pebbled brown paper. At Staples, $7. Made by Avery, who also make the commercial ones. Indeed, the locking-rings mechanism is identical, so all the now-available tabs, paper and binder whatsits will also fit.

Unfellowshipped ministers in Unitarian Universalist congregations

There no reason (anymore, from a Universalist perspective) that a minister without ministerial fellowship in the UUA can’t serve a UU congregation. There are some denominational oddments around inclusions in directories — unimportant to the living — so I have to think the reason to note such in our once-print, now-online directory is to note who’s not in the guild. (The auslander clergy were marked with a # — alas, not in scarlet ink.)

Noodling around the online directory and the General Assembly certification numbers to re-set the UUA geographic epicenter — to come — I discovered the notation lives, and thanks to a customized Google search can see the list all in one place. More than I would have guessed, too. The term “Non UU” may not be quite fair — some of these ministers must surely be members of the churches they serve. Some are in federated and multi-denominational parishes; others are in out-of-the-way areas. But not all. Many emerited. An interesting mix.

See them here.