The role of the church in ordination

Let me be quite plain. Despite some vestiges of Universalist polity in the Unitarian Universalist Association, particularly around ministerial formation, credentialling, and ordination, the Universalist structure is defunct. By church, for these purposes, we have to consider the congregational, not the trans-congregation meaning of Church. I might (underscore, might) want to see it restored, but this isn’t likely and what we have (in reverse order) is congregation ordination, associational credentialling, and academic formation. Let’s consider what we have.

There are some problems here — the role of the ministerial college, for one. It should be more pronounced: ministers should be central to the formation of kindred ministers. Today, this relationship carries the weight of folk tradition, and is levied/applied very unevenly. (I was fortunate to be adopted by mature minister as I was coming up. But then again, there were so few Christian seminarians, that I rather wonder if I was being tended like a whooping crane or panda.) Academic seminaries carry the lion’s share of ministerial formation, but to whom are they beholden? Some denomination? Perhaps. Ours? For most seminarians, no. The congregations that will receive the neophyte minister? Well, one would hope. We live in hope, but have come to expect, well, I’d rather not say.

But the main, core issue is that the church — or the church’s direct assigns, prayerfully considered, but the church as local entity in either case — needs to be the primary venue for forming its leadership. Ideally, a church helping one of its own grow into ordained ministry would help select a course of study and secure adequate guidance, but this is unlikely to happen. This may mean considering ways of developing ministers that we have never considered before. Nevertheless, the Christians in the UUA ought to be careful to make sure it can happen. Despite the new sunny era, we are still dependent on clergy, and the UUA has proved itself a powerful revolving door for all clergy. In such a climate, minorities will be disproportionally hurt.

We need to know — really, feel to the guts — that ministeral formation is the job of the churches. This means being able to support emerging ministers, and if the occasion allows, being firm in the local, unfellowshipped ordination of the same.

Here the principled and strategic combine: to take and hold the awesome responsibility of dedicating a member for Christ’s ministry on earth.

About Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 44, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

3 thoughts on “The role of the church in ordination

  1. I still believe (from my days as a charismatic) that it is the community that validates you have the gifts and grace for ministry, not some bureaucratic committee. I understand that there are certain things that are gained from the “professionalization” of the ministry, but how much, really, do we gain? Getting through seminary is no measure of a call to ministry. Without local church formation of new ministers, we’re in danger of being little more than a mere employment agency for our ministers, who will see the Association as their primary constituency. Little good can come from that.

  2. I agree with you Chutney, except (with caveats) I’d cast your comments into the past tense. Much of this has already come to pass.

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