Written by Rachel Hackenberg
Dear Committee on Ministry colleagues,
The good standing of an authorized minister may be (1) active, (2) leave of absence, or (3) retired, all of which are considered equally to be forms of good standing and all of which may be transferred between Associations.
Leave of Absence is practiced with wide variety across the United Church of Christ, with some Associations and Conferences having very strict policies and others having lenient-to-lax policies. While the diversity of regional habits is inherent to the United Church of Christ, in regards to Leave of Absence there are several basic understandings that should be common among us:
• Leave of Absence requires a written plan, developed and agreed upon by the Committee on Ministry and the authorized minister, outlining the expectations for communication between the COM and the minister, the anticipated length of the minister's absence from active ministry, the reason for the absence, and the Committee's determination of what (if any) functions of ministry may be performed during the Leave of Absence. This plan should be included in the Minister's File.
• Ministers with Leave of Absence are still subject to oversight by the Committee on Ministry. Ministers with Leave of Absence should communicate annually with their COM, as agreed in the Leave of Absence plan.If a minister relocates to a new Association or Conference without having a call there, the COM where the minister's standing is held should grant Leave of Absence so that the minister's standing may transfer to the new Association and oversight may continue in the minister's new location.
The Manual on Ministry offers three reasons for granting Leave of Absence: (1) the minister is seeking a call, (2) the minister is discerning whether to continue in authorized ministry, or (3) the minister is taking time to focus on a significant life event, such as family care, illness, extended study, etc. Leave of Absence is to be reviewed annually by the COM in conversation with the minister, and the Manual on Ministry limits Leave of Absence to three years for commissioned ministers and five years for ordained ministers. Again, expectations of review and an agreed-upon time limit should be incorporated into the written plan for a Leave of Absence.
Conferences and Associations have the greatest variance in their practices of Leave of Absence for ministers in search who do not also have current calls. Because search processes can take more than a year, and because our collective biases contribute to longer searches for ministers in demographic minorities, COMs are encouraged to treat Leave of Absence for in-search ministers as a season of vocational discernment and to support those ministers accordingly. Likewise Associations and Conferences receiving the active profiles of Leave of Absence ministers are encouraged to view those profiles without bias or suspicion.
The MESA Ministry Team offers this Leave of Absence flowchart to help Committees on Ministry and authorized ministers determine when Leave of Absence should be granted. As always, MESA is glad to be in conversation with you when the nuances of Leave of Absence extend beyond the parameters of a flowchart or even the Manual on Ministry.
The Rev. Rachel G. Hackenberg
Minister for Committee on Ministry Resources & Conference Support
Ministerial Excellence, Support & Authorization (MESA) Team
Local Church Ministries, United Church of Christ