She is the administrator of an HIV health care clinic. He directs choral choirs, handbell choirs, and a jazz quartet at his church. She conducts a Christian Theater Arts Camp each summer. What do all of these people have in common? They are Commissioned Ministers in the United Church of Christ.
Commissioned Ministry is an authorized form of ministry in the UCC that emerged in 1984 from the category of Commissioned Worker. The UCC "Manual on Ministry" lists several areas in which a person may be commissioned: Christian education, church administration, church music, UCCrelated missionary work, Conference and denominational staff work, and certain ministries of advocacy or community change. There are currently 124 Commissioned Ministers in the UCC.
Everyone who has sought to become a Commissioned Minister has had to discern and recognize a call from God to a specific ministry.
"It was only when I found out about Commissioned Ministry that I was able to answer a call I had felt for many years," says Ellie Sanders, Commissioned Minister of the Arts at Bethlehem UCC in Evansville, Ind. "Without the Commissioned Ministry process, I might still be fumbling around trying to find ways to respond to it within the constraints of my own life. I am convinced that this is part of God's plan for my life, and that all the years I worked in theater and teaching were preparing me for this work."
Christy Trudo, Lay Leadership and Ministry Coordinator in the UCC's Parish Life and Leadership Ministry, reminds us that the ministries of word and sacrament require ordination. "But," she says, "if one's sense of call does not clearly lead in that direction at the outset of the discernment process, it is important to consider commissioning as a possibility for authorization."
When asked why she decided to become a Commissioned Minister, Deborah Diehl, President of the Board for Children's Ministries of America, answers, "I sought commissioning because I felt a call to ministry in Christian Education, a call to teaching, and a call to ministry with children.
"I felt no sense of calling around marriages, baptisms, funerals, pastoral visits, or any of the other ministry areas that are fulfilled by those who are called to be ordained. I also chose commissioning because I wanted to feel I was still part of the people. In essence, I did not want to be Ôset apart.'"
For Tim Brown of the UCC Coalition for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns, "Commissioning was a natural response to my call to work for the Coalition. I needed to respond to God's tapping on my shoulder with ministerial acknowledgment from my denomination."
As the administrator of Matthew 25 AIDS Services in Henderson, Ky., Cyndee Burton says that her commissioned minister status has provided the education and discernment needed to do her work. "It has allowed me to provide a more solid and holistic ministry," she says. "I feel comfortable including spirituality and prayer in the care I provide."
The Association of United Church Educators is sponsoring "A Resolution Affirming the Essential Role of Commissioned Ministry as an Authorized Ministry of the United Church of Christ" at General Synod 24 this summer in Minneapolis. According to Ruth Hainsworth, Commissioned Minister of Christian Education and Chair of the Association of United Church Educators, the resolution "already has and should continue to raise the level of discussion on Commissioned Ministry throughout the denomination."
When the Commissioned Ministers in the New Hampshire Conference gathered recently to talk about their ministries, they were asked what difference being a Commissioned Minister has made. One answer surfaced from each of their responses: The Commissioning process provides an opportunity for us to pull together everything we've always known about our faith, our passions, and God's role in it all. Our ministries are then affirmed by our denomination as well as our Conference, association, and congregations. This validates what we know to be God's work through us.
Deborah Gline Allen is a Commissioned Minister of Christian Education and Consultant for Christian Education for the UCC's New Hampshire Conference.
More information about Commissioned Ministry can be found in the Commissioned Ministry section of the UCC Manual on Ministry, available from United Church Resources at 800-537-3394.