Discerning New Strategies for the Support of UCC Education Leaders
The Future of UCC Certification
Over forty years ago the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries began a program of certifying those employed in education ministries in the United Church of Christ. The program of Certification of Church Educators was designed as one strategy to establish standards for those employed in ministries of education and to provide support for education leaders in the church.
At the time the Certification program began few persons, even those with a Masters degree in religious education, were eligible for ordination. A few had become “Commissioned Workers” in education, but this credential was not then in uniform use across the denomination. Those employed as educators by the church needed a program to support and set standards for this ministry.
Initially Certification as a Church Educator required a Masters degree in religious education. It soon became evident that there were two other categories of educators serving churches and the program responded by developing standards for employed educators with a college degree, and another set of standards for those who did not have college training. These three categories – Specialist, Accredited, and Designated – added a layer of complexity to the program.
Today the situation is very different both for those engaged in education ministries and for local churches. Most of the relatively small group who have taken advantage of the program of Certification of Church Educators are also either Ordained or Commissioned ministers and are thus authorized ministers in the denomination. Less than 5% of those working as part time educators in local churches have taken advantage of the Certification program.
Another big change in the life of the church has been the growing availability of workshops and events to empower educators in their ministries. Annually the Association of United Church Educators offers 3 or 4 regional continuing education events for educators which have consistently been of high quality and well attended by those in education ministries. Many conferences have offered lay school programs attended by both employed and volunteer educators. While most seminaries no longer offer a degree program in religious education, many offer classes and continuing education events for educators. The Defiance College offers a distance learning program which results in a Bachelors degree in religious education. There are many ecumenical events and programs which offer continuing education of help to church educators.
For several years the Committee on Certification and staff at Local Church Ministries have been discussing the future of the program of Certification for Church Educators. In September 2009 a group, representing the Committee on Certification, national staff, the Association of United Church Educators, higher education faculty, and conference staff, met in Cleveland to make recommendations to Local Church Ministries about the future of the program.
One reality that group faced is, with shrinking budgets at in the national setting of the church, it is no longer feasible to continue to staff a program which serves such a small percentage of educators, especially when those same educators now are eligible to attain authorized ministry standing through associations or conferences.
This group has recommended that the many settings of the United Church of Christ – local churches, conferences, associations, national ministries, seminaries, colleges, and organizations – continue to find strategies to support the development of leaders in education for the ministry of the church. It was the discernment of that group that the program of Certification of Church educators no longer is the best strategy for providing that support.
The meeting has made four recommendations to Local Church Ministries.
1. Place the Certification process on hold for 2010 while Local Church Ministries decides on the future of the program.
Those due for renewal in 2010 will be given an automatic one-year extension. If the Certification program is ended, those certified would continue to be Certified Educators.
2. Discern the place of educational leadership ministry development within the national setting of the United Church of Christ.
The group has asked the Congregational Vitality and Discipleship and the Parish Life and Leadership Ministries to discern where attention to education leaders may be placed in the staff structure of the national setting of the church.
3. Create a path for professional education ministry standards.
A task group was created to make recommendations for adding standards for educators to the Manual on the Ministry for ordained and commissioned ministers and to offer minimal standards as guidelines for local churches employing educators not eligible to be authorized ministers.
4. Create assistance for education volunteers.
The group recognized that most attention over the years has been given to employed educators. Most of the education in local churches is done by volunteers. There is need for all settings of the church to look at ways to support these education leaders.
These recommendations have been forwarded to the board of Local Church Ministries and to appropriate staff. If you have any comments you wish to pass on to the Working Group, please send them to the group’s AUCE representative, Elsa Marshall (firstname.lastname@example.org) or to David Schoen (email@example.com) at Local Church Ministries.
Those involved in the meeting which made these recommendations include:
· Debbie Gline Allen (AUCE Coordinating Committee, commissioned minister, certified educator)
· JoAnne Bogart (Certification Committee, AUCE Coordinating Committee, ordained minister, certified educator)
· Lisa Hart (conference staff, AUCE Coordinating Committee)
· K. Ray Hill (Certification Committee, ordained minister, certified educator)
· Michelle Hintz (Parish Life and Leadership Ministry Team member, Certification Committee)
· Elsa Marshall (conference staff, Certification Committee, AUCE Coordinating Committee, commissioned minister, certified educator)
· Ken Ostermiller (former UCC staff person for Certification, Congregational Vitality and Discipleship Ministry Team member, ordained minister, certified educator)
· Marian Plant (meeting facilitator, Defiance College faculty, ordained minister, certified educator)
· David Schoen (Congregational Vitality and Discipleship Ministry Team leader, ordained minister)
· Dick Sparrow (Parish Life and Leadership Ministry Team leader, ordained minister)
· John Whitebread (AUCE Coordinating Committee, commissioned minister)
Ordained and lay educators are called to serve the church in a variety of roles and settings, in and beyond the local church. Life experiences and formal education among church educators is quite diverse. Mindful of this diversity, the United Church of Christ offers a certification process which recognizes and affirms the competence of church educators in many settings.
This certification process started in 1963 and is administered by the Worship and Education Ministry Team of Local Church Ministries...
- recognizes and affirms the competence of church educators
- encourages personal assessment, evaluation, and intentional growth, and
- seeks to incorporate persons into a relationship of support and accountability with other church educators
Three categories of certification are available to employed church educators who are members of the United Church of Christ and to others employed in church education in a UCC-related setting.
Designated Church Educator
A candidate for certification as a Designated Church Educator needs at least three years employment in church education before applying for certification. Although a bachelor's degree is not required, candidates may have a degree that is unrelated to church education. The educational norm is the completion of a non-credit concentrated program of skill development in church education. Certification is for a period of five years and may be renewed.
Accredited Church Educator
A candidate for certification as an Accredited Church Educator needs at least two years employment in church education before applying for certification. The educational norm is a bachelor's degree plus/ or including academic credits related to church education. Certification is for a period of five years and may be renewed.
Specialist in Church Education
A candidate for certification as a Specialist in Church Education needs at least one years employment in church education before applying for certification. The educational norm is a graduate theological degree plus/or including academic credits related to church education. Certification is for a period of five years and may be renewed.
Recognition of Certified Educators
Local churches may wish to recognize and celebrate the Certification of a church educator. Some ways in which local churches make this recognition are listed below.
- Recognition in service of worship.
- Liturgy of Recognition
- Guest preacher and/or speaker.
- Flowers on communion table.
- Honor at coffee hour.
- Corsage, boutonniere.
- Frame certificate.
- Give "The Church Educator's Code" in format suitable for framing.
- Flyer about Ordering Church Educator's Code
- Give book or other gift.
- Article in church newsletter.
- Article in local paper.
- Mention in worship bulletin.
- Place book in church library in honor of the certified person.
- Plant a tree on church grounds in this person's honor.
- Invite the certified educator to make a presentation in an adult education setting: Present the paper(s) written and/or project described as part of the application for certification. Share the goals set as part of the application for certification or for renewal of certification.
- Have a celebration with the educator's "constituents," i.e., with children if he/she works mainly with children; with teachers if work is mostly with teachers; etc.
The Church Educator's Code
The Church Educator's Code: Purpose and Use
The Church Educator's Code is modeled on and follows the spirit of the codes for ordained, commissioned, and licensed ministers from the United Church of Christ Manual on Ministry: Perspectives and Procedures for Ecclesiastical Authorization of Ministry. It is offered for use by local churches, associations, conferences, and other United Church of Christ calling bodies, other settings, and educators.
The Purpose of Code
The primary purpose of The Church Educator's Code, like the codes in the United Church of Christ Manual on Ministry: Perspectives and Procedures for Ecclesiastical Authorization of Ministry, is to give expression to and facilitate conversations about the commonly held values and expectations of the church in relation to those involved in educational ministries in the United Church of Christ.
The code addresses issues of commitment, ethics, and etiquette. It recognizes that the church ascribes significant meaning and value to behavior in the realm of each item in the code. While there may be significant diversity within the Church in relation to any specific item, that item does represent an arena in which church people and groups have values and make judgments about the actions of educators and churches.
The code seeks to recognize and express the experience of the church and to name those understandings and behaviors which are valued by the Church.
The Church Educator's Code is provided for educators and churches to discuss with each other their values and expectations. The emphasis is on relationships in settings in which educators are called to ministry.
The Use of the Church Educator's Code
The Church Educator's Code my be used pastorally by any setting of ministry to which a church educator is called.
The code may be used as a teaching tool to help newly-called educators to identify the many spheres in which behavior is viewed, valued, and assessed. It may be used by conference staff when they work with a local church to develop a position for a church educator. It may be used by groups of educators for study, guidance, and reflection.
The code may be used in times of conflict to enable persons to talk with one another about the underlying assumptions and unspoken expectations they have, which are producing suspicion or alienation, so that reconciliation may occur. The code may help conference staff provide assistance to a ministry setting about issues related to educators who do not have ordained, commissioned, or licensed ministry standing.
The code may be used in settings where an educator, local church, calling body, and/or conference staff are exploring the call of a church educator (e.g. interviewing, negotiating the terms of a call, etc.).
The code, or an adaptation of it, may be used in liturgical settings to provide content to the vows covenantal partners make to one another.
The code may be used in any setting in dealing with accountability for church educators to clarify the values, assumptions, and expectations they are making about the commitments and actions of one another.
Additional Options for Church Educators
Employed lay UCC church educators may apply to their local committee on the ministry for standing as a commissioned minister, according to the procedures outlined in the United Church of Christ Manual on Ministry and the practice of the association. Although commissioning is an ecclesiastical process, and certification is a professional recognition, some committees on the ministry look to certification as a means of ascertaining the attainment of necessary knowledge and skills for commissioned ministry in church education.
Church educators, lay and ordained, may seek placement through procedures established by the Parish Life and Leadership Ministry Team and the associations of the United Church of Christ. A packet for completing a professional profile may be obtained by contacting the Parish Life and Leadership Ministry Team, 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115. Phone: 216-736-3845.
Along with volunteers, employed church educators may join AUCE, the Association of United Church Educators, a national UCC educators' organization which provides regional and national education events, a newsletter, and a network of peer support. A membership form may be obtained from the office of the Committee on Certification.
The Defiance College Design for Leadership is an opportunity to earn a college degree in Christian Education through distance learning.