Ordainable Pending Call
October 11, 2013

Dear Theo,

Could you please explain to me the rationale for not ordaining candidates until after a call to a church has been received?   If all of the other requirements have been satisfied why the wait?  I know that other denominations ordain before call. Why does the UCC feel it is important to receive a Call before ordination?

I entered the ordination process in 2002 and graduated with a Master's of Divinity Degree in 2007.  I was classified as "Ordainable Pending Call" in 2007. As a lesbian the search process was long and difficult. I found not having the status of Reverend before my name an added liability in the search process.  I finally received a call in 2011 and was ordained at that time.  I have talked to other people about this and we all agreed that not being ordained was a liability.

Please explain the reasoning behind this UCC policy?

Pending

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Dear Pending,

Your name is aptly chosen: the root of Pending is "to hang." Four years: it sounds like you were left hanging for a long time!

Here is the bright idea behind "ordainable pending call." Our Congregational forebears took seriously the idea that Jesus (and the Holy Spirit, to boot) was present wherever two or more were gathered—they thought that the wisdom that arises out of a gathering of people is more trustworthy than that of one person acting on their lonesome. Individuals are quirky, prejudiced, distracted. But a community, ideally, balances out those quirks and leanings. When the last bit of the covenant of ordination comes from the "future"—the church the ordinand is to serve—it seems that much more tenable and stable.

Here's another reason: Ordained ministry is demanding work. Not just when pastors are going through tough times with their people—illness, death, deep depressions—but when parishioners project onto their pastors all their messy dis-ease—and they will! Bearing the weight of all those sticky, painful projections can make you wish you had a nice, simple, clock-punching job, like taking pie orders in a diner, instead of slinging the Gospel, especially when that Gospel says "do not return evil for evil."

My own in-care advisor once said to me, "if there's any other you can do—any other work you can imagine being as satisfying, go and do that instead, because ministry is too hard." It is the job of a lot of Holy-Spirit-led communities along the way—the local church, the church and ministry committee—to test the durability of every individual's sense of call.

And because the ‘home church' where people first hear the call might not have the guts to say no to a candidate who's ill-equipped for ministry (or just love them too much and be blinded to their liabilities), and likewise a Church and Ministry committee might be too anemic to stand up to a weak candidate and willing to kick the can down the road, the last stop is:  the calling church. The church that says: yes, you strike us as trustworthy, mature, boundaried, confidence-keeping and kind.

That said, the system worked reasonably fairly when the playing field was more level: mostly straight white pastors vying with other straight white pastors. But then women entered the mix (thank you Antoinette Brown!), and queer people (thank you Bill Johnson!), which meant a much bigger talent pool.

Unfortunately, not every parish sees it that way. Some churches remain, to their detriment, committed to hiring only white, straight males, whether they admit it out loud or not. And that, Pending, is one big, and perhaps even the only, reason why you were left hanging.

And now, Rev. No-Longer-Pending (because you're right—that Rev. carries a lot of weight, for good and for ill), if you can't be at peace with how things went down, perhaps you can at least feel a sense of satisfaction that you have, just like Bill and Antoinette, made things a little bit easier for someone coming down the road behind you.

Bless you, and may you be a blessing,

Theo

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"Dear Theo" is written anonymously by three UCC ministers of different ages and backgrounds—one main writer and two respite writers. We welcome questions spanning all kinds of topics: from sexuality and relationships to church culture and conflict to mental health, family drama, ethical and moral dilemmas...and everything in between.

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