In the face of changing realities for the modern church - including increasing numbers of small, isolated congregations that do not have the resources to hire seminary-trained clergy - all 39 of the church's Conferences will now be able to utilize a variety means of preparing ordained pastors.
"I believe that our seminaries can broaden their perspectives and we can broaden our ideas about what ministry is all about," said Sharon MacArthur, pastor of Sycamore Congregational UCC in El Cerrito, Calif. and newly elected chairwoman of the UCC's Executive Council.
The General Synod's nearly 1,000 voting delegates approved the pronouncement -a weighty statement that calls the church to its highest levels of conversation, action and implementation - overwhelmingly.
In approving it, the church formally affirmed that regional training and mentoring can be effective models, in some settings, for educating people for ordination.
Like most mainline Protestant denominations, the UCC has predominately adhered to a European model of educating its clergy: four years of college followed by three years of seminary. But, as argued Tuesday by many of the proponents of the pronouncement, that model is not effective in many instances.
In South Dakota, for example, 28 percent of that Conferences ministers have been educated in alternative educational models, according to South Dakota Conference minister Gene Miller.
"And they are excellent alternative models, I might add," Miller said. "I would like nothing more than to go home and tell these people not only are their educational experiences welcomed but affirmed."
Despite the limited debate and opposition, however, some remained unconvinced that the pronouncement effectively creates new, diverse paths toward ordination.
Loren McGrail, a student at UCC-related Andover Newton Theological School in Massachusetts and member of First Congregational UCC in Amherst, Mass., said the pronouncement fails to adequately affirm seminary as the primary means of theological education.
"While we recognize the need to critique the European-based M.Div degree program, we also express the hope that seminary campuses continue to be seen as the meeting place where various cultures, traditions and denominations can learn with and from one another."