Written by Rachel Hackenberg
Dear Committee on Ministry colleagues,
As the number of church pastorates declines and the number of specialized ministries increases, Committees on Ministry increasingly receive questions about endorsement for ministers who serve in certain institutional ministries (from VA hospitals to Federal Prison systems, from hospice facilities to college campuses).
It’s important to know that ecclesiastical endorsement is not a form of ministerial authorization. The United Church of Christ has three forms of ministerial authorization: licensure, commissioning, and ordination. Unlike ministerial authorization, the requirements for ecclesiastical endorsement are set by government agencies and professional organizations. (Ordination is a prerequisite for government endorsements; professional agencies may require ordination or commissioning.) Ecclesiastical endorsement is the verification by the denomination through the UCC’s Endorsement Office that a particular authorized minister is (1) in good standing with the UCC, (2) has proven experience relevant to a specialized ministry, and (3) is qualified to represent the UCC in diverse & pluralistic settings.
The requirements for ecclesiastical endorsement have far-reaching implications for many decisions of a Committee on Ministry, even those decisions that don’t overtly involve endorsement:
- For example, if a Member in Discernment is ordained into a residency or internship position, the experiences in those time-limited learning environments do not meet the qualification requirements of professional or government agencies; therefore the individual, though ordained, might not be considered to have the prerequisites for ecclesiastical endorsement. (For this reason and others, MESA does not recommend ordination to residencies or internships, although a COM might consider licensure if sacramental privileges are required.) Additionally, Members in Discernment can never be ordained directly into military chaplaincy; it is a requirement of the federal government that applicants for military endorsement have three years of post-ordination experience, usually in a local church.
- Recordkeeping is essential. There are several reasons why a minister with ecclesiastical endorsement might be granted Leave of Absence by a Committee on Ministry while the minister is between calls. If, however, the Committee inadvertently records Leave of Absence as a suspended standing or if the COM fails to develop a plan with the minister for regular review of the Leave of Absence, the minister’s endorsement could be unintentionally jeopardized.
- If a minister with ecclesiastical endorsement from another denomination seeks standing with the United Church of Christ through Privilege of Call, the endorsement is not transferable between denominations. COMs should contact the Endorsement Office to coordinate the Privilege of Call process with endorsement requirements.
- If a fitness review is initiated for a minister with ecclesiastical endorsement, the UCC’s Ecclesiastical Endorser has the responsibility to review the minister’s endorsement while the Committee on Ministry reviews the minister’s standing. The Committee’s review has direct consequences for the minister’s endorsement, so COMs need to contact the Ecclesiastical Endorser when the fitness review begins and again when the fitness review ends, and a copy of the final findings must be shared with the Endorser.
Any time – in fact, every time – a Committee on Ministry receives questions about ecclesiastical endorsement, MESA recommends that the Committee contacts MESA’s Endorsement Office: Kathleen Sattler (Endorsement Secretary, firstname.lastname@example.org) and the Rev. Stephen Boyd (Ecclesiastical Endorser, email@example.com).
Like the interdependence between faith and works, justice and prayer, Sunday worship and weekday living, the work of COMs is integral to and has far-reaching impact for MIDs, authorized ministers, and the Church itself. Your attention to detail in matters of ecclesiastical endorsement is deeply appreciated in your COM ministry for the United Church of Christ.
With appreciation of your work and prayers for this Holy Week,
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