A majority of the conferences of the United Church of Christ are seeing the benefits of a new tool that will help put pastors in open pulpits across the denomination more efficiently starting this year. Thirty-six of the UCC's 38 conferences have been trained during December and January sessions in the church's new ministerial profile system website, which launches Friday, Jan. 31.
Soon enough, conference search and call ministries will put that system to use as they'll be able to quickly sort through the ministerial qualifications of the thousands of authorized ministers. What the new build of the web portal means for the nearly 5,200 UCC congregations is a shorter transition between pastors.
"A lot of this is mobilizing resources that God has raised for the church," said the Rev. Malcolm Himschoot, minister for ministerial transitions with the UCC's Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization team. "Where can we take away obstacles and put in a clear path?"
The new online system, accessible by conference staff and ministers, will provide conferences of the UCC with more information about authorized ministers and let them review a "pool of talent" to help congregations during a search and call process.
The new profile and SnapShot benefit ministers by offering a timely, easier-to-use and more transparent method that showcases their pastoral gifts. As Himschoot explained, "The profile is the tool that documents eligibility for call on behalf of the United Church of Christ."
The process of revamping the ministerial profiles was four years in the making — the MESA team wanted to learn the needs of pastors, conferences and calling bodies (such as individual congregations in search of a pastor). For those three groups, two tools were developed: the new ministerial profiles site and the SnapShot tool that provides a quick overview of a minister's qualifications for networking.
A path to a new profile
The need for a new profiles system became evident as ministers expressed frustrations with the previous profiles. Ministers thought they were arduous, but they were necessary for conferences to verify standing and background information.
The Rev. John C. Dorhauer, conference minister for the Southwest Conference of the UCC, worked with Himschoot and MESA team leader the Rev. Holly MillerShank on the Search and Call Revision Team.
"For me, this was always about finding a way to respond to what I was hearing over and over again from clergy and from churches about the search and call process: it wasn't serving them well. It was unwieldy. It was unnecessary complicated," Dorhauer said. "The process required an investment of time over months and months that many thought impeded their long-range goals and their vitality."
Now, Dorhauer describes the incoming profiles as relevant, convenient, and cost-effective, while providing information in a timely manner to get ministers called and into congregations quicker.
Ministers can also create a personalized SnapShot, which Himschoot said is "more of a networking tool." Conference staff can access and search through the SnapShot database and download a stack of profiles of qualified ministers. Only conference staff can access the SnapShot database, which Himschoot said provides a layer of confidentiality.
The SnapShot also gives authorized ministers an opportunity to showcase their individual gifts, passions, talents, experience and interest like never before. "We've never had that," Dorhauer said. "Denominational leaders now can search for, locate, and discover without limit uses for those precious resources in ways unlike anything we have seen before."
The Rev. Darren Morgan, associate conference minister for the Maine Conference of the UCC, has already encouraged all clergy in his conference to complete a SnapShot so that "the gifts and talents of the church can be identified and shared with the wider church," he said.
Getting up to speed
When MESA staff members were training 36 UCC conferences on the new profiles, they were encouraged by the feedback of those experiencing the new site.
"Because [conferences] waited so long for something for years, there's heightened anticipation," Himschoot said. "They went away [from the training sessions] feeling confident. They were pleased that conference needs and ministers' needs were heard. They liked that the new profile allows a place for diverse vocational experience along with pastoral experience."
While ministers can begin creating new profiles on Friday that will be ready to circulate to the wider church, Himschoot said the vintage profiles are still good for the next 18 months as long as a criminal background check that accompanies the profile hasn't expired.
"I firmly believe in the call process, and the changes to the online ministerial profile are mere tools to assist navigating candidates and churches through a search and call process," Morgan said. "My prayer for the church is that this new process is not seen as fancy, tech-driven, online employment matching, but rather a tool to enable true spiritual discernment to be fostered. May God's presence be felt with every keystroke."
More information about the ministerial profiles to launch on Jan. 31 is available on the UCC website.