Facing the changing landscape of denominational life within the United Church of Christ — and across the larger canvas of Western Christianity — UCC leaders are seeking wisdom from the wider church to begin a discussion on the ways in which the UCC calls, authorizes and oversees ministers who serve God’s mission by creating a just world for all.
That conversation got underway when more than 200 people from the national setting, conference offices, committees on ministry members, affiliated ministries and the Habakkuk Group gathered last week (Nov. 30-Dec. 3) in San Antonio for the Authorizing Ministry in the 21st Century (AM21) event — with the focus squarely on an early draft of a newer, adaptive, theologically-grounded Manual on Ministry. That manual will empower committees on ministry to effectively and efficiently seek out the next generation of the best and brightest ministerial leaders to serve the UCC.
AM21, a biennial event held in non-Synod years, gathers conference and association staff to collaborate on ministerial authorization and best practices. Since the Manual on Ministry is written to support the work of conference and association committees on ministry — the groups that authorize and ordain ministers in the UCC — and because conference staff serve those committees directly, "this is the group that can give feedback, offer ideas and outline practices," said the Rev. Rachel Hackenberg, UCC minister for committee on ministry resources and conference support.
"We talk about wisdom being in the room when we get together, and this is the group who would be the users of the Manual on Ministry," Hackenberg said.
The Habakkuk Group, made up of 17 lay persons, local pastors, specialized ministers and judicatory staff, first gathered in June 2014 to begin its three-year process of revising — or, to be more accurate, a re-visioning — the current Manual on Ministry, which dates back to 1986 and was last revised in 2002. The group’s task is to work with the UCC's Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization (MESA) Team to revise the Manual on Ministry that will guide the conferences and associations of the UCC in authorizing the next generation of ministerial leaders.
"This isn’t taking a red pen to the 1986 version of the MOM, but a way to look creatively to authorize ministers for a different church than we were in 1986," Hackenberg said. "It really is significant work."
During AM 21, the main structure of discussion was small-group conversation to make sure that 200 voices had the opportunity to be heard.
Beyond the AM21 gathering, MESA and the Habakkuk Group are "committed to holding similar conversations across the denomination, to continue the effort of editing what the Habakkuk Group has written so far," Hackenberg said, adding that at least four regional gatherings for authorized ministry will take place throughout 2017, and the Habakkuk Group will continue meeting to gather feedback and continue refining its version of the Manual on Ministry.
"We know living into a new document will take time. We aren’t promising a definitive date within the next two to three years," Hackenberg said. "We know the feedback and continued discernment on the best ways to authorize ministry in a changing landscape will take time."