Bi-vocational ministry is not new in the life of the United Church of Christ, but it is a growing field. Of the 7,400 authorized UCC clergy, one in four — about 1,850 — are bi-vocational, meaning they have at least one other job, instead of a full-time ministry call.
To better strengthen and raise the visibility of these ministers, the UCC's Local Church Ministries is inviting those serving or seeking to serve in bi-vocational ministry to a two-day conference April 15-16 in St. Simon's Island, Ga.
"Providing ways to support those ministers is really important and necessary for the church," said the Rev. Elizabeth Dilley, UCC minister for ministers in local churches. "This conference is an opportunity for judicatory leaders and bi-vocational ministers to know the church cares for their circumstances and is attentive to their challenges they face. It's also a chance to learn more about those in bi-vocational ministry and offer what resources we can."
The Bi-Vocational Ministry Conference emerged out an ecumenical meeting with different regional leaders to examine in detail what a balanced life looks like from the perspective of a bi-vocational minister. It’s also an opportunity to bring bi-vocational minsters together and have them share stories and best practices, and build networks with each other and the different settings of the UCC. The Rev. Bob Grove-Markwood, executive director of The BTS Center, the mission successor to Bangor Theological Seminary, will keynote, and there will be workshops for judicatory leaders and for bi-vocational ministers.
According to data from the UCC Center for Analytics, Research and Data (CARD), one fourth of all pastors in UCC congregations are bi-vocational by choice (14.9 percent) or by circumstance (9.7 percent).
"Clearly that wasn't the case 20 years ago," said the Rev. Kristina Lizardy-Hajbi, director of CARD.
Dilley explained that as the UCC Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization team continues to encourage the use of multiple paths to authorized ministry, there is a growing recognition throughout the denomination that many members in discernment will not go into a full-time position and may be preparing for different roles or vocations.
"There's no way to pinpoint when it began. In some of our churches, bi-vocational ministry has always been a reality," Dilley said. "For some ministers the norm is for them to be bi-vocational. This is now opportunity to learn from folks who have done this for generations."
The registration deadline for the bi-vocational ministry conference is April 4, with a cost of $50, plus housing. More information is available on the conference website.