United Church of Christ

December 2018

“We have more than ten ministers who have not completed their annual Information Reviews in more than two years, and we have another six who refuse to participate in required boundary trainings or continuing education requirements. We’ve tried contacting them by phone and email; is there anything else we can do?”

Unfortunately this situation, while not common, happens with nearly every Committee on Ministry at one time or another. Sometimes there is a mix-up with paperwork, or someone is delayed in their response because of a crisis. Occasionally, a minister is unaware of their standing requirements. However, from time to time, ministers simply refuse to participate in the required oversight processes of their ministry, including boundary awareness training, continuing education, and completion of the annual Information Review.

The 2018 Manual on Ministry, Section 2-6 addresses the accountability for ongoing oversight on pages 120-122. Briefly, it calls for contacting the minister who is not current on oversight requirements to remind them of the covenantal nature of their standing and to remind them that documentation of these requirements is necessary. The Committee on Ministry outlines the opportunities to meet those requirements (and share appropriate documentation with the COM) within a six-month grace period. Additionally, it is appropriate for a COM chair or Conference/Association staff to reach out to the minister to see if there are pastoral needs that may affect the minister’s ability to meet those requirements. Depending upon the response, it may be appropriate to grant Leave of Absence or Exempt Standing. (Leave of Absence and Exempt Standing information can be found in Section 2-3 “Ordained Ministerial Standing”, with resources available in Section 3 for that article.)

However, if the standing requirements have not been met after six months, or no communication is forthcoming, the Committee on Ministry may vote to suspend ministerial standing, warning that if the minister does not complete the requirements in a timely fashion, their standing will be terminated. When a minister’s standing is suspended, the COM notifies the minister, their ministry setting, their Local Church of membership, and the profiles office. (A form will be available in early 2019 in the Section 3 resources for Section 2-6.)

Should the minister complete the necessary requirements within the next six months, the suspension will be lifted without the requirement that it be disclosed on the profile going forward. However, if those requirements are not met and documentation shared with the COM, after a period of one year following the initial notification that a minister is out of compliance with standing requirements, the Committee terminates the minister’s standing with bias and communicates that to the appropriate covenantal partners. Any future reinstatement of standing must come before the COM that terminated the standing, and any such termination must be communicated on the profile in the future.

Throughout this process, the Committee on Ministry should document its own communication with the minister(s) in these situations, as well as the response of the minister. Conference/Association staff or Committees on Ministry may also tend to pastoral needs throughout this process, as appropriate.

All of this points to the need for a Committee on Ministry to communicate the Association’s requirements for standing and to have or develop an appropriate process to provide opportunities to meet their standing requirements. As ministers gain or transfer their standing into the Association, notify them of the standing requirements (frequency of boundary awareness training, anti-racism training, times they are offered within the Association/Conference, clarifying what meets the needs for continuing education requirements, etc.), regularly reinforce those expectations for those continuing in service within the Association, and provide sufficient opportunities for ministers to meet those requirements. Three and Four-Way covenants, if appropriate, are an ideal place to name standing requirements (Three- and Four-Way covenant samples can be found in Section 3 Resources for article 2-5, “Calls, Covenants, and Endorsements”). Finally, COMs must ensure a timely distribution of the annual Information Review, along with a deadline for return. 

The accountability for ongoing oversight is not about punishment, but rather to continue to be faithfully in covenant for shared ministry. Cultivating a culture of ongoing growth in the practice of ministry can be rewarding for all involved, and it makes for a stronger Church.

Questions for consideration:
How strong is your Association’s participation rate for the annual Information Review?
What hopes, and what challenges, do you see as a Committee in implementing this process?
If you have a Conference or Association Registrar, how and where might they be a resource in this process?

Other COM News:
The MESA Team is dedicated to supporting your vital COM work through regular trainings offered online. Please check this site regularly for updates. MESA will host a number of sessions introducing the new Manual on Ministry to the Church in 2019. This year, we are requiring advance registration, so click the link at least one hour in advance of the training (but as early as desired).

January 23, 2:00 – 3:30 pm ET “Welcoming Ecumenical Ministers” with Holly MillerShank

January 31, 7:00 – 8:30 pm ET “Conversations on Diversity in Search and Call” with Malcolm Himschoot

February 13, 2:00 – 4:00 pm ET “Fitness Review and Response Team Training” with Elizabeth Dilley

The MESA team wishes you a blessed end of Advent and a joyous Christmas season as we await the birth of Christ!


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