“This individual has a call to spiritual direction and wants to go into private practice – can we ordain them to that call?” “Is a part-time call eligible for ordination?” “Can we ordain this candidate to a volunteer position?” “This person wants to start a new UCC church; is this something to which we can ordain them?”
Committees on Ministry practice discernment when Members in Discernment receive a first call. Sometimes, a call clearly demonstrates the appropriateness for ordination. One example of this is a call to serve in a chaplaincy position in a hospital or hospice setting with a clear scope of work and appropriate compensation. Another example is a call to a settled pastoral position (whether solo, associate, or senior) within a Local Church of the United Church of Christ – again, a call with a clear scope of work and which is compensated appropriately. Other situations are not so clear: positions with no clear pastoral authority or role, volunteer ministries, new church starts, or positions whose scope of work and compensation are drastically at odds are a few of those situations.
What, then, can guide a committee’s work of discernment? The Manual on Ministry outlines three essential qualities of an ordainable call, outlined in Section 2:5 “Calls, Covenants, and Endorsements.” Candidates should be prepared to share the ways that the call they seek embodies these essential qualities:
- The call is covenantal. This means that there is a clear connection with a Local Church (or clear connectedness between a Local Church and the calling body). Is there an ongoing commitment to, or engagement with, this position on the part of the UCC? If the commitment to or engagement with the UCC is new, what are the plans to support this ministry over time? Does that engagement include more people than the individual being called to the position? Does the ministry setting see itself having an ongoing relationship with the UCC?
- The call responds to the needs of the church. This means that the ministry setting has a need for (or has acknowledged it would benefit from) an ordained United Church of Christ minister in the role, versus a role that primarily meets the need of the individual seeking ordination to have their ministry validated. One question to consider is: “Will the need of the Church for faithful and effective authorized ministers be met if this particular person accepts this particular call?” (Manual on Ministry, p. 85) It is also appropriate to discern whether opportunities for worship, sacraments, spiritual formation, and pastoral guidance would be involved in this position.
- The call involves mutuality in ministry between the minister and the community. This means that there are shared commitments and shared accountability for the sake of the ministry itself. What are the structures of support and accountability that encourage the well-being of the minister and the vital ministry being undertaken? How are all partners shaping and being shaped by the shared ministry? Is there a need for the UCC to have oversight of the person?
The Manual on Ministry outlines some positions that are not ordainable calls. They include internships, Clinical Pastoral Education residencies, other training positions, and military chaplaincy. Some of these are not ordainable because they do not require the person to be ordained AND they have a primary purpose of shaping the participants rather than a mutual shaping of pastor and ministry setting. In the case of military chaplaincy, such a position has Endorsement as a prerequisite, and Endorsement requires ordination as a prerequisite. Finally, volunteer positions are generally discouraged as ordainable calls, because the scope of responsibilities is often vague or unclear, and appropriate expectations (of individual or organization) may not be present.
Committees on Ministry are encouraged to be thoughtful, intentional, and discerning of the Spirit as they consider what an ordainable call looks like, using these questions and the Manual on Ministry as guideposts for conversation and discernment. At the same time, Members in Discernment are encouraged to be prepared to clearly demonstrate the ways that a particular call to a setting is appropriate for ordination in response to these characteristics.
The Rev. Stephen Boyd, Minister for Chaplains and Ministers in Specialized Settings and the Denominational Endorser, is available to work with Committees on Ministry to explore ordainable calls in more depth. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Questions for consideration:
When has your committee struggled with a call that is less than clear? What helped you make a decision? How can your committee help move a Member in Discernment forward in structuring an appropriate call?
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).
o February 26, 7:00 – 8:30 pm ET “Pastoral Relations Committees” with Stephen Boyd. This webinar focuses on the purposes and benefits of a Pastoral Relations Committee, addressing concepts like fostering healthy communication, appropriate and inappropriate roles of a Pastoral Relations Committees, and practical aspects such as setting up and maintaining a healthy committee.
o March 7, 2:00 -3:30pm ET “Caring for the Whole Self: MIDs and Authorized Ministers” with Renee Jackson. This workshop will explore the Mark “Caring for All Creation” in the context of considering the mental, spiritual, physical, and emotional health of MIDs and authorized ministers.
o March 12, 2:00 – 3:30pm ET “COM Orientation” with Tony Clark and Elizabeth Dilley. New to a Committee on Ministry? Worried about what you need to know? Confused by all the acronyms? Wondering whose MOM has all the answers? Join in this conversation that will orient you to your ministry of being on a Committee on Ministry (also good for those who are still confused after some time on the COM!).
Developed for local church pastoral search committees and beyond, MESA has released four new overcoming-bias short films. Access the “Stretching Beyond” videos online for viewing with members of your Committee on Ministry. Each of the segments (dealing with Gender, Race, Ability, and Sexuality) is a few minutes long, presenting a visual motif and a theme that lingers. A discussion guide based on the videos is also available to be shared widely.
Finally, the MESA Team is glad to welcome its Interim Team Leader, the Rev. Marja Coons-Torn. Marja came out of retirement for this interim, and prior to her retirement, she worked in a variety of contexts, most recently as the Conference Minister for the Penn Central Conference from 2004-2014. We are grateful for her wisdom and leadership!
The MESA Team