United Church of Christ

March 2019

Many Committees on Ministry struggle with cultivating effective Ecclesiastical Councils, whether because they have a hard time getting a quorum, the questions that get asked are not appropriate for the forum (“How would you help our youth group grow?”), or the candidates themselves are not adequately prepared. 

Because the authority to ordain ministers and to grant ministerial standing is given to Associations in the United Church of Christ, an Ecclesiastical Council is an official gathering of Association delegates, upon the recommendation of a Committee on Ministry, for the purpose of determining whether a candidate for ordination or Privilege of Call shall be approved for ordination pending call. These Councils may be stand-alone meetings or they may be held in conjunction with a regularly-scheduled Association meeting. Because this action is done in and on behalf of the entire United Church of Christ, the most successful and well-attended Ecclesiastical Councils are those that scheduled well in advance and are publicized heavily in order to meet the requirement of a quorum of voting delegates.

A Committee on Ministry recommends a Member in Discernment for an Ecclesiastical Council only when they have faithfully discerned that the Member in Discernment’s call to ministry requires authorization and have determined that the individual is ready for ordination or Privilege of Call. The COM should prepare the individual for the format and the kinds of questions they can expect to hear at an Ecclesiastical Council. If a Committee on Ministry hopes the Association will say “no” or they are not sure if the individual is ready, the Committee should continue to discern, or say “no” to the candidate themselves.

Since Ecclesiastical Councils are not routine events in the life of an Association, some preparation is necessary for everyone involved. The Committee on Ministry shares relevant materials, such as an invitation to the Ecclesiastical Council and the candidate’s ordination paper or portfolio, with the Association at least a month in advance (or longer if bylaws require it). The invitation is for Association delegates to be introduced to the candidate, to hear the process of discernment that the MID and the Committee on Ministry engaged together that has brought them to this moment, to engage the candidate in theological conversation about the contents of their paper/portfolio, and then to vote for or against their ordination.

An Ecclesiastical Council should be held at a time and place sufficient for the necessary quorum, and for a sufficiently long period of time to allow for the Association to adequately examine the individual. This is not an event to be rushed; many high-quality Ecclesiastical Councils last for 1 ½ - 2 hours.

A few additional Do’s and Don’t’s for Ecclesiastical Councils include:

  • DO NOT assume everyone will bring this material to the Ecclesiastical Council, so have a few copies of the ordination paper or portfolio on hand.
  • DO outline the purpose and expectations for the Ecclesiastical Council at the outset.
  • DO NOT be afraid to redirect the gathering towards the purpose of the COM if questions are irrelevant or inappropriate (“How can you help my church grow its youth group?” “Are you looking to stay in the area, as we are seeking a pastor and you seem great?”).
  • DO have a few questions that the COM can ask if the conversation starts to lag during the Ecclesiastical Council. Some questions may include: what is your theology of ordination? What are you going to do about self-care?  How do you see yourself representing the entire denomination in a diverse and inclusive ministry setting? (this question is especially helpful for MIDs called to chaplaincy)

Since this is an official act of the Association, a decision is made by a majority vote of those present and qualified to vote (unless the Association bylaws require something different). Following an affirmative vote at an Ecclesiastical Council, the individual is considered “approved for ordination pending call” and may circulate a profile and seek a call. If the outcome of an Ecclesiastical Council is “no,” then, the Member in Discernment status is terminated.

Questions for reflection:

What feedback have we received from MIDs and the Association about Ecclesiastical Councils? How might we use the new MOM to improve our processes? What can we celebrate about our Ecclesiastical Councils?

Other COM News:

DUE TO A TECHNICAL ISSUE BEYOND MESA’S CONTROL, ALL 2019 TRAINING LINKS BETWEEN APRIL AND DECEMBER NEEDED TO BE RE-CREATED. KINDLY RE-REGISTER FOR ANY TRAINING YOU PREVIOUSLY SIGNED UP FOR. WE APOLOGIZE FOR THE INCONVENIENCE.

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). Upcoming trainings include:

Fitness Review/Response Team Training with Elizabeth Dilley
April 3, 2:00 – 4:00pm ET
This training provides an overview of the Fitness Review Process, with an emphasis on the role of the Response Team.

Marks of Faithful and Effective Committees on Ministry with Tony Clark
April 4, 2:00 – 3:30pm ET
Did you know that the 2018 Manual on Ministry includes a set of Marks of Faithful and Effective COMs? Explore these Marks as value statements in this Zoom training.

Marks Assessment with Renee Jackson
May 8, 2:00 – 3:30pm ET 
This webinar is designed to facilitate the understanding and use of the Marks of Faithful and Effective Authorized Ministers, particularly with Members in Discernment but also with authorized ministers.

With deep gratitude,

The Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization Ministry Team


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