United Church of Christ

October 2019

Cheryl (not her real name) has a calling to the specialized work of intentional interim ministry in parish settings. She is mid-career, not yet ordained, but highly experienced with a lifetime in church as well as consulting and change management in her corporate career. Conferences can always use more intentional interim ministers, and the COM believes she would do well. But past precedent in that conference restricted ordination to settled ministers only. Can the COM ordain Cheryl to a first call as an intentional interim minister?

The Ministerial Excellence, Support, and Authorization (MESA) Team has for years heard questions about “an ordainable call.” Though not new, the frequency of such questions constitutes a trend nationwide for Committees on Ministry to consider as an increasing number of Members in Discernment are considering ministerial calls beyond the Local Church. (More information about this can be found at MESA’s recent contribution to the Center for Analytics, Research, and Data blog.)

Several different types of situations are coming before Committees on Ministry for authorization as first-call situations for people potentially going into ordained ministry. When working with these unique, vital and viable calls to ministry, COMs have often experienced that the individual’s call to ordained ministry, beyond the first call, can become blurred. Committees on Ministry and Members in Discernment alike need to focus on the individual’s calling to ordained ministry first, and what that looks like in light of both the first call and the Marks of Faithful and Effective Authorized Ministers. The use of a Four-Way Covenant helps the Member in Discernment to present, and the Committee to envision, the complete person for who they are in light of the Marks, as well as flesh-out the ministry of the church, of which ordination is representative.

Individuals who seek to serve in and on behalf of the church as ordained ministers, especially in ministerial settings beyond the Local Church, need to prepare a meaningful Four-Way Covenant (MOM 2018, Section 2:5) for the Committee on Ministry, in order to address common understandings at the first-call juncture. Where there is no satisfactory Four-Way Covenant, the COM may find it hard to discern the individual’s call to ordained ministry and to give an affirmative answer to the question of ordination.

With a complete and appropriate Four-Way Covenant, COMs can – and some have – ordained ministers into the scenario above, and other unique ministerial settings, depending on the fitness and the readiness of the individual minister. Additionally, the Four-Way Covenant addresses issues of support for the minister as well concerns of proper accountability and oversight which serve to create a meaningful and deeper relationship between the minister, Local Church of membership, COM and the ministerial setting.

When MESA is asked to consult with COMs on these matters, we guide discernment to some key provisions in the new Manual on Ministry (MOM 2018, Section 2:5) regarding the first-call itself:

- Is the call covenantal?
- Does the call respond to the needs of the church?
- Does the call involve mutuality in ministry between the minister and a community?

Additionally, we recommend consideration of the faithfulness and wholeness of the person for vows to a life in ministry, which will take many forms. The first call, which leads to ordination, is only one facet of the multifaceted, multidimensional and gifted person called to serve the needs of the church over time.

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Covenant matters a great deal, as do the needs of the church and the United Church of Christ. The Manual on Ministry (MOM 2018, Section 1) notes that ordination is meant for the needs of the church, not the individual. The church through the work of the Committee on Ministry, rather than the individual, must discern its own needs for representative ministry.

Questions for Reflection:

Has your Committee on Ministry been challenged by some of the more unique ministerial settings when working with a MID considering ordination?
If so, has your COM felt comfortable in how the individual has presented themselves for ordained ministry and how their call fulfills a need of the church?

Other COM News:
The MESA Team is hard at work finalizing Section 3 Resources for the Manual on Ministry, available on the Manual on Ministry page. Access these materials from the website as needed; over time they will be updated periodically, with most recent revisions noted at the bottom of the document. Current resources have a blue stained glass banner and are easily identified as Section 3 Resources.

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 several 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). Here are some upcoming trainings:
Below are the upcoming offerings:

o October 23, 7:00 – 8:30pm ET, Ecclesiastical Councils with Stephen Boyd. This webinar addresses the appropriate timing, purpose, and scope of an Ecclesiastical Council. One of the final steps before ministerial authorization, an Ecclesiastical Council is an opportunity for an Association to meet and communally discern a Member in Discernment’s readiness for Ordination.
o November 21, 7:00 - 8:30pm ET, MID Process with Renee Jackson. Come to this webinar to understand the key roles of Discernment Partners and the steps in the Member in Discernment process.
o December 12, 7:00 – 8:30pm, Marks Assessment with Renee Jackson. 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.
o December 17, 7:00 – 8:30pm ET, Pastoral Relations 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.


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