In a recent article, my colleague the Rev. Elizabeth Dilley mentioned the work that the Ministerial Excellence Support and Authorization Team (MESA) and the Habakkuk Group have undertaken in a re-visioning of the Manual on Ministry. It has been a rich, rewarding and challenging task for the past three-plus years.
The MESA Team and the Habakkuk Group have recently been deeply involved in rolling out the draft of the re-visioned Manual on Ministry, and I have been particularly interested in one of the many approaches that we have chosen to share the work with Conference staffs, Committees on Ministry and those who work in the field of search and call: what stays the same and what is new.
As the ecclesiastical endorser for the United Church of Christ I can say that there is much that it staying the same as we consider individuals for endorsement on behalf of the UCC. However, one area that has become more involved and is evolving addresses the changing landscape of ministry and our United Church of Christ clergy who serve in ministerial settings beyond the local church.
The Endorsement Office works continually with individuals, Committees on Ministry, professional agencies, government agencies and our nation’s military to endorse for board certification and placement of chaplains and clergy in specialized settings. The newly drafted and re-visioned Manual on Ministry addresses issues of an ordainable call, authorizable calls and endorsement in an effort to coordinate Committees with individuals and provide quality clergy to ministerial settings that require specialized training and certification.
Quite often our UCC chaplains do ministry, on our behalf, in an isolated environment. They may be geographically removed, as are our Active Duty military chaplains, or be required to perform services and ministry on Sunday when we often find ourselves worshipping with our faith community. As the endorser this concerns me. The connection to a local church is foundational to the United Church of Christ and instrumental to the health and well-being of all of our clergy. Additionally, the participation and the benefit of belonging to a faith community is one of the primary relationships in the instituting of a Four-Way Covenant.
The emphasis on local church involvement and a viable Four-Way covenant are two of the ways in which the newly drafted and re-visioned Manual on Ministry will interact directly with our clergy serving beyond the local church to strengthen lines of communication, support and oversight. Maintaining those connections can only help to serve our ministers in specialized settings more fully and faithfully.
While much of the responsibility and crafting of a Covenant falls to our ministers in specialized settings, I would like to encourage our Committees on Ministry and local churches to reach out and connect or re-connect with the clergy in specialized settings in their congregations and Associations. The ministry performed by these men and women is rich and can add a dynamic component to the ministry of the local church. Invite your chaplains to join you for a special worship service celebrating chaplaincy in the hospital setting, the hospice setting or with our nation’s men and women in uniform. Acknowledge their ministry during the annual meeting of the congregation or the annual gathering of your Conference. I encourage you to ask your chaplains to submit newsletter articles, an annual report, to preach or assist in the rites and sacraments of the Church. After all, their ministry is an outreach of the local church to which they belong and is something to be celebrated.
Rev. Stephen Boyd is the Minister for Chaplains and Ministers in Specialized Ministries and a member of the Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization Team of the National Setting.