MESA boundary trainers support each other in their calling

Sometimes it seems that hardly a day goes by when news headlines don’t include a story of someone in a position of power or influence who took advantage of that situation — whether a teacher, coach or clergyperson. The United Church of Christ has high expectations of its clergy members and, because of that, offers support through its Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization (MESA) team.

The times we live in today require much of our spiritual leaders, and it’s the UCC’s position that their needs must be met for them to meet their congregations’ needs. MESA’s boundary training is one way the church offers support.

‘We’re all human’

The Rev. Tara Barber is the UCC’s minister for ministerial support and accountability, and she spends a lot of time thinking about what makes for effective harm reduction training. She was in Cleveland this past spring for the first post-pandemic boundary trainers gathering.

“We’re all human,” Barber said. “The more we engage with our own areas of vulnerability and humanity, the more effective we can be as clergy.”

A boundary trainers gathering took place at the UCC National Setting offices in Cleveland in May.

She explained that the training is a time to talk to one another about challenges in ordination, not to lecture. “We talk about experiences with power, as well as how we are taking care of ourselves.”

Lisa Gonzalez is director of loss control for the Insurance Board and got involved with boundary training because she is involved in mitigating risk for many churches. She attended the training session in May of this year and found it to be well worth her time.

“It was so inspiring — I was inspired by those who run the training, and I appreciated the different perspectives we heard,” she said. “I loved seeing people connect over shared experiences. There were many ‘ah ha’ moments.”

Abiding by the code

Ordained ministers in the UCC are expected to abide by the Ordained Minister’s Code. There is much to this pledge, including specifically: accepting responsibility for all debts incurred; refraining from abusive behavior including abusive behavior toward others; the abuse of alcohol, drugs or any other substance; seeking appropriate care for physical and mental health concerns; and avoiding addictive behaviors, as well as engaging in sexually healthy and responsible behavior.

MESA also offers boundary training for ministers serving in specialized settings outside a local church congregation and for judicatory staff. The national team relies on trainers across the denomination to offer these sorts of gatherings as well. Most conferences and associations require clergy boundary training every three years.

Rev. Tara Barber enjoys a lighthearted moment at the spring gathering in Cleveland.

Recently, MESA began trainings for retired clergy, who are often stepping in to help fill the gaps for churches who have lost pastors and leaders. There were over 150 people registered for the last session for retirees, according to the team. One of the main themes of such trainings is something Barber said is called “identity shifting” — those who have retired are learning that their call to ministry doesn’t have to end. She shared some anonymous feedback from that training session:

  • “This training was a totally new learning experience for me. Even though I am getting to retirement age in my secular vocation, my ordained ministry has just begun.”
  • “I learned the importance of being aware of boundaries that are not always visible.”
  • “I was reminded of how a retired minister can affect the church they served and impact the new minister.”

A ‘tough environment’ today

Gonzalez said this work is extremely important.

“Making safety a priority is critical to sustain churches,” she said. “It’s a tough environment for pastors today; there is so much coming at them. I applaud their efforts.”

Another online training for retirees is coming up Nov. 6, and registration is now open. This event will focus on boundary topics faced in retirement: identity shifting, leaving well, exempt status, as well as a refresher on the ministerial code, power, and accountability. This session will be led by MESA teammates Barber, the Rev. Melanie Oommen and the Rev. Anissa Glaser-Bacon.

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Categories: United Church of Christ News

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