Thursday, May 7, 2009

Excellence in Ministry

Seventh in a series of posts about the April 2009 UUA Board meeting

This is NOT about funding for theological schools, though if you read to the end you will find something about that.

Half of our UU ordained ministers will likely retire in the next decade. Who will replace them and what kinds of skills will they need? What kinds of skills will they have? For that matter, what kind of congregations will be have -- I doubt our current standard of "sign the book in a bricks and mortar congregation" will remain the dominant model. And who will serve the small congregations in out of the way places that have difficulty finding matches already? This will be in a world that is far more diverse, far more technologically savvy, with an even greater need for business skills as more and more boards opt for forms of governance that empower ministers to act like managers.

Add to that the calling many lay leaders feel for ministry, especially in their later years. Is devoting yourself to several years of seminary the only option to satisfy this deep longing?

This is what the Saturday evening session on "excellence in ministry" was about. I don't know the answers to these questions, but I do know it is a much bigger topic than funding for theological schools. The Board has reorganized working groups, and now has one devoted to "excellence in ministry", convened by Rev. Doug Gallagher, who is also a member of the Panel on Theological Education, and attended the December Summit. Doug used that session as an opportunity to get input on the broader issues from the rest of the Board.

I do, however, feel some softening toward our two seminaries, Meadville-Lombard and Starr King School for the Ministry. I suspect it may be tied to the keynote delivered at the December summit by Daniel Aleshire, from the Association of Theological Schools. This provocative address identified two things a movement needed from theological schools to be excellent: education of leaders, and identity. So even though only 30% of our ministers are being trained at either Meadville-Lombard or Starr King, Aleshire argues that "identity partners" need a different kind of funding and attention.

Which finally brings me to funding our schools. Though not a long term solution by any means, the Veatch Foundation (Bringer of All Things Good) just gave $100,000 to each of the two UU schools to support their transition to their new educational models. In addition, the Panel on Theological Education, which administers an endowment trust given by Veatch in the 1970s, was able to provide an additional $25,000 to each school above the $190,000 they were expecting. This provides some short term relief to each school -- along, I hope, with a desire by all involved to be sitting on the same side of the table, looking together at the problem.

Next post: Do the UUA's "ENDS" violate congregational polity?


OD/HR Min said...

Thanks for this posting. Please see my comments at

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry I don't have time to look everywhere on your blog to find this: Why do you and the board dislike UU schools so much? Why wouldn't you support our schools? Why do you claim to care about congregational polity when you make so many decisions that hurt our congregations and their members. Then you expect our churches to pay more than their fair share by paying for congregants who don't want to pay their dues?