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When a minister experiences considerable conflict or a difficult parting with a congregation or other institution, Rule 23 of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee Rules calls for a team from Ministries and Faith Development (MFD) to ask that minister to participate in a process of assessment. Currently the members of the Review Team include the Director of Ministries and Faith Development, the Transitions Director, the Professional Development Director, and the Director of Congregational Life.
What constitutes such a difficult parting is clear in some cases—a negotiated settlement or a vote to terminate—and more complicated in others. In general, the assessment process is requested when the stress on the minister, the lay leadership, or both has been high. In cases where the minister's emotional state appears raw; when serious issues of ministerial ethics, effectiveness, or emotional health have arisen; or where repeated negotiations have occurred, the minister is placed on hold for settlement until the assessment process has been concluded. In some cases the minister may be allowed a modified hold during the assessment process, which allows for interim, part-time, or contract ministry positions. If at any time the minister wishes to contest being placed on hold for settlement, the minister has a right to request a Fellowship Review before the Ministerial Fellowship Committee.
The assessment process serves to help both the minister and MFD to:
The assessment process does not presume that the minister was to blame for the event. Rather, it encourages the minister to identify his or her part in the situation, in order to better understand his or her ministry in light of it, and, together with MFD, to arrive at decisions about the minister's appropriate service in the future. Correspondingly, it is the task of UUA District staff and the successor interim minister to encourage the congregation's lay leaders to examine their role in the conflict.
Once a staff member from MFD is made aware of a conflicted ending to a ministry, the Review Team communicates to assign a contact person from the team. Most often this will be the Transitions Director, but for ministers in Preliminary Fellowship the Professional Development Director will act in this role. In some cases the Director of Ministries and Faith Development acts as the liaison, particularly if there is the possibility of a formal complaint to the MFC.
The staff member reviews the situation from the minister's point of view, and may consult with District staff and, with the minister's permission, the UUMA Good Offices person and other colleagues able to add their own perspectives to what happened. The goal is to assist the minister in arriving at as full an understanding of what happened as possible, for the sake of the minister's deepest possible learning and best possible determination about the future direction of one’s ministry.
As part of the initial assessment process the minister is asked to write a reflective essay. The essay should examine the minister's part in the rupture of relationships and other events that led to the ministry's end while showing insight into the perspectives of those leaders with whom the minister may be in disagreement. Empathy being an essential tool of ministry, the essay should aim to represent the views of antagonists in ways that reflect their self-understanding. In addition, the minister is asked to step back from the recent experience and to take a broader look, to see if similar patterns have appeared under similar circumstances, to assess what has been learned, and to give some sense of what may be the way forward now. The essay should be no more than 1500-2000 words, and may be submitted to any member of the Review Team.
Exit interviews facilitated by district staff are also required for review.
When the essay and exit interviews are received, they are entered into the ministerial files maintained by MFD. These materials are considered confidential to the Review Team, and if necessary, the MFC. The Review Team meets, discusses their impressions of the essay, and develops any recommendations they may wish to make to the minister for additional work, such as participation in a career assessment program, individual or group therapy, spiritual direction or other programs of continuing education, and/or clearance for settlement, perhaps with certain restrictions or cautions. The Review Team may require further assessment from a forensic psychiatrist.
The assessment process takes time, usually three to four months, sometimes more. In part, the timing is related to the minister's ability and desire to move ahead. Taking time at this point for reflection and healing work is a good investment.
If work at a career center is recommended, the cost has been about $1,400. MFD will pay 50% of that amount, which is usually billed directly to the attention of the Ministerial Development Director. The minister is responsible for any requested deposits and his or her share of the overall cost. If a forensic psychiatry review is required, the cost can exceed $5000. Generally the minister’s portion of this cost is capped at $1400, with MFD funding the balance. Other financial support is available, if needed, for appropriate counseling, spiritual direction, or continuing education programs.
A minister not in agreement with the Review Team’s recommendations should discuss the matter with the Director of MFD. If dissatisfaction continues, the matter should be raised with the Executive Committee of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee. The Transitions Director will not send to congregations in search the name or Ministerial Record of a minister on hold for settlement and will forward to the Ministerial Fellowship Committee the name of a minister who pursues the search process while on hold.
The usual outcome of the assessment process for the minister is greater clarity about one’s ministerial skills, interests, and direction, and the awareness and tools to succeed in future ministry endeavors.
For more information contact mfddirector @ uua.org.
This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.
For more information contact ministerialdevelopment @ uua.org.
This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations.
Please consider making a donation today.
Last updated on Wednesday, November 20, 2013.
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