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Calling a Minister: Writing Congregational Bylaws

Very few things that a congregation does affect it as greatly, or are as important, as the choice of a minister. Wonderful ministerial-congregational matches provide new life and purpose to an institution and help lead both parties well into the future. Therefore, congregations must ensure that they have a good process for selecting the committee that will present a candidate for ministry to them.

Establishing a process that will provide the best structure for this important work has two parts. One part is the selection of the Ministerial Search Committee, and the other concerns the vote to call the minister. Questions about the committee include whether the committee is appointed by the governing board, by the congregation, or through a combination; whether representation from specific subgroups in the congregation is needed or not; whether the committee should intentionally be formed to be as inclusive as possible of members of historically marginalized groups (groups based on race, affectional preference, sexual identity, class, physical challenges, and so forth); and who is eligible to run for the positions. In drafting this section of the bylaws, you may wish to consult The Settlement Handbook (available from the Unitarian Universalist Association's Department of Ministry and Professional Leadership) for suggestions on composition and size of the committee. The main question surrounding the vote is the plurality that is required to call the minister. Generally, congregations choose a higher quorum and higher affirmative vote for call than for most other issues coming for decision.

Ministerial Search Committee

Sample Provisions

Example 1: Upon notification of an immediate or future vacancy of the ministerial office, the Board shall call a Special Congregational Meeting for the purpose of electing a Ministerial Search Committee. The Board shall present a slate of seven (7) nominees and two (2) alternates. Additional nominations may be made from the floor. Elections shall be held in accordance with these bylaws. Subject to the approval of the Ministerial Candidate by the Congregation, the Committee shall negotiate an initial job description and employment contract with the candidate and present both to the Board for approval.

Example 2: In the event of a vacancy in the position of minister, a Search Committee shall be established as a Special Committee in accordance with these bylaws for the purpose of identifying, screening and bringing to the Church for consideration candidates for the position of Minister. The Search Committee shall consist of one (1) Board member and four (4) voting members. The Nominating Committee shall submit the nominees to be voted upon at a Congregational Meeting called for such purpose.

Example 3: A Ministerial Search Committee shall be elected by the Congregation when necessary. Rules and procedures concerning the committee's composition and operation shall be approved by the Congregation at a Meeting with election of the Committee in its call, with the only restriction being that employees of the Church shall not serve on the committee.

Example 4: A Ministerial Search Committee shall search out and recommend to the membership a minister for the church. The committee shall have seven (7) members, elected by a majority of the voting members at a meeting called for that purpose. The Nominating Committee shall present a slate of names for the committee. The committee shall negotiate an initial job description and terms of employment with the candidate and shall present both to the Board for approval, following approval of a candidate by the membership.

Example 5: The Board of Trustees shall appoint a Search Committee, from among the voting members of the corporation, when the position of one or both of the co-ministers is vacant. Such committee shall recommend its candidate to the Board of Trustees and the voting members.

Example 6: A Search Committee consisting of at least five (5) members shall be elected by the members at a Special Meeting. This committee shall work in cooperation with the Department of Ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Association to select a ministerial candidate. The candidate shall then be recommended to the members at a Special Meeting. The President shall call such Special Meeting for this purpose when so requested by the Chair of the Search Committee.

Quorum and Plurality of Call

Sample Provisions

Example 1: The minister shall be called upon recommendation of the Ministerial Search Committee by a four-fifths (4/5) majority of the qualified members of the society present at any meeting legally called for the purpose; quorum for such a meeting is to be constituted by forty percent (40%) of the voting members rather than twenty percent (20%) of the voting members as called for other congregational meetings.

Example 2: Election of a new Minister shall be at a Congregational Meeting called for that purpose. Election shall be by a three-fourths (3/4) vote of those voting members present and voting.

Example 3: The Minister of the Church shall be selected by ninety percent (90%) of those members voting in person or by absentee ballot at a Congregational Meeting called for such purpose. Half (1/2) of the Voting Members and Associate Members eligible to vote shall constitute a quorum at such Congregational Meeting. Any candidate considered for selection shall first have been recommended for consideration by the Congregation by affirmative approval of the Steering Committee. If a consensus of the Steering Committee cannot be reached, the President shall call for a vote of eighty percent (80%) of the Steering Committee.

Example 4: A Ministerial Search Committee shall present a ministerial candidate to the membership. At a special meeting for the purpose of calling a minister, four-fifths (4/5) of the voting members present must approve a candidate for minister.

Example 5: The minister shall be called by a two-thirds (2/3) vote of the voting members of the congregation present and voting at a regular or special congregational meeting, provided a quorum is present.

Example 6: The Ministerial Search Committee shall present a Ministerial Candidate to the membership. The candidate must be approved by a four-fifths (4/5) vote of the Voting Members present at a Special Congregational Meeting held for that purpose.

Example 7: The President shall call a special meeting for the selection of a minister when so requested by the Chair of the Search Committee. Notice of such meeting shall be given as specified in these bylaws. A quorum for such meeting is forty percent (40%) of the members, excluding Honorary Members. An affirmative vote by eighty (80%) of those present and voting by secret ballot shall be required to call a Minister.

Example 8: The minister shall be called upon recommendation of the Ministerial Search Committee by an eighty-five (85%) majority of the voting members of the society present at any meeting legally called for this purpose; quorum for such a meeting is to be constituted by forty percent (40%) of the voting members. The calling procedure above shall be suspended in the event that the congregation votes to participate in a special program requiring that a professional leader be placed for a limited period of time rather than called by the congregation.

For more information contact growthresources@uua.org.

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Last updated on Thursday, February 7, 2013.

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