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Ceremonies: “Commissioning of the Church Leaders

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a commissioning is "the act of granting certain powers or authority to carry out a particular task or duty."  In many churches there is a common misconception that the leaders of the church run things—that the Board or the Council of Chairs has all sorts of power to get things done and that everyone else essentially coasts along following the direction the leaders have set.  Some people even seem to think that the minister has this kind of authority!  This is not true, especially for us.  As a congregationally based tradition, all power in Unitarian Universalist churches comes up through the congregation and is bestowed upon the leaders—including the ordained leaders—to carry out specific service for the good of the whole.

Today, then, we take this reality seriously and formally bestow upon our chosen leaders the authority they need to carry out the works we have assigned them; this Commissioning Service, which has become an annual tradition, is an opportunity to give our blessings to the ministries these women and men will provide in the coming year and to affirm their sense of calling to the roles of service they claim as leaders. 

To be sure, there are people who give much to this church of their time and their talents whose names will not be called this morning, and there are people on this list who do things for which they are not, now, being recognized.  This service is not a replacement for our Recognition Sunday in the spring; it is not an attempt to honor all those who serve this community.  Our intent, today, is far more modest:  we seek to affirm those whom we have set apart through election at our annual meeting, those who have taken upon themselves one of the institutionally recognized roles of leadership.  Yet this, in itself, is no small thing.  These leaders need our blessing if they are to do what we have asked them to do; these people need our affirmation and our support, for they are no different than the rest of us yet they have entered into the ministries of leadership for all of our sakes.

Hear, then, the names of those elected to leadership in our congregation:

[The Church Officers, Board Members, Committee Chairs, Fundraiser Coordinators, and members of the Worship Weavers' Guild are invited, by name, to encircle the congregation.]

Minister:  These are the people we have called to serve us.  Will the Congregation please rise and join in the Service of Commissioning?

Congregation:  We, the members of this congregation, charge you to be guided in your work by the vision we express in our Unison Affirmation and by the Principles we affirm in common.

Right Side:  We charge you to affirm the dignity and worth of all persons and to champion the rights of children, youth, women, and men; straight and gay; old and young; that this might indeed be a "free church, open to all people."

Left Side:  We charge you to cherish our spiritual diversity and to help us to live together so that we are strengthened rather than divided by our religious pluralism, so that we might truly "cherish the integrity of each individual and search for truth with reason as our guide."

Right Side:  We charge you to honor our past without being bound by it, that we might be "mindful of our past [yet draw on] modern knowledge [as we] respond to the spiritual needs of persons."

Left Side:  We charge you to hold in your hearts the needs of the wider community in which we live, so that we live out our devotion to "the common good in community, nation, and world."

Minister (to the Board):  Members of the Board, you are charged with keeping sight of "the Big Picture," with holding our vision, honoring our past, and guiding us toward our future.  Are you ready and willing to accept this charge?  [We are.]

Minister (to the Chairs):  Committee Chairs, you are charged with keeping sight of your particular piece of our community's mosaic, with advocating for the needs of the area of our communal life which is your specific concern, and working with one another for the common good of the whole.  Are you ready and willing to accept this charge?  [We are.]

Minister (to the Worship Weavers):  Members of the Worship Weavers' Guild, you are charged with caring for and nurturing the worship life of this community, of weaving together the strands of our lives and of the world in which we live into a tapestry of strength, beauty, and inspiration.  Are you ready and willing to accept this charge?  [We are.]

Minister (to the Congregation):  Do you, the members and friends of this congregation, affirm these elected leaders as volunteers who need your support, your participation, and your appreciation as well as your caring and concern?  [We do.]

Congregation:  Grateful for your willingness to take on the responsibilities of leadership in our community, we affirm your calling and vow to support your ministries of leadership in every way we can.  We encourage you to take care of yourselves as you take care of us, and to remember that you are part of this community even while you lead us.

Minister:  In response to, and as a sign of, this affirmation of your call to service I follow the ancient tradition of anointing you with oil that has been blessed in the names of all that is beautiful, true, and good.  As this oil absorbs into your skin, may you absorb into your soul all the love and good wishes which surround you in this moment.  "For all that has been—thanks.  For all that will be—yes."  Blessed be.

Officers, Chairs, Worship Weavers:  We thank you for your faith in us, and vow to do our best to live up to the charge you have given us.  We promise, also, to remember that the ultimate responsibility for our church lies with all of us, for this is our home, our community.  May we all do what we can to make it a home we can be proud of.

Copyright: The author has given Unitarian Universalist Association member congregations permission to reprint this piece for use in public worship. Any reprints must acknowledge the name of the author.

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Last updated on Monday, March 25, 2013.

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