There is something about going into seminary that is just nerve-wracking. There are a lot of questions like, ‘How am I ever going to do this? Who am I supposed to be in this space?’ Having friendships and collegial relationships with people who have gone through the process has helped me realize it is not impossible and to accept that it is a process. I know that I am supported and that I have ministerial colleagues who I can call upon when I have a question or need a resource.
Preparing for 21st Century Unitarian Universalism
An in care program exposes those in preparation to multiple congregational settings and prepares them for what one minister describes as “21st century Unitarian Universalism” which is dedicated to cross-congregational collaboration and support, not an older model focused on one congregation operating autonomously.
Forming Collegial Relationships
We know that collegial relationships are important keys to success for ministers at all stages of their careers. An in care pprogram gives those in preparation opportunities to practice being in relationship with colleagues.
Interacting with Multiple Congregations
Interaction with multiple congregations helps a person in preparation feel part of the larger Unitarian Universalist movement. One student was part of an in care program for her entire seminary experience and interacted with seven congregations during that time. Members from all those churches attended her ordination, and in her benediction she proclaimed, “You have raised me up. By living in covenant with me, you have journeyed with me, and here we are – together – ready to deepen and broaden our faith.”
Constructing and Articulating Theology
One seminarian observed that the relationship with his vocational advisor helped him articulate his own Unitarian Universalist convictions and how to speak without disparaging other faith traditions. This construction of his theology did not happen in the context of seminary classes; it happened in conversation with a Unitarian Universalist elder whom he trusted. What he learned has enabled him to collaborate with other faith traditions especially when doing interfaith social change work.
Exploring Expressions of Ministry
An in care program offers multiple opportunities to practice ministry and to explore various expressions of ministry. One student said she learned that there is no one right way to do ministry, and different ministers bring different strengths to congregational life and community ministry. This helped her identify her own gifts and discern how to best use them in ministry.
Understanding the Fellowship Process
Programs help students understand the overall fellowship process as well as how to navigate its steps so that their experience over time feels like formation instead of jumping through hoops. One student said that if he had not been offered guidance, he might have felt frozen from the overwhelming number of tasks to accomplish. Instead, he felt held throughout the process. Students report feeling well prepared for field education and internships, the MFC interview, and the ministerial search process.
Addressing Needs of Special Cohorts
Lifelong Unitarian Universalists
If life-long Unitarian Universalists choose to attend a multidenominational seminary an in care program helps them navigate a foreign theological culture (usually Christian) complete with all of its language and history.
One student reported that she was born and raised in a Unitarian Universalist fellowship, exposed only to that model of our faith. She selected a non-Unitarian Universalist seminary so she could learn more about the Jewish and Christian traditions that permeate Western culture. In her first year, she realized that she was culturally Unitarian Universalist but could not answer questions about what Unitarian Universalism means. She did not feel theologically Unitarian Universalist and needed to articulate her theology. She also needed help making the connections between the Jewish and Christian traditions and Unitarian Universalism. Her vocational advisors, along with other Unitarian Universalist students, helped her with these things.
New Unitarian Universalists
New Unitarian Universalists learn about our faith through experiencing multiple congregations and interacting with various ministers. They receive support as they move from a past, which may include some theological wounding, into Unitarian Universalism.
One student was raised Christian and attended a liberal Christian seminary because it was close to his home. He reported feeling alone in the classroom environment because so little Unitarian Universalism was taught by professors. He needed a community to explore Unitarian Universalist history, culture and traditions. An in care program offered him that.
More and more seminaries are offering distance learning programs. This means students take most courses online, visiting the seminary campus only occasionally for in-person gatherings or intensive course work. In these situations, students can feel isolated and alone. An in care program offers them the community and networking they miss when doing most course work online.
One student in this situation commented, “Having monthly phone contact with a vocational advisor gives me the chance to dialogue about what I am learning and describe the struggles I am facing because I am alone often lost in books and online communication. I have been able to take Unitarian Universalist courses using Google Hangout, which has worked well. When I come to campus, Unitarian Universalist students who are onsite at the seminary are generous and arrange in-person meetings so we can interact.”