Lay Ministry

Everyone has gifts to share with their faith community and the wider world. Unitarian Universalists (UUs) understand ministry as the way we share our spiritual gifts and encourage others to share their own, connecting with what is most meaningful in life. Ordained ministers, or clergy, often have the most visible kind of ministry, but other kinds of professional and volunteer ministry are just as important. The lay ministry tradition in Unitarian Universalism is long and varied, and this page gives examples of the range of lay ministry training and certification programs available.

As the economic reality for professional ministry changes with the shifts going on in American religion and UU congregations, it is as important as ever to explore new forms of ministry that can train and equip leaders to share their gifts with the faith communities of today and those of tomorrow.

Certification Programs

Central East Region Commissioned Lay Ministry Program

Starting in 1974, the Ohio-Meadville District (now part of the Central East Region) has certified and, in collaboration with home congregations, commissioned congregational lay leaders as lay ministers (CLMs). Commissioned Lay Ministers serve in various roles in their home congregations, as well as beyond their congregations in the local community. CLM candidates must complete a series of requirements that includes: receiving congregational sponsorship, being mentored by a UU minister, completing a reading list, committing to a code of ethics, submitting letters of reference, and creating a covenant with their home congregation’s minister. After commissioning, the CLMs serve for an initial 3-year term, with ongoing evaluation and possibility of renewal. Currently, the program is expanding beyond Ohio-Meadville into the rest of the Central East Region.

UU Society of Community Ministries

A Unitarian Universalist movement of lay ministers and ordained clergy committed to promoting a broad spectrum of healing and social justice ministries, the UUCSM believes that only through many diverse forms of ministry can we heal the broken, create justice, and live in harmony with the spirit of life. The UUSCM holds a vision of a larger ministry that sees the world as its parish, and is developing a lay community minister certification program.

Canadian Unitarian Council Lay Chaplaincy

“Since 1971, the Canadian Unitarian Council has had a Lay Chaplaincy program which provides training and support to lay members of our congregations who are willing and able to officiate at rites of passage including (but not limited to) weddings, child dedications and memorial services. Our lay chaplains are pleased to provide this outreach service to those who want a religious ceremony. In congregations without professional ministry, lay chaplains provide rites of passage to members as well as the public.”

First UU Church of Nashville

As an excellent example of congregationally-based lay ministry programs, FUUN’s website notes that “Lay Ministers are volunteers from the congregation who are trained in compassionate listening and caring. They are available to support those who would welcome a visit or who are experiencing difficult circumstances or times of transition. Lay Ministers may visit members who are ill at home or in the hospital; support those who are going through a major life transition or personal crisis; maintain contact with those unable to attend church due to illness or disability; support family and friends involved in care giving; comfort the bereaved; provide support that is ongoing; assist with spiritual support; and help a person find additional resources they need.”

Academic Programs

Masters of Arts in Lay Community Ministry

Meadville Lombard Theological School offers a Masters of Arts in Leadership Studies with a concentration in Lay Community Ministry. It is a new degree that was designed for “lay leaders who wish to pursue a seminary degree that leads to a career in paid or voluntary religious leadership other than ordained parish ministry. This 18 month MA course of study will provide students with a deeper foundation in theology, the skills to engage with others in multi-faith work, and the credibility and authority to lead within the broader faith-based community. An innovative low-residency requirement creates a focused living-and-learning environment. Students undertake content-rich academic work from a distance and travel to Chicago four times a year for interactions with Meadville faculty.”

Certificate in UU Studies

Starr King School for the Ministry’s Certificate in Unitarian Universalist Studies offers variety of online courses and short-term intensives UU theologies, UU history and polity. UU social justice priorities, global religious traditions, and congregational administration. Intended for lay leaders, religious educators, and certain ordained ministry candidates.