Retirement means different things to different people. For some ministers, retirement means ceasing from remunerative work in one's later years, and beginning to draw upon Social Security benefits, retirement plan assets, and other savings. For others, retirement means departing a particular (usually longer) ministry in one's later years, with plans to continue to do shorter-term, usually interim, ministry, or perhaps consulting or related work. And for others, retirement means leaving the ministry entirely in one's middle years, with plans to make a living in some other way.
Since retirement takes a variety of forms, the Ministries and Faith Development Staff Group offers the following definition of retirement as an aid to decision-making:
Retired status is available to ministers who are at least 65 years of age who wish to indicate that they have completed their careers, although not necessarily their ministries. Ministers may retire and still work professionally, usually in interim ministries or other ministries. Ministers planning to continue full-time ministry in other settings are asked to hold off declaring themselves retired until they more nearly fit the description of “ceasing remunerative work in one's later years.” To be considered retired, the minister must declare his or her intention to retire to Ministries and Faith Development.
Retirement does not affect fellowship status.
How to Retire
- When a minister decides to retire, he or she must submit the Intent to Retire Form to Ministries and Faith Development. This form is required for recognition in the Service of the Living Tradition; simply telling Transitions Office staff, via email or otherwise, is not sufficient.
- Early in the process of considering retirement, a minister should contact the Office of Church Staff Finances for information relating to pension and retirement benefits, including the service gratuity.*
*Note: The service gratuity is provided to ministers age 67 and over with at least twenty-one years of service. You do have to retire to qualify. Read more information.
The normal retirement age is 65. Early retirement may be elected at age 55, or age 50 for ministers with the approval of Ministries and Faith Development. There is no mandatory retirement age for either Unitarian Universalist (UU) ministers or non-ordained employees. A minister who elects early retirement and later seeks resettlement in a permanent full-time ministry shall not be eligible for further service benefits beyond those already earned prior to retirement (MFC Rule 29).
Retirement Due to Disability
A minister who is in full fellowship may retire at any time as a result of a long-term disability.
Recognition of Retirement
The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) recognizes the retirement of ministers in its Fellowship annually at the Service of the Living Tradition held at General Assembly (GA). All ministers retiring prior to May 15th of a particular year will be acknowledged at that year's service provided they complete and submit the Intent to Retire Form.
Retiring ministers are listed in the “Milestones” column of the UU World magazine. Retirements are announced as notification is received. Please submit the Intent to Retire Form to ensure you will be recognized appropriately.
Retiring ministers will receive official recognition of their new status from the Ministerial Fellowship Committee.
Congregations benefiting from long and meritorious service concluded in a minister's later years may wish to grant emeritus/emerita status to the minister. Such status can be bestowed only by congregations, and like other honorifics, it is most meaningful when reserved for an indication of special regard. The UUA Bylaws (Art. IV, Sec. 4.8[b]) award General Assembly voting status to ministers emeriti/ae in Fellowship who have received the award at least six months before the GA by vote of the congregation in which they were previously settled. For this reason it is important that congregations notify Ministries and Faith Development when an emeritus title has been bestowed. Please see the Emeritus/Emerita Designation page for more information.
On Being the Former Minister
The Guidelines of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA) (Art. IX, Sec. C, D & E) mandate that the greatest sensitivity and care be exercised in the relations between the retired minister, the congregation and the new incumbent minister. Traditionally it has been the responsibility of the former minister to “give way” when a collision was imminent. More fruitful, however, is the establishment of public, covenantal relationships, first among the former minister and the congregation, and then, once the settled incumbent arrives, among all three parties.
It falls to the retiring minister, in the last three to six months of her or his ministry, to perform the first movement of a “ministry of succession” from which the later movements may smoothly flow. What greater satisfaction can there be, five or ten years later, than to look upon a thriving congregation and a thriving ministry, with the consciousness that one's own ministry was, if not its cornerstone, a part of the foundation?
Please see the UUMA website for additional information on guidelines.
Another resource about leaving well: https://www.congregationalconsulting.org/six-rules-for-letting-go-when-you-retire/