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Commissioned Lay Leadership: Education for Service
General Assembly, Past General Assemblies

General Assembly 2000 Event 328

The Ohio-Meadville District is twenty-four years into a "pilot program" to help train and commission lay leaders. Rev. Susan Ritchie and Ms. Barbara Duncan shared their philosophy of lay leadership commissioning to an audience drawn from across the continent.

Commissioned Lay Leaders (CLL) serve congregations with or without a settled minister in a way that meets the congregation's particular needs. Each CLL candidate enters into a relationship with a professional minister to study through a rigorous and personalized syllabus and to develop projects through which they learn their skills. Some strengthen their pastoral care skills by taking a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education, which ministers also take.

The exact duties of individual CLLs vary. Some preach sermons, lead worship, make hospital calls, and teach adult education programs. Some serve congregations which have no other religious leadership; others supplement the work of a minister. Others occasionally preach at other congregations, though the ordinary work of the CLL is to serve within her or his own congregation. CLLs serve at the will of the church board, in consultation and leadership of the minister (when there is one) and either party can end the agreement. CLLs are rarely compensated for their work.

There are currently about a dozen commissioned lay leaders in the district. The Prairie Star District has a similar program, based on the Ohio-Meadville program.

Duncan reflected on the Universalist precedents of lay leadership in general, and licensed and credential lay leadership in particular.

Ms. Barbara Beller, a commissioned lay leader from Akron, OH, was present at the meeting and described her responsibilities. She leads life-passage ceremonies, including a number of legal weddings the minister could not take. She leads non-denominational worship services in a local hospital and heads the committee that plans the services when the minister is out of the pulpit.

Rev. Susan Ritchie is minister of the Dublin Unitarian Universalist Church, Lewis Center, OH and is a member of the Commissioned Lay Leadership committee and Ohio-Meadville District Boards. Ms. Barbara Duncan is a retired certified director of Religious Education, and is the chair of the Commissioned Lay Leadership Committee.

Reported by Scott Wells.

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