The title Minister (or Religious Educator) Emeritus (masc.) / Emerita (fem.) / Emerit (neutral) is granted to honor a religious professional's long and meritorious service to a particular congregation. Due to our congregational polity, and more directly because the service has been to that particular congregation, only that congregation can bestow this honor. The honor may be given years after their service has concluded.
The procedure requires a vote of the congregation to confer Emerita/Emeritus/Emerit status upon a minister or according to your congregation's bylaws and policies (see below for policy examples).
This honor may also grant the person eligibility to vote at General Assembly if they are in fellowship with the UUA or are properly credentialed, in the case of religious educators. (See Sidebar)
Note: Family members are not included as part of an emeritus honor. Their relationship to the congregation already comes with informal power and needs a different, intentional accountability structure.
Well-Boundaried Discernment Practices
Because conferring Emerit/a/us status is a lifetime honor and can grant governance priviledges in the national Association, taking the time for a good process will give the decision the importance that it deserves.
Many congregations are anxious to honor a retiring minister immediately with Emerit/a/us status. But not all congregants may be ready to bestow this honor during the stages of fresh grief that can be elicited by the departure. Waiting a year or two gives the congregation a chance to honor the person twice, one with retirement celebration, then again with the emerit/a/us status.
Normally this process begins with a suggestion by the congregation's Board of Trustees or by recommendation of a group within the congregation. Sometimes a former minister who served other congregations and then retired may inquire about the possibility.
Once the idea is under consideration, offer listening circles, cottage meetings, or some other low-pressure way for members to talk about the idea. This allows the congregation to resolve any concerns and move to a congregational vote with full hearts.
We recommend that the action be taken by vote of the congregation as a whole during a formal meeting of the church membership. A formal resolution prepared for a congregational vote is one way to express the congregation's appreciation, and to create a permanent record of the decision. Consult your congregation's bylaws and policies for specific requirements for a congregational vote.
Sample Policy Language
Note: Determining the qualifications and procedures for conferring Emerit/a/us status before having an actual candidate will provide guidance and clarity when the opportunity arises -- and could help to avoid potentially awkward situations where an unqualified candidate is proposed.
Policy: The title Minister Emeritus or Minister Emerita may be granted to honor ministers who have served for a minimum of ## years, with devotion, skill, grace, and/or distinction. (Note: Develop your own list of qualities.) Qualified candidates must be in good standing with the UUA and UUMA, are fully retired from active service, and have not served our congregation in the previous ## months. Candidates may be nominated by the current board, or by a petition of 10% of the congregation's voting members.
Procedure: There will be at least # opportunities for comment by voting members (e.g. listening session, cottage meetings, world cafe), at least # weeks before a congregational vote.
Celebrate the New Relationship
After an affirmative congregational vote, the ceremony to confer this tribute is usually a simple one in which a citation is given with a statement expressing the wish of the congregation to confer the title of Minister Emeritus or Minister Emerita. Since this is an honorary title, the occasion is usually an informal one unlike the formal ceremonies of ordination or installation. The style of ceremony varies, from one woven into the Sunday morning service, to a planned Sunday afternoon gathering with a reception for the minister's family, congregation and guests. You may wish to invite a UUA representative to the ceremony. Contact invited guests as far in advance as possible.
A gift is traditionally given by the congregation as a token of appreciation. In the past before congregations provided pension contributions, they might provide a sizeable cash contribution. Today, it can be anything that shows the congregation’s affection and gratitude for the minister. Possibilities include a book of remembrances, a chalice, a picture of the congregation, cash, or something else that is important to the relationship.
Other decisions you will want to make concern listing of minister emerita/us on church letterhead, directory, and in the congregation's listing in the UUA Directory. You might want to have a discussion of what relationship the minister emeritus/a will have with the congregation and with new ministers in the future.
The Unitarian Universalist Ministers' Association (UUMA) publishes Collegial Guidelines which define appropriate reciprocal relationships between settled and emeritae/i ministers. UUMA Guidelines explicitly state that the expectations of former ministers and retired ministers with former congregations apply whether the minister is emerita/us or not. The UU Retired Ministers and Partners Association (UURMAPA) also offers guidelines and best practices.
The honorary title implies no financial relationship between a former minister and the congregation.
Update Your Records and Follow Up with the UUA
Not only is it important for proper notation to be made in your church records, but it is equally important that you send the UUA a formal notice so the information can be entered into the minister's file record here at headquarters. This notification is vital both to the Ministries and Faith Development Staff Group and to the Minister Emeritus/Emerita. It ensures that he/she receives the UUA General Assembly delegate status credentialing through your congregation.
Please send one of the following:
1) A letter on official letterhead indicating the name of the honored minister and the date the honor was officially bestowed
2) A copy of the meeting minutes indicating the official vote to confer the status of Minister Emeritus/Emerita.
You may send the document electronically (highly preferred) to MFD Executive Administrator at email@example.com OR via regular mail to:
Ministries and Faith Development
ATTN: Executive Administrator
24 Farnsworth Street
Boston, MA 02210