A local seminary student has just been granted Preliminary Fellowship and has asked your congregation if you would ordain them into the UU ministry as a community minister. What is being asked of you?
Ordination into the UU ministry, in our UU polity, is solely at the discretion of congregations. Ordination is the sacred religious ritual in which a solemn covenantal vow is publicly made by the ordinand and a call to ministry is affirmed by a UU congregation. An individual becomes a member of the clergy and a UU minister based on ordination by a UU congregation and in no other way.
The model of how an ordination of an individual is affirmed and carried out by a congregation has long been based on a parish ministry model. When a congregation calls an ordained minister, there is an ritual of installation (“we are in relationship with you as our called minister”). When a congregation calls an unordained minister, there is a combination of ordination (“we affirm your call to ministry”) and installation (“we are in relationship with you as our called minister”). Both of these rituals follow a vote of the “congregation in meeting” that “backs up” the ritual.
There are several major milestones in ministerial formation for all UU ministers. These typically include: seminary, internship, Clinical Pastoral Education, acceptance into Preliminary Fellowship with the Ministerial Fellowship Committee of the UUA, ordination by a congregation, and Final Fellowship by the MFC, in that order.
Acceptance into Preliminary Fellowship by the MFC, following a successful interview with the MFC and completion of all its requirements, is the “gold standard” affirming readiness to serve in the UU ministry, and this step usually precedes ordination. In fact, MFC Fellowshipping is a requirement of all candidates who wish to serve parish ministries and have their names placed into the settlement process. It means that, in the view of the MFC, the candidate for ordination has demonstrated basic competency in the core arts and skills expected of all UU ministers. It has the same meaning for community ministers as for parish ministers: The candidate has been affirmed as ready to serve a UU ministry. However, in the case of community ministers, there is no denominational settlement process in which to participate. Every community minister must find or create his or her ministerial path and employment.
Most often, congregations elect to be guided by the MFC recommendation in whom they choose to ordain. In the case of community ministry, not all those who are ordained as a UU minister by a UU congregation have completed the MFC Preliminary Fellowship process or are seeking that. (See sidebar for more on this topic.)
Several years ago, the UUA Commission on Appraisal provided excellent guidelines for ordinations of community ministers.
Here are some questions that may help your discernment process based on these guidelines:
- Does this person already have an ongoing relationship to the congregation?
- Does this person live and serve in close proximity to the congregation?
- Does this person, if in Fellowship, have a Preliminary Fellowship mentor?
- Is this person a member of the UUMA and/or UUSCM?
- Does the congregation understand and support the community ministry (outside of a parish setting)?
- Will the “congregation in meeting” affirm the ministry of the person in a vote to ordain them?
- Will the congregational leadership provide financial and other support for the ordination itself?
- Could the ordination be a part of a regular Sunday Service? Or when will it take place?
- Will the person continue in relationship as an “Affiliated Community Minister” to the congregation?