Call and Response: Journeys in UU Lifespan Faith Development

Outside the (Question) Box: Sharing Ministry in Worship

By Chris Buja

Soon after I started attending my first Unitarian Universalist congregation, in Corpus Christi, TX, I was introduced to the concept of “shared ministry.” Shared ministry recognizes that ministry—all that is done to fulfill the religious mission of a congregation—is a shared endeavor of the professional ministers and religious educators, along with lay leaders. Those in professional and lay roles bring important skill sets, experience, and expertise to a congregation’s ministries; success is found in the synergy of those leaders and all that they bring.

When shared ministry is a given, one can be oblivious to its happening. This was the case for me during a recent worship service at the congregation I now serve. An example of shared ministry between an ordained minister and a non-ordained religious educator was on display and it did not dawn on me until it was pointed out to me after the fact!

Some of you may be familiar with “question box” worship, where those in attendance may submit questions to which the minister may respond. This can be a risky venture for the minister, not knowing in advance what questions will come up. The questions may range from grand questions on the meaning of life to the more personal such as, “what is your favorite book?” (Though in this case there was some “vetting” of questions just before they were placed in the question box.)

My minister, Rev. Jennifer Kelleher, had facilitated such a service a couple of years ago and planned for another one in early February. But this time, she suggested we BOTH respond to questions, especially those posed by children and youth in the earlier part of service, before they left for classes.

I thought it was a great idea, one that also, conveniently, took care of planning the time for all ages component! Again, I did not realize at first that we would be modeling shared ministry in that the minister was “sharing the pulpit” with the religious educator and welcoming the input I would have on profound religious questions. Perhaps it did not strike me as noteworthy because the minister and I have had a collaborative working relationship from the start, and this congregation has a solid history of staff team collaboration as well as professional/lay partnerships.

You can see video footage on YouTube of Rev. Jennifer and me responding together to questions in our worship service. I hope it will be a useful example for those of you looking to explore shared ministry.

And I wonder if, for some, exploring shared ministry is a necessity. In today’s changing religious landscape, ordained ministers, for all of their many years’ of education and experience, are less often viewed as a faith community’s sole source of religious/spiritual answers. Moreover, after the service as I reviewed the many more questions we did not have time to answer (though I plan to, via other means), it occurred to me that not only would responses by ordained and non-ordained professionals be appropriate, but also answers from those in attendance. Imagine a service with intermittent opportunities for congregants to turn to their neighbors and share their responses with one another. Such may be a welcome, contemporary expression of our UU emphasis on the “prophethood and priesthood of all believers!”

Next Steps!

A "Wonder Box," often used in Time for All Ages, became the Question Box for this worship service (photo above).

Read the 2013 report from the Unitarian Universalist Shared Ministry Task Force.

Read about Unitarian Universalist Governance, Polity, and Shared Ministry on the UUA website.

A 2015 report from the Pew Research Center, "America’s Changing Religious Landscape," discusses formal and informal ministry roles in faith communities today.

About the Blogger

Chris Buja, Director of Lifespan Faith Development for the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Somerset Hills in Somerville NJ, is currently working toward professional credentialing as a Unitarian Universalist religious educator. When not engaged in various shared ministry adventures, Chris enjoys running. And when not running, he and his wife Melanie can be found “running” after their two boys, Ryan and Kyle!