Rev. Anya Sammler-Michael—March 2008
MFC Liaison to Candidates Report
Dear Fellow Future Colleagues,
It is a great privilege to share my experiences and considerations at this penultimate point in your progress toward an ordained ministry. Deep convictions and an ability to meet challenges have enabled you in your progress. Without these aspects of character you would not have progressed to this point in your formation. You have made it here—and you embody your ardent call. It lives in your strengths and in your doubts—as no one who strives with honesty does so without doubts. And it is with both strengths and doubts that you will meet with the Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC).
It is my humble opinion that you should be ashamed of neither, but as you will, when you minister to a congregation or community, use your opportunity with the committee to lead with your strengths. Know your strengths well, and if and when you fumble for words or assurance, find them, rest in them, and speak from the confidence they empower.
I have one regret from my interview with the committee as a candidate for the ministry. My respect for the committee’s leadership—for their learned experience both as lay and professional ministers—led me to doubt my own strengths. I saw myself in relation to them, as lesser, and needing to prove my worth. Yes they were (and will be when you meet with them) a gifted body of individuals, charged with a love for our movement and a hope to preserve the dignity of the office of ordained clergy, but their stature is not reason to doubt your own. If anything they stand as a representation of the beauty that is our movement—a movement that lives through the solid and enduring ministries that our people offer, rather than in bloodless creeds and graying histories.
Indeed, meeting with the Ministerial Fellowship Committee is an opportunity to encounter our movement, with respect to its ageless affirmations and its consistent progression. The committee represents in its questions and hopes a desire to recommend ministers to fellowship who are both prepared with (not perfected in) the ageless qualities of integrity, empathy, and wisdom, and the transient skills to meet the specific challenges of our day.
One of these transient skills is the ability to engage the specific work of anti-racism and anti-oppression. While the work itself is connected to what I consider a universal striving for justice, it is also intrinsically connected to a very specific and immediate understanding. As a result it is important for a candidate to come prepared with an awareness of the tender, mutable, and charged relationship that is evolving between our current movement’s grasping for justice based ministries and our association’s history of racism and oppression. Concretely, I found as a liaison, that concise and prepared personal testimony as well as pity ethical and theological reflections were well received, while sermons and long drawn out responses, regarding the same issues of racism and oppression, garnered concern, and yielded trains of follow up questions.
This advice translates and speaks to the interview process as a whole—come prepared. I found that I studied less to know the specific dates, names and places, and more to know that I would bring my best self to the committee. Surely the gained knowledge is an unmistakable blessing, but nothing is more important than the confidence that you have prepared to the best of your ability. Do a mock interview. Make certain that it is filled not with your closest friends and allies but with ministers and lay leaders whom you respect, but that know little of you. This will ready you to respond to the unexpected, as no matter of preparation will prevent all surprises.
You may know many of the members on your MFC panel—you may be surprised to find that your Liaison to Candidates is indeed a fellow seminarian or friend, or you may discover that you have never met nor spoken to any of them. Either way I feel secure in my right to suggest that they will serve you with the highest degree of integrity. I was profoundly moved by the weight of consideration that they (and we, as I was expected to lend my considerations) engaged with each candidate. You have heard, I imagine, that they are “rooting for you” and while I believe this to be the case it is not easy to ‘feel it’ as the interview ensues. Maybe it will be easier for you to look around the room and notice that you are all gathered for a common purpose—to preserve and sustain the dignity of the institution of the Unitarian Universalist ordained clergy, and that you each share the common purpose to live this faith as best as you know how.
We Unitarian Universalists live and thrive in processes, not in outcomes. This is our beauty; it is also our challenge—as it is the way of our world to judge the outcome as supreme. As you prepare, as you shake off (and with) your doubts, and as you preach to and speak with the MFC, use the process. It can be your opportunity to grow your ministry. I admit that while I know this fully in retrospect, I knew it only in part as a candidate. Maybe this is the case for us all, and no ‘knowing’ words can deter the trembling of preparation. Regardless I welcome you to see this process in the best light possible—imperfect (as all works of human hand and mind)—yet replete with the challenges that can serve you in your formation. May your work in preparation for the MFC fulfill you, and serve to sustain you, in the similarly trying and beautiful work of ministry.