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Rev. Jennifer Emrich—March 2008

MFC Liaison to Candidates Report

When I began seminary as a Unitarian Universalist (UU) I was told quite clearly by both my Christian professors and fellow UU students that I had better be prepared to “jump through hoops” for the Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC). I had clear aspirations, and two kids to feed, so there was never any question in my mind that whatever it took was whatever I was going to do, and as quickly as humanely possible. My view of the MFC was neither positive nor negative—the MFC was not personal, it was a force, like the wind and the tides.

What I can tell you, now that I have sat with the MFC as a Candidate Liaison, is this: The MFC is comprised of Unitarian Universalist ministers and lay leaders doing sacred work with great integrity, and they WANT you to succeed. Nothing would have made the panel I sat in on for five days happier than to have given a “1” to every Candidate who came before them. They are the gatekeepers, yes, but they are also the Welcoming Committee. Follow the standards and guidelines that have been set and reinforced over the years, show yourself to be a person who does sacred work with great integrity, and you will find yourself welcomed with open arms by this incredibly serious, but warm group of people.

So, if this is true, why don’t folks always make it through the first time around? Here are a few things you can be sure will absolutely, positively, deter you from getting a “1” and make your life, and the life of the members of the MFC, difficult on your big day:

  1. Preach a sermon written for some other audience at some other time. I can’t tell you how many candidates made this mistake. Don’t leave your sermon prep until the last minute. Think about who the individual members of the MFC are, the work that they are doing for those 3-5 days, and what message you might have that speaks to them. Then deliver it with humor, humility, and a clear speaking voice. You’re a minister—preach to the congregation at hand.
  2. Submit an incomplete packet and have excuses for why you did so. Those reading lists they’re asking for?—those are NOT optional, nor is any other piece of information requested on those extensive forms, essays and areas of competency. If there’s something you can’t fill out, you’re not ready, and the MFC will, regretfully, tell you so.
  3. Skip your anti-racism, anti-oppression work. There’s a difference between spending some time in a street ministry for a few months and doing the deep soul work to own your own complicity in our racist, sexist, homophobic, classist society. The MFC is not approving you just for your part of the world, however big or small it may be, they are declaring your right to minister to any congregation in the country—be sure you can own who you are, where you come from, what lenses you wear, and how you’ll compensate for all that as a religious leader to a diverse congregation in a national religious movement dedicated to anti-oppression ministry.
  4. Minimize your religious education preparation. Youth and children are important to our movement, and to the health and vitality of any church community. It IS wonderful that you can teach Cakes for the Queen of Heaven with your eyes closed, and that you’ve turned one of your New Testament classes into a Bible Study for UUs, but adult religious education is not enough. Ministers need to be viable resources for their professional and volunteer religious educators, to help direct the education and worship for children and youth, and minister effectively to all ages. Immerse yourself in religious education for young people at some point in your preparation process, and be able to report on what you find there clearly and with conviction.

Good luck, to all of you, as you strive and study and change. The MFC is waiting, patiently, seriously, and with gentle humor, to welcome you into the professional ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.