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Rev. Kristen Schmidt—December 2011

MFC Liaison to Candidates Report

Dear candidates for the ordained ministry,

It’s been a few weeks since I served as a liaison for the December 2011 meeting of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee. It was both a pleasure and privilege to serve in this capacity, but I’m grateful to have had some time to process the experience.

Like many past candidate liaisons whose letters I’ve read, I entered my own interview feeling a mixture of excitement, vulnerability, and absolute terror. I felt excited about finally reaching this stage in the process, vulnerability about the areas in which I knew I needed to grow, and terror that the Ministerial Fellowship Committee might not sense inside me the overwhelming, guiding call I felt to the Unitarian Universalist ordained ministry. It was a time of extreme focus and anxiety for me, but I now recall it gratefully, especially when I encounter situations in ministry that challenge my sense of adequacy and confidence.

More than anything else, my experience as a liaison strengthened my respect for the members of the committee and my faith in this sometimes frustrating process. Committee members sacrifice their time, energy, and vacation days each time they serve on a panel, yet my sense was that they have each freely chosen to do so out of real devotion to Unitarian Universalism. I was profoundly moved by the genuine compassion and reverence with which the committee members approached work they knew would change both the lives of ministerial candidates and the shape of our faith, and I had no doubt that the Spirit was present and moving in all of the committee’s deliberations.

Given my experiences, here’s my advice to those preparing to see the committee soon:

  1. Deepen your spiritual practice. The committee is looking to experience you as an authentic and well-formed minister, so take adequate time and space to ground yourself in a spiritual practice that feeds and strengthens you. Whether it’s prayer, meditation, painting, or gardening, this foundational practice will continue to serve you well in ministry after your interview.
  2. Rehearse how you’ll handle questions that stump you. If you don’t know the answer to one or two questions, don’t freak out! Always err on the side of honesty; acknowledge that you don’t know the answer, but offer anything you do know that relates to the question (“I don’t remember the exact date of the Cambridge Platform, but I know it is the historical document that …” or “I can’t recall the exact process for proposing an AIW, but I know I can find it in…”).
  3. Do a mock. If your packet contains typos or red-flags, if you haven’t reviewed your UU history or world religions well enough, if your sermon is too long/boring/incoherent, or if you present in an awkward way, it’s far better to hear about it from your mock panel. Be sure to include people you don’t know well on your mock since their feedback will less likely be clouded by affection for you. Also, try and schedule your mock for a few weeks before the real thing so you have time to integrate their feedback into your final preparations.
  4. Practice preaching. Many seasoned preachers find it more challenging to preach a good 10 minute sermon than a 20 minute one. Given that, I recommend keeping things as simple as you can. Try to keep any reading you plan to use in your sermon short (two to four sentences), stick closely to your main point, and remember that the line between prophetic witness and simply being insensitive can sometimes be very fine. Preach about something you are passionate about and practice with a few groups of listeners.
  5. Remember, you are more than a number. It seemed to me that the committee was genuinely pained when they felt they had to give a candidate anything other than a I or II. Nevertheless, each category was assigned after thoughtful, compassionate, and often lengthy discussion in which the committee sought to balance concern for each candidate, their ministry, and our faith. If you are unhappy with the category you receive, take time to grieve and be angry, and then please do seek the guidance and counsel of the Ministerial Credentialing Office. All Category Is still have growth to do, and all Category IIIs possess so much potential for ministry that the committee looks forward to their return. However your interview goes, whatever category you receive, no number could possibly encapsulate all of who you are and all that the Spirit can do in and through you.

Know that there is great cloud of collegial witnesses who will be keeping you and all of the interviewing candidates in their thoughts and prayers. Along with the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, I look forward to welcoming you into fellowship with the Unitarian Universalist ordained ministry.

Blessings and the best of luck to you!