Ministry & Metanoia, part 3

We are marking milestones today: milestones of ministry past and milestones of ministry future. It has been twenty years since Rev. Shannon Bernard's ministry ended. It has been two years since Cindy Davidson's ministerial internship began. She stands now on the threshold of professional ministry.

How Our Professional Ministers Come to Be

Ordination. Among us Unitarian Universalists, the power to ordain rests solely with congregations. Boston, where our Unitarian Universalist Association is headquartered, has no say in who may be ordained a Unitarian Universalist minister, apart from recognizing our congregations. A group of people that want to be a UU congregation must have 30 people sign their initial charter, and must file that charter with our Boston headquarters. But once any group is recognized as being a bona fide UU congregation, then that group has total power to make whomever it sees fit into ordained Unitarian Universalist ministers.

Fellowship. Boston exercises more control over something called Ministerial Fellowship. To be admitted into Fellowship has a number of steps.
  1. File an initial inquiry form with the Ministerial Credentialing Office.
  2. Have an interview with a fellowshipped UU minister, and file the form about that.
  3. Get accepted into a theological school, and tell the credentialing office that you have.
  4. Sign an agreement to abide by the rules and policies of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee.
  5. Sign a criminal offense disclosure form.
  6. Obtain the sponsorship of a UU congregation, and submit the form for that to the Credentialing office.
  7. Complete a full approved career assessment which will measure which sorts of careers are most suited to a person like you, and have the assessment report sent to the credentialing office.
  8. These first seven are mostly filling out forms and applications and one long series of questionnaires, and proving your competence at filing papers with the ministerial credentialing office. Cindy completed these years ago. Now we get down to the real training.
  9. Successfully complete a unit of chaplain training, called Clinical Pastoral Education. Cindy did that summer before last.
  10. Earn a Master’s of Divinity degree. Cindy received the M.Div. from Meadville Lombard Theological Seminary last month.
  11. Complete the independent reading list of about 37 books about UU history, polity, theology. As for that, we'll just say that Cindy's looking forward to some summer reading this summer.
  12. Make an appointment to see the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, submit a hefty packet of information about yourself to them, and go in person to be interviewed for over an hour by seven members of that Committee.
The MFC interview is the final step. If the interview goes well, and the first 10 have all been been successfully completed, the ministerial candidate is admitted into ministerial fellowship. Cindy has an appointment to see the Ministerial Fellowship Committee in December. I have every confidence that we shall be hearing word in December that Cindy Davidson has been admitted into preliminary fellowship.

In the usual order of things, the newly fellowshipped minister then, at some point, asks a congregation – often the first congregation they serve as minister – to confer the honor of ordination. I look forward very much to attending Cindy’s ordination ceremony, probably in the next year or two.

What Our Ministers Inherit

Come on up here, Cindy.

It is custom among Unitarian Universalists – though there is no written regulation on the subject – that the stole signifies ordination. Cindy begins serving our congregation at Mohegan Lake in September, and though she will be their minister and will be preaching twice a month, in keeping with our custom, Cindy won’t be wearing a stole on Sunday mornings until after her ordination. But today, just for this morning, we will make an exception, in recognition of our confidence in her ministry.

This stole -- the one I am wearing this morning -- is one of several that you have seen me in, signifying my role as a Unitarian Universalist minister. I told Cindy about a month ago, that on her last day I wanted to give her one of my stoles, that I would invite her to pick out whichever one she liked. Yesterday, she picked this one.

The stole is symbol of ordination, and of a long inheritance of loving and serving congregations. Whether you stand on the shoulders of giants, or on the shoulders of those of much diminished stature, if you stand on a pile of enough of them, it's apt to improve your vision of the horizon.

Ministerial stoles, as you may have noticed, are highly variable in design, style, and fabric. This particular one, I have been periodically wearing for years. It represents to me not just any ministry, but mine. And by “mine,” of course, I mean it isn’t really mine at all. It is the ministry of all of my ministers -- to me they were giants -- and all of theirs, and all of theirs. Their labors and their hearts took shape in thousands of lives, including mine. This strip of cloth represents the ministry of all the people and experiences and values that shaped me.

It is the ministry of Reverends Eugene Pickett, Duncan Howlett, Terry Sweetser, Wayne Arnason, and Mary Katherine Morn, who were my ministers in my childhood, youth, and young adulthood.

It is the ministry of Rev. Christine Robinson, who guided and taught me through my ministerial internship.

It is all the ministry that ever happened at and brought into being and form the Unitarian Universalist Community of El Paso, Texas, which saw fit to ordain me.

It is all the ministry that ever happened at and brought into being and form the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Gainesville, Florida, to which I was called from 2006 to 2013.

It is the ministry of 109 years of lay leaders and congregants of Community UU at White Plains.

It is the ministry of Reverends James Fairley and Clif Vesey and Peter Samson and Betty Baker and Shannon Bernard and Carol Huston, and five interim ministers -- the ministry which it has been my duty and honor to carry and to uphold in this congregation these last five years.

And now, Cynthia Louise Davidson, it is yours.

* * *
This is part 3 of 5 of "Ministry and Metanoia"
See also
Part 1: Marking Ministry Milestones
Part 2: Shannon
Part 4: Metanoia
Part 5: Transformed Into Ourselves, Not by Ourselves

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