With the Ministerial Fellowship Committee’s (MFC) new definition of UU ministry, our denomination has slipped the bonds of liberalism into the realm of dogma and creed. Continuing the implementation of the UUA Board’s objective to dismantle white supremacy culture, the MFC now demands that UU ministry “reflects commitments to anti-oppression, collective liberation, and ongoing learning.”
The Ministerial Fellowship Committee has jurisdiction over all phases of ministerial credentialing. Thus, this change to the definition of ministry effectively means that ministerial candidates MUST incorporate anti-oppression and collective liberations into their ministry. If they fail to do so, their fellowship with the UUA will be questioned. Among other things, this exposes as false the insistence of both the UUA and the MFC that they are separate and independent organizations. On the contrary. They are working together toward the same goal, the dismantling of UUism as we know it.
This demand that new ministers incorporate prescriptive beliefs and behaviors into their ministry turns liberal religion on its ear. Liberal religion encompasses diverse beliefs and practices emphasizing individual interpretation, tolerance, and critical thinking. Creedal religions demand doctrinal affirmations and personal conformity.
Liberal religion is less concerned about “how” one practices religion and more focused on the outcome of liberal religion . . . living ethically.
The Keeper of Ministry
The new definition of ministry, presented at the November 13, 2023, UUA Board of Trustees meeting, has been in the works for months. Earlier this year, the MFC’s Settlement Working Group (SWG) outlined the changes to ministry and new rules for fellowship in their January 2023 Transforming Preliminary Fellowship report.
What is striking in reading these changes to ministry is the hubris of the MFC. There is a “we alone will decide” attitude regarding the direction of UU ministry.
When the Committee determines that a candidate is qualified for Ministerial Fellowship, the Committee shall grant the candidate Preliminary Fellowship.
The Ministerial Fellowship Committee defines the parameters of ministry, determines who can be a mentor, and determines which candidates may be considered in a search process. Congregations are, thus, left to choose from only a list of “meddlesome priests.”
There is a compounding problem for congregations that self-limit their ministerial search to candidates only in “fellowship.” Those congregations have effectively surrendered their independence to the MFC. The Ministerial Fellowship Committee is an outside agency over which a congregation has no control or say in how ministers are selected, trained, vetted, or credentialed.
This MFC change to ministry is a clarion call to all UUs who pay little or no attention to the UUA. For those who believe the UUA has no influence on their congregation, you may wish to reconsider the impact on your congregation from a minister ideologically credentialed in your pulpit. If a minister is required to accept the doctrines of the UUA to be fellowshipped, then the minister will likely have to insist that individual UUs believe likewise in order to be members of their congregations.
Congregations should now reconsider any bylaw restriction they may have to require the calling of a minister in fellowship. This reconsideration is especially timely in lieu of the Guiding Principles used by the Ministerial Fellowship Committee in redefining ministry. One of those principles was to “de-center parish ministry.” The MFC de-emphasized parish ministry, knowing full well that congregations are still the basic unit of membership in the Association.
This de-centering of parish ministry from its mission to build a supply of ministers may explain the crisis in the shortfall of ministers for congregations covered in our October 12, 2023 Discussion Post. This decision to de-center also reveals the growing disconnect between the Boston-based Association and its member congregations. It may explain why UUA leadership is so keen to remove “serve the needs of its member congregations” from the Association’s Purpose in the proposed Article II language.
What To Do
There is a solution to the problems generated by the Ministerial Fellowship Committee: reclaim congregational polity. That is, congregations are autonomous and self-governing organizations that can, and should, define the criteria of ministry for their congregation.
Liberal religion requires work. The time has come for congregations to determine if the Ministerial Fellowship Committee is helping or hurting the cause of liberal religion.
Watch the November 16 Townhall Forum Video
On November 16, 2023, the Fifth Principle Project hosted a townhall meeting to discuss the proposed changes in Article II. The forum allowed UUs to understand the thoughts of their fellow UUs. We recommend that you pour another cup of coffee or a glass of wine and spend some time with UUs from across the country.
Save the 7 Principles Mailing List
We continue to encourage UUs to join the Save the 7 Principles mailing list.
If you wish to become involved in this crucial vote next year at the June 2024 Virtual General Assembly, please sign up for the Save the 7 Principles mailing list.
The Save the 7 Principles mailing list will send you occasional emails so you can be informed and, hopefully, actively engage in saving the soul of Unitarian Universalism. The Fifth Principle Project encourages its members to add their names to the Save the 7 Principles mailing list.