Clergy persons in the UCC receive their “authorization” from two sources. The first source is the bible. Persons come forth offering themselves for ministry because they have a “sense of call from God.” The scriptures are filled with “call” stores such as Isaiah 6, “Here am I Lord, send me.” The congregation discerns if this call appears authentic.
Our other source typically called “MOM” is the Manual on Ministry. MOM, gives us the rules of the road, in particular, are the “marks of ministry” and the whole issue of who may be authorized for ministry in the UCC.
All of the above begins in the local congregation but is ultimately managed and, if appropriate, affirmed at the Associational level by Committees on Ministry. It is important to remember that congregation, association, conference and national church are in covenant with one another. Covenant means, in my opinion, that we are “one in the Spirit” and accountable to one another for the overall aspects of our common mission. We are mutually supportive but we are not hierarchical, as each organizational entity is autonomous. Simply, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, each entity charts its own course. But the charting is not unitary but like a conversation among equal partners. Historically we have mostly agreed but there will be times when we respectfully disagree.
MESA, Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization is our national level agency overseeing the above noted. After a great deal of conversation with the various partners, MESA has brought forth a new MOM. There are many excellent improvements to the new MOM but in the area of “Licensed Ministry,” I believe we have a problem. According to the new “MOM” it is anticipated there will be no new licenses granted after 2018 (pg76). Existing LM’s would be encouraged towards full ordination.
The SCC, Associations, and Committees on Ministry are heavily invested in Licensed Ministers. Contributing factors are the preponderance of small rural churches, combined with the financial inability of many congregations to compensate a fully ordained individual at a level necessary for full benefits and the cost of amortizing student loans. Our history shows that licensed ministry is a strongly positive experience in the SCC.
The use of the term “anticipated” in MOM is no accident. The writers were aware that this would be a sensitive area and would, in fact, require a change in the constitution of the UCC. There will be no such undertaking at the Synod this summer and perhaps not in 2021. This change is not written in stone.
My recommendation is that our COM’s and Associations go on record in opposition to this proposed change. The coming Spring meetings would be a good time to do so. In turn, I will take our concerns to the appropriate officers of the UCC. We also need to remember that MOM is not a rulebook to which we must adhere in order to be UCC. Actually, MOM is a guideline for good practices and as such, is an excellent publication. The reality is that no set of policies will be a fit for all locations, contextualization is always necessary.
The heart and soul of the UCC are contained in the phrase, “That they may all be One.” The beauty of this is that we are not made one by some overbearing authority. Ours is a oneness that comes from gathering together at all levels around the table of discussion and discernment. Theologically it is called the “hermeneutical circle.” All people and organizational partners come prayerfully to the table and together in peace we courageously each speak our truth and ask God to help us to find the common denominators.
Without a doubt, we will find that common ground.
Peace and Honor,