Fitness Review

How does the Fitness Review process work?

A Brief Review of United Church of Christ Oversight Proceedings

United Church of Christ clergy hold their authorization for ministry in the Association where their local church membership is held or, if the Conference is functioning as the Association, in the Conference where their local church membership is held. Association or Conference Committees on Ministry (CoM) oversee the authorization for ministry.

The Manual on Ministry (MOM) of the United Church of Christ outlines four proceedings available to a CoM for oversight of authorized ministers (see Section 8, pages 4 and 9).

Periodic Support Consultations and Situational Support Consultations provide nurture and support to authorized ministers. They are a “… deliberate and intentional effort to identify, build up, and strengthen those God has called into authorized ministries in the church.”

Information Reviews and Fitness Reviews are ecclesiastical reviews. As such, they are used to “… ensure that those engaged in ministry embody faithful witness to, and extension of, the ministry of God in Jesus Christ,” and are accountable for the ministry they carry out on behalf of the church.

Information Reviews verify “that all authorized ministers continue to meet the basic standards for authorization.”

Fitness Reviews are initiated in order “… to determine whether an authorized minister continues to be fit for the ministry for which he or she is authorized.” The CoM first determine that the authorized minister has standing in the Association. Then, if the concern raised has merit, whether it would call into question that authorized minister’s continued fitness for ministry.

A Fitness Review is meant to guarantee that concerns about a pastor’s ministry are taken “… seriously and considered in depth, and that decisions and resulting actions rendered are just, fair, merciful and compassionate for all concerned.”
The Initial Concern

When a concern about an authorized minister’s fitness for ministry is raised, it is reported to the Conference Minister, who will receive the information and draft a redacted case of the complaint that is presented to the Association’s Committee on Ministry (CoM). The CoM then determines whether the concern raised, if found to be true, does, in fact, raise a question about that authorized minister’s continued fitness for ministry in and on behalf of the United Church of Christ. If so, the CoM votes to begin a fitness review and refer the matter to the Unified Fitness Review Committee (UFRC). By their participation in the UFRC process, the Association CoM has already agreed that they will accept the outcome of a UFRC decision without further investigation or additional vote.

What is a Unified Fitness Review Committee?

The South Central Conference Unified Fitness Review Committee (UFRC) is composed of two members from each association in the conference whose function is to handle fitness reviews on behalf of an Association Committee on Ministry (CoM). The UFRC’s responsibility begins from the time the CoM votes that a raised concern is a question of fitness, continues through the final disposition of the fitness review, and includes the implementation and monitoring of any program of growth that may result from a disciplinary outcome.

The Fitness Review Process

The UFRC handles the rest of the fitness review process, interviewing people with relevant information, meeting with the person who raised the concern (PRC) and the minister in question (MIQ), adjudicating the fitness review, developing and monitoring a program of growth (if necessary), and adjudicating the final outcome of the fitness review following that program of growth.

Programs of Growth

Fitness reviews may result in disciplinary outcomes that require a program of growth. The program of growth is developed and monitored by the UFRC, who also re-examine, reaffirm, or terminate standing following programs of growth. These outcomes are shared with the relevant association COM.

Can a decision be appealed?

Any appeal of the process must be made within 10 days of the UFRC decision. It must be submitted in writing to the Association Moderator where the authorized minister has standing. Only the process may be appealed, not the outcome. Only the authorized minister whose fitness was reviewed may seek an appeal of the review process.

When was the UFRC adopted?

The South Central Conference and all four of the Associations adopted the UFRC model in 2021.

Who provides support to the UFRC?

The Conference Minister staffs and supports the UFRC. One of their tasks is to be attentive to the fitness review process itself, ensuring the UFRC acts in accordance with the Manual on Ministry and any additional conference polices related to fitness reviews. Another task is to serve as the process guide and information liaison for the ministry setting. The overall role is to explain and interpret the process of the fitness review and to advocate for the faithful implementation of that process. The Conference Minister has voice but no vote on the UFRC.

Why have a Unified Fitness Review Committee?

The process of discerning fitness for ministry is often difficult and time-consuming. Having a UFRC creates the opportunity for our associations to identify gifted individuals who offer concentrated focus and expertise in this process, and provides confidence that a capable group of trained and respected volunteers are always prepared to respond to a concern. It also diminishes the overall workload of each Association’s CoM, allowing them to focus their energies on supporting Members in Discernment, authorized ministers, and local congregations within their association. A UFRC also reduces the likelihood of conflicts-of-interest.

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