|From the Executive Director|
This month I’m doing something a little different. I’m writing a slightly different message to each of four specific groups of our members - those who are candidates, parish, community and retired. (Unfortunately we don’t yet have a way to differentiate interim from parish.) Our theme this month is collegiality. When we surveyed you last fall 58% of you agreed/strongly agreed we were doing a good job in achieving this vision; 29% of you had no opinion; and 13% disagreed/strongly disagreed that we were doing a good job. As with all of our mission/vision we continue to have work to do.
This vision statement is probably my most favorite…and definitely my most challenging. Since I’ve been your Executive Director I have had the privilege to visit every chapter at least once and spend more time with more UU ministers and candidates for ministry than probably anyone in the world. While you spend your days serving congregants, patients, customers, communities and institutions I mainly spend mine with ministers and those planning to be ministers.
How do we shape a culture of vulnerability, intimacy trust and accountability to one another? And how do we gather in covenant to meet the shared and unique needs of our diverse ministries? I spend a lot of time with a lot of people working on these questions. I will be convening our first Collegial Development Committee meeting this week to help create even better strategies and plans.
But I don’t want to spend this column detailing everything we’ve been doing to get better at this and all we are planning for the future. I want to say why it’s so important and why I need your help in doing it well.
Last Saturday I attended the ordination of our Office Assistant Allison Palm. I started to choke up on the third line of Rank by Rank as we processed into the sanctuary. I usually do that when we gather to sing this song but I cried more at this ordination than most. Partly that was because of Allison and the staff’s role in the service (Janette sang and Jennifer offered the hand of fellowship) and mainly because I was thinking of you, of us, and what it means to say yes to the call to ministry.
When I was ordained in 2000 in San Francisco I was the Assistant Minister of Administration and Membership. I worked in a congregation, a congregation that was a leader in supporting and affirming community ministry, but I didn’t plan on becoming a community minister. When I became the UUMA’s Executive Director in 2009 - and a community minister - I realized more deeply than I ever had before how much the UUMA was mainly an association for parish ministers. And I realized that we had to do more to serve every member, including community ministers.
The ministerial world is changing…and I like to think the UUMA is changing too. Not as fast as I wish, of course. More than half of the speakers at Allison’s ordination were community ministers. Over 20% of our members in active ministry identify as community ministers. We have more community ministers serving on UUMA committees and as coaches, mentors and program facilitators than ever before. And yet there is so much more we can do.
One of our challenges as a UUMA is “meeting the shared and unique needs of our diverse ministries”. This is especially true for community ministers. The main ways we gather collegially - chapter meetings, Ministry Days, the Institute for Excellence in Ministry - are especially challenging for community ministers due to work schedules and costs. We are hoping UUMA Connect might help to provide new ways to gather. We are live-streaming all of Ministry Days for the first time this year and we are inviting members to consider setting up small group video-conferences to discuss Marshall Ganz’ keynote speech or other parts of the program. We are continuing to strengthen our partnership with the UUSCM to look for ways to work together on programs and strategies to strengthen connections with community and other ministers.
In my time as Executive Director I have become even more convinced that collegiality trumps everything. The Lily Foundation found that the #1 factor for success in ministry wasn’t education, ministerial setting or personality type - it was being part of an ongoing, small group of colleagues that holds each other accountable. I have been part of such a group for many years - a group that began as all parish ministers and who now is 2/3 community ministers. I don’t know if that is indicative of the ministerial shifts we are seeing in the world (I think it is) but I know that connecting with colleagues in “vulnerability, intimacy, trust and accountability” is crucial to our lives and our ministries.
Sometimes those connections will only be with other community ministers and sometimes, I hope, they will be with all the members and ministries of the UUMA. Help me/us find ways to make those collegial connections stronger. Changing a culture is difficult, sometimes impossible. Whether that is a culture that remembers, and embraces, all the diversities of ministry or becoming more intimate, more vulnerable with another. But difficulties can be overcome. We know that or we never would have made it to that day when the people sang and blessed us with the gift and responsibility of ordained ministry.