Losing UU’s in Seminary

In my three years as a divinity student, now entering my fourth, I’ve been saddened by the loss of a number of excellent people who were seriously on the path to UU ministry and have dropped out primarily due to conflict and frustration with our  politics, our faith-in-action and our ability to mentor and nurture new ministers.  Perhaps all of the folks I know would ultimately have felt the call to another tradition (Christian, Islam primarily), however it concerns me and I wish there was some way to track and understand this phenomona more intentionally.  I wonder, are there changes we might consider in order to attract and retain excellent ministers-to-be?  I know that in other mainline protestant faiths, they are desperate for good ministers and are seriously developing plans to do the same.  What is our strategy?

Advertisements

9 responses to “Losing UU’s in Seminary

  1. I, unfortunately, have witnessed the same detrimental phenomenon. More than half of the declared UU’s I know/have known at the seminary I attend have either quit in frustration or said the hell with it and joined the UCC. The few who have remained do so reluctantly (as could be discerned at the beginning of this semester when we did our class introductions and half of the remaining UU’s said “I’m UU but …”).

    One of the most serious lacks I sense is available and willing mentors – there are none. Most of the ministers I have come across online (listserves/blogosphere) have not been very friendly to me at all, and I’m a young, aspiring UU minister. It seems they prefer to be competitive and/or overtly hostile (read: insecure), forcing me to constantly defend myself rather than inquire of them and learn. I think it’s so sad. It leaves one feeling quite alone in a place where one should feel everything but …

    The evangelical background I come from really does make the UU look pitiful, as far as mentoring/nurturing next-generation ministers is concerned. Yet, we move mountains and unleash 5 year-long studies trying to discern what our problem is. It’s really much simpler than that, in my opinion.

    I have wondered if I’m merely wasting time. The UCC has embraced me more than the UUA has, and they have more job opportunities. So, why should I put myself through a non-mentoring, non-nurturing, competitive, and hostile experience, when a much more edifying one is right in front of me? Well, I do it because I love the history, tradition, and philosophy of the UUA. I do it because I am a Unitarian. I’ll keep doing it, but it is so very hard under the present conditions, and so unnecessarily so. I just ignore the BS and hope I enter a day when it gets better, and I can personally build something that I can pass along to the next-generation, with class and hope.

    I’m not afraid to say this is the norm at most seminaries with UUs in attendance.

  2. I’m sure all Shawn says is a problem.

    I also think one of the issues in regards to the competitiveness is the overabundance of ministers we as UUs are starting to have. The number of UUs who I know have gone to seminary, and either can’t get jobs out of it, or get one, and can’t find one to replace it after X time, is sad.

    So often, I see our UU ministers in a kind of isolation. What we need, are places where UUs can immerse themselves in work that is not just being the person in a pulpit on Sunday (not that that’s all a minister does, but it makes my point).

    Inner city monestaries doing work in the communities of our world.
    Campus centers doing chaplaincy, for ministers between calings. There are things we can do to provide the immersion that our clerics need, but cannot find.

  3. Is the grass greener in the UCC…? Many who have tried both say No! But that is another essay.

    In our polity there three stages of ministry formation.
    1. precandidates.
    2. candidates.
    3. newly fellowshipped ministers, not yet in final fellowship.

    The UUMA not the UUA is the main source of mentoring for candidates and preliminary fellowship ministers. The UUA has a staff of one devoted person, the UUMA has potentially five hundred volunteers. Volunteers need to be asked. We don’t draft mentors.

    The home congregation is supposed to be the main support for precandidates. Traditionally the call to ministry emerged out being involved in the life of the congregation. There is a notion in the UUA based on decades of experience that many people try out seminary, and try out “being a minister” in CPE and field work, and do not experience themselves as called after all. No one who cares about the process would deny that the system is hard, but the alternative of only supporting candidates approved by the bishop isn’t appealling to us for theological reasons.

    The system does not worked at the precandidate level for students who do not emerge out a congregation, with connections to ministers gleaned from a few years of lay leadership. The only way I know to support such students, (for example, converts to UU from some other faith tradition would be UUMA chapters to adopt a seminary. Shawn might ask his chapter if that is possible, ministers tend to be forthcoming if asked, and less generous when scolded.

  4. On “competition.”

    I know this may sound counter intuitive and idealistic, but many ministers who have been experienced the process would agree.

    Resist becoming competive, rather try to become cooperative. Being a team leader requires someone who embodies care for the team, to see oneself in competition with other ministers will become part of one’s “karma’ or “spirit” and other ministers will intuit this arrogance and distance themselves from the up and comer. Eventually, search committees will intuit that this applicant is more concerned about themselves than the movement, and move on to the next applicant.

    There are abundant opportunities for ministry in the UU movement for those who really embody what it means to do ministry. Not many “career opportunities” however.

  5. “The system does not worked at the pre-candidate level for students who do not emerge out a congregation, with connections to ministers gleaned from a few years of lay leadership.”

    Clyde, most of those who dropped out of my seminary or switched (more have switched than dropped out)have been UUs for years and years, and have emerged out of a congregation. It seems to make little difference, from what I have seen.

    Also, the “competitiveness” cited above was directed to a few ministers on listserves and in the blogosphere, not pre-candidates or candidates. So, if you are suggesting to those of us who are pre-candidates and/or candidates to NOT be like them as concerns the professional encouragement of next-generation UU ministers, then I agree … wholeheartedly.

  6. There are abundant opportunities for ministry in the UU movement for those who really embody what it means to do ministry. Not many “career opportunities” however.

    I’m young, have a wife and three kids, and am tired of living life as a theology poor student. I’m not asking for riches beyond imagination. I do want a career and I am not all entertained by the idea of martyring myself and my family for “ministry.” I have known churches whose ministers had to collect government welfare to supplement their income. I have also known churches whose ministers had to work 40 hours a week in addition to all their church duties. I’m not a fan of either. I didn’t spend thousands of dollars, sacrifice years of my life, and watch my family go without their wants while I studied and prepared for ministry just to happily accept “those abundant opportunities for ministry in the UU movement for those who really embody what it means to do ministry.” That’s not very professional, IMHO. It sounds like those fundamentalist churches I know who would tell you to “just go and serve … the Holy Spirit will provide your basic needs.” Nah, no thanks.

  7. Shawn,

    I was referring to Donald’s post on competition.

    I was not suggesting that a minister work for nothing, I was stating that there is plenty of work for good ministers. Even in Districts where there is a shortage of ministers relative to churches looking for ministers (deep South etc.) there are ministers we can’t place at all. The lay leadership doesn’t want arrogant, self absorbed ministers who want to “the blame UUA”

    Is the welfare recepient ministers a UU experience? If so, I think Ralph Mero and the UUMA exec would like to know so we intervene.

    It is hard to go through theological school with a sense of uncertainty, especially when idea that there is no work out there is circulated as gospel. There is work now. And given the age of the serving ministers hundreds will retire in the coming decade.

    I am serious when I say, the congregations are looking for those who embody the qualities of ministry and will not be sympathetic to “a careerist.” (By which I mean an attitude and orientation, not a someone interested in financial wholeness.)

    The question was mentoring. Again, Mentoring is availabile from the UUMA chapters for candidates for the ministry and new ministers in preliminary fellowship.

  8. The question was mentoring. Again, Mentoring is availabile from the UUMA chapters for candidates for the ministry and new ministers in preliminary fellowship.

    The problem is people are dropping out or switching before they get to this point. And yes, one can get much from the local congregation, and often do, but that really doesn’t mean the larger denomination shouldn’t be better involved in the very process it enacts.

    Peace,
    Shawn, who is now strapping himself to the ABAB rules of Internet dialogue and thus bowing out of this discussion.

  9. Shawn said – Most of the ministers I have come across online (listserves/blogosphere) have not been very friendly to me at all, and I’m a young, aspiring UU minister. It seems they prefer to be competitive and/or overtly hostile (read: insecure), forcing me to constantly defend myself rather than inquire of them and learn. I think it’s so sad. It leaves one feeling quite alone in a place where one should feel everything but. . .

    The embedded links should make it abundantly clear that I feel Shawn’s pain. . .

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s