Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Called or learned ministers? And other web reflections

Occasionally I re-visit my denominational websites, and I usually leave with something to complain about. A blog is a place for this kind of thing, but let me add that I'm having trouble with my own website at the moment, so I may be in a glass house, but here goes.

First I wanted to comment on unitarian.org.uk, the British Unitarian website. This has improved a little since it's relaunch and is now explanding. It's becoming a more useful resource for those within Unitarianism, with pages like this one giving ministerial vacancies, information previously only available to active ministers. But the website remains rather rubbish at providing information for those interested inquirers wanting more information and flavour to Unitarianism. I find the text they have in these sections rather uninspiring.

I was also browsing the American UUA website and came across a couple of things that caught my attention. First, notice the verb use here, "Sermon topics range from current events to theological concepts like earthly justice to reflections on the seasons, and might be read by the minister or a lay leader."

Are sermons read? Do we read sermons? I'm more aware of this after talking to a colleague from Transylvania who found the practice of writing down sermons most strange. He would always preach without a script and then write down what he had said after the service. He said the same things about prayer: "Why do you read prayers, why don't you just pray?" In worship are we praying and preaching, or are we just reading? Even if you do go from a script, I don't think read is a good enough word, preached: yes, delivered: yes, but not just read.

Following the ministers link I came across something else even more puzzling. "Unitarian Universalism believes in learned rather than called clergy." Hmm. I'm quite happy with the next statement, "What separates ministers from lay members within Unitarian Universalism is the graduate level training." That's fine, and I understand what they're getting at, but this seems to suggest that Unitarian Universalist ministers do not feel a religious call to serve and minister, but only that they are rather-clever-folks-with-graduate-degrees. Professional people that can read you their clever essays on a Sunday morning but feel no sense of vocational call in their lives. That's a picture I struggle with. I have felt a call from God to ministry, and that is what drives me, and I'd suggest that you can't be a good minister without some sense of calling. In fact I think many ministers do feel a sense of call, on both sides of the Atlantic, I think that UUA statement gives the wrong impression.

Could they not say, "Unitarian Universalism believes in the priesthood and prophethood of all members in our congregations, all people are called to bring their gifts in service to the community and the world. Unitarian Universalist clergy then, are not called to be separate from lay people, but are simply people who have been given graduate-level training to fulfil their unique roles.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen.

3:41 pm  
Blogger James said...

several thoughts...

One, I am totally unfamiliar with the assertion Unitarians (or Unitarian Universalists) prefer learned over called in their ministers. I believe this is a statement by one who does not know of what they speak.

At least here on this side of the pond, all UU ministers are "called," if not by God, certainly by the congregation they serve.

While UU clergy are learned, or at least professional in the sense of being formally educated (with both undergraduate and graduate degrees) as an almost universal necessary pre-condition to ordination, if there were no inner sense of "calling," I believe there would be few who would put up with the list of expectations. There are just too many hoops to leap to do so if one doesn't feel that urge, that still small voice, or, perhaps, that grab by the nose and tug...

As to the distinction between read sermons and more spontaneous delivery, I would argue there is a place for both. Certainly both exist within UU congregations.

As to those who disdain the written text I simply don't understand those who think the spirit cannot settle on one whose hands are resting at a keyboard.

And, frankly, for the most part, with a prepared text the grammar is a bit better, the images crisper, and the citations more accurate.

Which probably reveals my bias in this matter; although I do on occasion speak without a prepared text...

Two cents...

4:57 pm  
Blogger Glen Marshall said...

Stephen, you'll not be surprised to hear that I agree wholeheartedly with you observations on reading sermons.

I quite like the rather quaint notion of "giving" a sermon. Speaks of grace, implies cost on the part of the giver and smacks of service rather than control.

7:23 pm  
Blogger The Eclectic Cleric said...

"Learned" or "Called" is not exactly an either/or proposition. For clergy, the prerequisite SHOULD be "both." And the nature and quality of the call need to be more substantial than merely "I believe God wants me to be a minister." And all too often what I have run across is really "I've always wanted to be a minister since the time I was a child" (a so-called "call" -- but really just infantile wish fulfillment) but I don't want to do my homework or make any sacrifices ("but there are too many hoops to jump through"), yet because I want it so badly I truly believe that I DESERVE a well-paid, full time job in a community of my own choosing and you OWE it to me to provide one. And I'm sorry, but as someone who truly has paid dues, made sacrifices, done my homework, and also learned the hard lessons that can ONLY be taught by experience, I find even a sniff of this sort of self-important, self-centered narcissism truly repugnant. Which is not to suggest that EVERY wannabe minister out there feeling frustration with the system is like the ones I've just described. But pay attention search committees. They're a lot more common than you might imagine.

Around here, I like to think that I "deliver" a sermon, but to "give" is good too. A gift freshly prepared with love and delivered free and steaming hot to whoever shows up to receive it. Now that's GOTTA be worth getting out of bed in the morning for....

3:18 am  
Anonymous mike killingworth said...

I think perhaps that addresses should be "given" - which of course leaves open the possibility that the gift is unwanted!

11:26 pm  

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