Called or learned ministers? And other web reflections
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.