Friday, May 27, 2005

Ministerial Issues at Synod

I left out one very important piece about what is being considered at General Synod this summer. In addition to the resolutions that I've recapped below, we will be discussing a pronouncement on ordination. This pronouncement will expand the traditional formula of 4 years college, 3 years seminary to include other paths to becoming ordained in the United Church of Christ appropriate to one's experience and economic status, among other criteria. It affirms the need for well-educated clergy and stresses that different paths will require education as well. An article describing this pronouncement is here.

I'm torn on this one. As one who followed the traditional path, I believe a seminary education is important for clergy. This is not intellectual elitism, it is calling for extensive training under an accredited faculty. Now, what truly may be elitist about my own position (which I will own) is watching another ordained who didn't have to go through what I did.

On the other hand, the debt with which one may leave after seven years of higher education can be mind-boggling. I was fortunate in this regard, but I'm close to plenty others who were not so fortunate. In addition, I can tell you a few of my own experiences where we were so financially strapped during my seminary career that it took every last penny to make payments. We were barely above the red many times. I did make it out debt-free, but not without a lot of strain on multiple areas of my life.

I need to read over the pronouncement a few more times to get a good grasp on what is being proposed, but if there must be multiple paths, I suggest the following as educational opportunities and requirements:
  • Clinical Pastoral Education. One 10-week intensive summer unit. The Association picks up half the cost. The local church does its best to help with the other half.
  • 2 years half-time in a local church or field setting appropriate to one's sense of call prior to ordination, a stipend equaling half the Conference guidelines for a full-time pastor provided. If the setting cannot account for such a stipend, the Association or Conference provides appropriate assistance. Regular reports to the local church who is sponsoring the ministerial candidate so they can see firsthand what their OCWM money is accomplishing.
  • Month-long intensive courses from visiting seminary faculty for an undetermined period of time.

These are a few things I'd like to see. In some respects it sounds like the Methodist way of doing things and in some respects it sounds like the UCC's own Licensed Ministry program, but these are elements I believe to be crucial for one's pursuit of call.

All right, back on Monday for other Synod musings. Seriously. I mean it this time.