May 5, 2019 Dear Members of St. John’s,
I am writing to share information with you about ordaining Alice to the Ministry.
Alice Diebel has been with us as a student for the past two years. As her final semester at seminary comes to an end, her time with us will also end. May 12th will be her last Sunday at St. John’s. In September she will be interviewed by the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, or MFC.
The MFC is the committee responsible for credentialing ministers. Our ministers are formed through formal education, work within congregations, and intense pastoral education, among other requirements. At the end of the process, the candidate will go before the committee and the committee will approve them for preliminary fellowship, or ask that the candidate complete additional work, or they might deny fellowship. Alice will meet the committee in late September 2019.
The above process refers only to the professional credentialing of ministers. The holy rite of ordination is a rite that belongs only to the congregation. Members of UU congregations hold the final authority on who leads the church. It is our work to recognize the gifts of those who are called to ministry and to aid in their discernment process. We call forth the gifts, experience those gifts, and affirm them. When the people of a congregation find that one among them is genuinely called to ministry, they might vote to ordain that person. This ordination is more than a symbolic affirmation of the credentialing process.
An authentic rite of transformation requires thoughtful reflection on the part of congregational members and humble submission on the part of the would-be-minster to our shared covenantal history.
Ministers who are not approved by the MFC but are ordained by a congregation are still “real” ministers. They ought not serve beyond their ordaining congregation and should be clear about their professional status, but ordination is a sacred rite of the church that cannot be eclipsed or dismissed by the parallel track of professional credentialing.
The Board, Alice, and I have been talking about the nature of ordination. It is time for us to invite you, members of the congregation, into the conversation. Will we vote to ordain Alice, when she is ready? Would we attend and participate in her ordination with happy hearts and a clear understanding of her ministry?
Ordination at this particular church is only in the power of St. John’s members.
Will you continue the conversation with us? Alice will leave us at the start of summer. I hope we can talk before the congregational meeting. Let me know if you are interested.