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Like most UUs, I strongly affirm the inherent dignity of each person.  But there is the dignity inherent to being a human (I would say a living) being, and then there is dignity that you either don as a mantle by how you act, or cast aside.  From time to time, I find myself wishing people would behave with a little more dignity so that we might regard them with the respect their roles deserve.

For example, California has a new Chief Justice of its Supreme Court.   The radio piece the day of her swearing-in opened with a little clip of the governor saying, with a dignity befitting the occasion, if an unavoidably comic accent,* “so help you God.”  And then we heard a speech from later in the ceremony, spoken by the new Chief Justice herself, who related how when she was a little girl, she used to walk with her family through the capital, past these very buildings, but they didn’t ever think of actually going in.  Hm, I thought–so far so good, a humble and down-to-earth anecdote–and then she gushed, “And now we’re sitting in the front row!” I was embarrassed for her, and for the state.  Did she really mean to imply that that was the most important aspect of this ceremony?  She is the highest judge in our courts, and anyone who enters her courtroom is subject to the strictest protocol of respect.  Could she maybe reflect that in the ceremony, and save the giggly “OMG, can you imagine, me a Chief Justice!” stuff for her private family party afterwards?

I have been to a few ordinations that lose their balance this way too.   Comments on the personal characteristics of the new minister have their place, but they sometimes dominate to the point that the ceremony feels more like a high school graduation (or even worse, the party afterwards) than a sacred initiation.  The “whoo hoo, you did it!” tone (and words) that I’ve heard directed at the ordinand convey to the congregation that this is just a personal achievement of the minister, not about them at all.  They also say that the whole ceremony is about itself, about that day, rather than about the ministry to follow, which is like making a wedding all about a wedding instead of about marriage.  New colleagues, if that’s not  the way you want your ministry to appear, then beg your participants to focus on the meaning of ministry, not on you.  If they compliment you, smile with the humility you surely feel as you imagine the enormity of the burden you are accepting.  And though you may be thinking “I made it!” yourself–it’s only natural, after the long way you’ve come–then please share it with your friends privately.  It really doesn’t belong in the service.  This is an hour in which we focus, together, on the holy power and the world’s needs that called you to ministry, and devote ourselves to serving them, with your leadership.

*Before I get deluged by the Austrian Anti-Defamation Committee:  I don’t think Austrians are inherently comical.  Just the ones whose accented “hasta la vista, baby”s are seared on our brains.

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When I was in seminary, most students did their parish-based internships concurrently with two years of school (part-time internship), or else as a year taken between the second and the final year of school (full-time internship).  The part-time option requires that you have an internship opportunity near school, which was true for many students, since we were in the Boston area, where congregations and internships abound.  But failing that–or if, like me, you didn’t want your internship church to be around Boston (I lived in Vermont)–the beauty of the full-time internship before senior year was that you could go before the Ministerial Fellowship Committee before your senior year, begin looking for a position during your senior year, and potentially have a job waiting for you after graduation.

Also, since you were on leave from a degree program, you were still considered a student during that internship year, so that you didn’t have to repay debt during that period.   Since the official guidelines on internship compensation were that it be, I quote, “High enough so that you don’t end up more in debt than when you began the year”–i.e., not by any definition an actual salary–this was important.

Judging from Bay Area students, this is now a rarity.  They do their internship the year after they graduate.   Since one can’t go to the MFC until after the midpoint of one’s internship, they can’t look for a job that year.  So there they are in June, done with school, done with their internships, with their 1 from the MFC (congratulations!), and with over a year to go before they’ll have a position.  What an insane system.  What do they eat?  An M.Div. leaves you with a huge debt and not a lot of qualification to do anything except UU ministry–and of course, it’s very hard to find a job that pays a living wage when potential employers know you’re going to leave in a year.

When I’ve asked individual seminarians about this trend, they’ve looked rather blank, as if they had no idea there was another option.  Has something changed?  Do seminaries, or churches, or the MFC, press for internship after degree?  And if so, how do today’s students pay the rent during that thumb-twiddling year?

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