Thanksgiving Dinner 2009

For the fourth year, Jonathan and I have had a smallish, vegetarian — we pardon all the turkeys — Thanksgiving dinner at home. Part of this blog post is scrapbook, part memory aid, part encouragement for others and part proof for my mother that we did have a nice meal.

Dinner on the stove

This year, the theme was sides we already love. (Clockwise from upper left) Fruit salad, steamed butternut squash, corn bread, roasted potatoes, mushrooms pan dressing style and green bean casserole. Festival slaw, below. Not seen: baked apples, cranberry sauce, thin ginger cookies and a nice bottle of Moscato d’Asti. (Chosen because of all the fruit flavors; makes a nice change from cider. Low in alcohol and lightly fizzy.)

I should note that the squash and thyme (in the mushrooms) are local, and the mushrooms are probably local too, since so many are grown in Pennsylvania. I could have gotten local apples, cabbage and potatoes, too. Local is hot this year, no? But the real treat is that the food was easy to find (neighborhood groceries mostly), easy to prepare (thanks, cream of mushroom soup) and easy to pay for. In case you think this isn’t practical.

Festival Slaw!

The mushrooms are seasoned with celery, onions, thyme, sage, pepper, imitation chicken stock and a small knob of butter; thickened with some wheat bread cumbs. The slaw — which I sometimes give a postwar/happy homemaker-style recipe name like “Festival Slaw” or “Chow Chow Slaw” — was inspired by a trip to Amish country. Here with cabbage, carrots, kidney beans, sweet peppers, celery and sweet relish — sometimes with kernel corn, canned (drained) green beans, green onion and vegetarian bacon chips — in a sweet and sour dressing. Plus a touch of tumeric and ground ginger.

Blog posts from 2008 and 2005.

My take on “the cost of ministerial formation”

I’m glad minister and blogger Christine Robinson (iMinister) has stirred the financing-ministerial-education pot here and here and here.

Her thoughts include a reform of the Unitarian Universalist ministerial internship system, in which it is not uncommon for a family to be divided for a year. I’d add the bottleneck — there’s more demand than supply, and there’s little incentive for congregations to add internships — which keeps promising candidates for ministry outside of fellowship. She proposed an extended, alternative internship.

But let me take this one step further. Is a seminary education an essential qualification for ordained ministry? Or rather, is it a one formation opportunity among others?

I have met — perhaps you have, too — skilled professionals, epecially in the literary, design and technology world who are either self-trained or who developed their skills while working. And I’ve known persons of spiritual depth and skill but lacking a seminary education (or ordination, or both) who I would gladly have as a pastor.

I’ve seen people of differing ages hobbled by the debt they took to afford a seminary education, and have met others who came to the end of their M. Div. to discover they had no continuing calling for the ministry. But do have the bills.

And — this is the rub — there are gaps in the seminary experience you could drive a semi through.

But back to the Unitarian Universalist experience for a moment. Apart from small district-led programs and local custom, there’s little opportunity to develop as a something-other-than-an-ordained-and-fellowshiped-minister, like, say the Universalist lay preachers or Congregational commissioned ministers. So let me start there. I would welcome as a minister someone who learned the ropes of ministry on-the-job for three or four years part-time, in a medium-sized or large church, under a minister’s supervision, with evening and weekend training to round out. Call this person a “parish assistant” or what have you. This experience might even run concurrently with a college education, should that opportunity present itself.

Throughout, and certainly at the end, let a committee of local ministers interview the parish assistant, and if he or she is found qualified, let them issue a letter of license for a year.  Perhaps now’s the time to take on a sole pastorate. Review and renew, if worthy, the next year. And then a then again. And if at the end of three years — seven in all — the licensed minister has grown into a peer, let her or him be ordained.  (It’s not hard to imagine a parallel process for institutional ministries.)

There are a couple of problems of course. I’ve known a training college in Another Denomination that prepared and supported ministers like this. It was well-loved by lay persons, too. But people with seminary ties saw it as a rival and it has been bled into a shadow of its former self. Such a plan, too, would attract enemies. It also assumes a geographic density that Unitarian Universalists have in only a few areas, but in which I suspect most of the membership lives.

And then there’s inertia. It’s plain there are enough people who are willing to suffer the current system. Suffer, perhaps, but can they thrive within it. And perhaps less than thrive — can we survive with a generation or two of endebted ministers, buffetted by a largely opaque and unaccountable system?

The original Twitter, Unitarian Universalist version

For all my complaints about the nonsense that percolates among Unitarian Universalists (and church people generally), I have always loved the Wayside Community Pulpit. These posters, printed with thoughtful and pithy quotations, were the perfect complement to the automobile age. They were Twitter (or Identi.ca) before the age of the Internet, much less microblogging. I wrote about them before, with a period picture here.

The UUA has a tidy history of the Wayside Community Pulpit, but alas they are no longer being printed; instead you may download the posters as a PDF and have them printed locally. (In a pinch, you can print them as “tiles” on smaller-format paper and reassemble them.) This, I think, is a good thing. Having worked in publication production and sales, I can imagine they were expensive to produce and ship and difficult to make them pay since storage and damage took an unrecoverable toll. And software and print shops make that effort futile. Indeed, I hope some enterprising sorts come up with their own. Here’s my own waggish effort (PDF); it took less than fifteen minutes.

And while we’re on the subject, lease follow me on Twitter or Identi.ca as bitb.

PolityWonk on ministerial formation

I agree with Elizabeth (of “Elizabeth’s Little Blog”) that you should read PolityWonk’s “How UU Ministry Got to Be So Expensive” — and especially the little-told parts of the story from point #7 onwards.

In a related note, my own choice of seminary was conditioned on the full tuition I got from Brite Divinity School (M.Div. ’97) — but only after I had ruled out Meadville Lombard and Starr King as viable options. That said, I’m working on a longer piece on the Meadville Lombard issue for publication at my long-format blog, RevScottWells.com. But I’ll risk taking time and getting it right than hacking out a few, punchy, attention-grabbing words.

The do-less church

After years of more, more, more — not Andrea True Connection’s standard — in church, I’d be happy with a lot less, if done well.

That’s the point of the 37signals.com blogpost called “How Chipotle, Pinkberry, and others win big by doing just a few things well.” In my experience, many churches do many things and let many of them slide. Churches can easily become building managers, caterers, child care centers, educational opportunities, musical foundations, small-scale social service agencies and an employer. How many of those will work if there’s only 100 in the pews on Sunday? 50? 10? And what’s the likelihood anyone’s really looking to join a committee?

I’d relish a plain-talking congregation that says: we meet for worship and organize teams to send to other groups to help. Once a year, we have a giving bazaar to encourage charitable giving. We will refer you to educational options. If you want coffee, or to meet for meals, or hold classes, or have a fair then do so. But don’t think of it as part of the church.

But what it does, it does with great care and resolve.

Meadville Lombard open thread

Today we hear the not-so-stunning news that Meadville Lombard plans to sell its Chicago property. The next step would be to relocate to metro-Boston to participate in some kind of educational situation with the UUCF-affiliated Andover Newton Theological School (which itself has a large Unitarian Universalist student base) and the ailing Episcopalian Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School.

I’m brewing some thoughts but thought I would open a thread for comments first.

Alabama church with great website

Sometimes I mention in front of web developers and designers how WordPress can function quite well for church websites. Objections follow. Then I describe these churches: small, with no dedicated technical staff and requiring few bells and whistles. Then agreements follow. But some WordPress themes are better than others, and there’s little pretending that such a church is going to commission or build a custom theme. Success comes with good choices.

So it was so nice to run across the website of The First Universalist Church of Camp Hill‘s website. It’s a little Universalist heritage church near Auburn, Alabama. I’ve not been in Camp Hill in years and have never been for a service, yet it has always held a special place in my heart.

The theme they use is called PrimePressdownload here. Yes, it needs some modification, particularly appropriate graphics, which Camp Hill does very well.  The closeup of the casserole, indicating the post-worship potluck, is perfect. (And note: there are no big, glaring pictures of an empty meeting-house or parking lot: these suggest a church building for sale more than a living congregation.)

The text, too, is well-chosen and well-edited, and there’s a driving map on the contact us page.

A great effort — and frankly, better than many sites from churches ten and twenty times their size (12) — and I hope it helps Camp Hill identify itself to the world.