I’m a member of the Universalist National Memorial Church, and today Sunday the church’s leadership made an exciting announcement at the climax of a congregational meeting: we are moving into the next phase of the church, but it’s not quite like anything I’ve ever seen. In consultation with district and association staff, and after six months’ work from the search commitee, the church is beginning a part-time, shared (but non-spousal) contract ministry by two theologically-trained laypersons. Some of you may know Crystal St. Marie Lewis, M.T.S, from her blogging. David Gatton, M.Div., is a long-time member of the church, but has had a secular career.
So this something new. Neither we nor they know what to call the experiment, or even what titles to use for them. That’s less important than them developing a working partnership, and the congregation providing support. (If all goes well, we hope to increase the percentage to full time within three years.)
Congratulations to Crystal St. Marie Lewis, who received her Master of Theological Studies from Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, D.C. today. She blogs here (Window on Religion) and tweets here and is well worth reading.
I was — and am — looking for a practical expostion on Universalist worship like the one from 1901 I found for the Unitarians a couple of weeks ago. In the process, I found the Tufts 1902-03 catalog, and its pages dedicated to its now-lost Divinity School.
A couple of items to note: one could enter as an undergraduate and study through, and option that died very recently in the United States with the closure of Bangor Theological Seminary. And that the curriculum included logic (for nongrads), economics, psychology and the “Biblical languages” of German, Hebrew and Greek. And PE for the men.
If you were approved, you would have gotten a generous scholarship — to imagine an early pastorate without student debt! — from the Universalist General Convention, though non-Universalists were admitted. Lodging “heated by steam and lighted by gas ” included, but you did have to provide your own “sheets, blankets, pillow cases, and towels.”
So I was trolling for Universalism in digitized newspapers (as one does) and I found a short article from 1913, entitled with lurid lettering: “Clergyman Turns Actor.“
Frederick A. Wilmot, a Tufts grad and assisting (presumably licensed) minister at the Church of the Divine Paternity, New York (now called Fourth Universalist) gave notice and left to tread the boards.
“The humdrum of parish life bored me stiff.” That is the real why, the real wherefore of the transformation of Frederick A. Wilmot from parson to actor…”Why should I devote my life to becoming a fair preacher when all my inclinations point to my becoming a good actor?”
But later that year, he was ordained and installed as the minister of the West (Third) Somerville (Mass.) Universalist Church serving until 1916, and later pastoring in New Bedford. Later references point to a Fitchburg, Mass. pastorate (until 1940), writing the religion beat in Providence, and active participation in Christian ecumenicism. Indeed, it looks like he had a successful ministry.
He died July 22, 1952 in Providence and is buried in the Locust Grove Cemetery there. Shall we visit his grave during General Assembly and give thanks for his ministry: the one that began with such doubt?
Good for him Google (or Facebook) didn’t exist then. And good for him the call reappeared.
As some of you have noticed, when I post a public-domain book, I link to the read-in-browser version, hosted at the Internet Archive. Internet Archives worked with Princeton Theological Seminary to scan and host more than 33,000 items. (A recent fire at their scanning plant cost $600,000 in damage; give if you can.) You can read these at Internet Archive, but I think the search feature at the Theological Commons, and since I seek out theologial works, that improved experience — including searching within books — is a big help. (You then get forwarded to Internet Archive.) And there are plenty of interesting works there.
A few days ago, I got an email asking advise about entering the ministry. Here’s an edited version of my reply.
As a rule I don’t encourage people to enter the ministry. To make my
concern as plain as possible, the cost of preparing for the ministry
is more likely to leave you exposed to financial hardship than
provide a path to engaging pastoral ministry. There is too little help
and too few open churches. Little wonder you hear so much about
military chaplaincies and community ministry now.
My advice? Do as much as you can as a para-professional or a amateur
(in the best sense of the word). Work creatively with your
congregation (and minister, if you have one) to shape what you can to
apart from the formal fellowship preparation process. If that proves,
in time, to be insufficient, then you have your answer.
Let me go a bit further. A para-professional isn’t self-appointed and also needs formation, thought I can imagine informal or non-traditional ways to do so. And self-monitor zeal (or prepare to have it monitored for you.) I’ve heard enough cautionary tales about would-be ministerial cowboys who make trouble for those ministers who have the pastoral trust and authority of the parishes that called them. Don’t be one of these.
I was drawn to the online Economist article about the admission of women to the episcopate in the Church of England by a tweet by British Unitarian and Free Christian Chief Officer Derek McAuley. It had a wry caption about Unitarian (do see) but I don’t care much about that, or an established church or the episcopal form of church government.
I do care about ministers being able to live with the necessities of life, and in not creating systems that keep poor people from exercising a ministry.
See the chart that shows the growing bulk of Church of England clergy working in unpaid settings. Which means those ministers are scraping by; have independent wealth, family support or a pension (a class issue, surely); or work part-time in another job. At which point I leave the Anglicans, lest I get too wrapped up in their ways. Indeed, Universalists were all but planted in this country by a purse-poor evangelist and a wealthy spouse (who later suffered deep poverty) … and many a cash-strapped minister who gave up so much for the spiritual welfare of others.
But when the costs are too high for too long and the burdens go unshared, eventually the system shrinks and collapses. Let that be a warning.
I’m thinking about the internal self-conception of mainline “learned ministry” or at least how I’ve seen it articulated in Unitarian Universalist circles. Without saying the pastorate is like a professorship, there are so pretty broad hints that there are — or have been — parallels between the two professions. The advanced degrees, the “life of the mind”, the independence in seeking after truth, summers “away”, the role of speaker — even the genteel or shabby (or both) social role, that even in its humble forms very often represented a gain in class standing. The fact that in many areas the Unitarian Universalist congregation is more a part of the gown than the town. But much of this is simple nostalgia for professors and clergy.
For one thing, the academy is changing. It’s almost the new conventional wisdom that colleges and universities keep their masses of untenured faculty underpaid, unsteady and overworked. How much life of the mind is there when you’re too busy keeping body and soul together. Indeed, one of my proudest achievements is not getting another degree (or following the siren song of the academy). I struggled enough to pay for my life for the ones I got, thank you.
But I can’t but think that this new reality colors how we see ministers, particularly since there are so many compared to open placements, and the cost of formation is so weighted to them and not the churches they serve. Again, not so much a likeness as a parallel…