Forming churches and bivocationality

Facilitating Paradox and Watch and Pray make almost perfectly matched blog entries. This is made all the more fun with the tincture of Christianity between the two, and the fact the former is in Ohio and the latter is in Indiana.

But what isn’t charming is the fact that each and anyone considering (seriously or hypothetically) a bivocational church start within the fellowship of the UUA is going to have to stand against established canons of ministerial expectation, even if bivocational ministers are a (quiet) reality in the UUA.

I can’t blame the UUA for not having every resource at all time, but I can blame “the UUA” for not being supportive to entrepreneurs who primarily use the resources they muster. By “the UUA” I mean not the secretariat of the association, or even the participants of the General Assembly, but the lay and ordained opinion-makers who steer the ethos and culture of the wider fellowship.

Since I have an opinion, and share it, I suppose I’m as much “the UUA” as anyone else, and to David (should he take the challenge) and Derek (who has committed to it) — gentlemen, you have my spiritual support, my encouragement, and what resources (admittedly, these will be largely informative) that I can find.

Issues around unconventional lay pastoral leadership

As you, Dear Reader, can tell, the issue of lay pastoral leadership has gotten my attention recently, in part because it gets to the issue of “equipping the saints,” providing new options for new church leadership, and for the UUA to keep covenant with small congregations, whether they are rural Universalist and (quasi-)Christian, or suburban Unitarian and humanist.

Plus, I think the move towards a “professional” clerical class, rather than one “called and equipped” (whether or not that includes seminary and ordination) moves at cross purposes to the UUA’s stated goals and common sense.

That said, there are two study-generated reports, both by Adair T. Lummis and published by the Hartford Seminary and readable online I commend to you. These may also be downloaded, from a link within each of the below pages. Print a copy and send it to your district executive. (For those unfamiliar with “ecumencial-ese” read “UUA district” for “[middle or regional] judicatory”.) You might be impressed with the ideas.

The other UCA

UCA will always be first for me the Universalist Church of America. But it can also mean the Uniting Church of Australia.

Link: The anitpodean UCA

I’ve been interested in the Australian church for some time, and this interest has been resparked over the question of distance learning for lay ministers and those on an ordination path. Of course, given the UCA’s significant rural constituency and Australia’s remote settlements, distance learning would be very important.

Their models are rather keen, and I wish there was something like them for the US. The good news is that I don’t see anything in the following two institutions that suggests an American couldn’t enroll in a course by extension, and many would be a good value.

(Ditto the theological faculty at the University of South Africa, which can be found at

Victoria and Tasmania Centre for Theology and Ministry:
Coolamon College:

I would love to see comments from alumni drawn here about the programs.

Lay pastors and their training

This would be “If I were planting . . . . VI” but it is time to call a thing by its name.

If there are going to be more Unitarian or Universalist (or both) Christian churches, some are going to be too small, too poor, or too remote to call a minister in fellowship. Some, if not most, will have to raise up one of their own for service. (I distinguish the traditions because when speaking of them in terms of Christianity, they really have different meanings.)

Of course, this is probably true for new churches in the UUA whatever the theological background, if we got down to encouraging churches of different sizes for differing populations.

Earlier, I mentioned the old Universalist licentiate. But that implies some kind of credentialing and training, and I don’t see clear models in-house for that, Leadership School notwithstanding. (This is an exception and not quite what I’m getting at; as you can see from the bottom of the page, I’ve been interested in this for a while.) It is worth surveying the ecumenical neighborhood for ideas.

Like the Presbyterians (USA) and their Commissioned Lay Pastors or perhaps the American Baptists, who have a patchwork (it seems) of lay ministry training opportunities. (Like this in Michigan.)

Then there is the Lay Ministry Training Program of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches, though there’s little detail on their website.

Have you seen others?

If I was planting . . . . V

I have been reading works related to linked house churches to (a) think outside that ever-present box for my own church and (b) get fluent in missional language to help Universalist Christianity move in mission. (Even if I’m not going to be doing it, I would like to be a help to those who are.)

Dick Scoggins makes his group’s case — and he’s clear that this is what worked for them, and that there’s not a single biblical model for the church; I doubt any member church in the Unitarian Universalist Association would qualify in any case — that conventional churches are weighty in time, capital, and energy while leaving “kingdom building” undone and the laity unactivated as the universal priesthood because of a program-driven clergy. Well, ouch.

Cell churches (those with a central worship core, but where much of the “church life” is in small groups, often called “cells”) are (to him) only a half (or less) measure. He advocates house churches in networks because they are best apt to multiply. Part of that is building indigenous leadership into every church, and that’s a very different than what Unitarian Universalists (or much of the rest of the mainline) does.

Amazingly, a church planter’s goal is to raise up plural eldership (or more often one elder and one almost-elder) within at least three churches which are themselves in fellowhship with one another. So here’s the rub: so would I give up my pride of place (and assumed paycheck) to raise up no fewer than six peer-elders who themselves would lead semi-autonomous churches? Exchange “centralized clericalism” for a destributed, plural, consecrated ministry which activates the priesthood of all believers?

The funny thing is I am equally skiddish (“What about the learned ministry! what about my Geneva bands! what about my paycheck!”) and tantilized. But more about that later.

I am trying to think of a way of having it both ways, and not knowing if it can be done.

One idea is to form an area mission with multiple churches where the seminary-trained pastor serves in a role like that of an old Universalist State Superintendant. His or her role would be that of lead missionary and trainer — and the pay would be mission support; not a bad idea, really — to churches led by unordained lay pastors, the old Universalist licentiates, whose nominal existance in the UUA was only axed in the last couple of GAs. (A move I vaguely approved of, since it esentially devolved the right of credentialing licentiates to whomever who would take up the challenge. The UUA, after all, hadn’t done anything with it.)

Back to the neo-Convention model. The Universalist idea of Church works better for this than the Unitarian. Looking over old Universalist polity docs, I see the image of Church penetrating or filling a set of relationships which are themselves not unlike concentric circles. In one sense, every person, by virtue of birth, is a part of the Church; in a more specific sence, all members of the universal Body of Christ. But the Universalist General Convention, as a part of the body of Christ, is also the Church, and this character of Church devolves to the state conventions and the particular company of believers within a parish, the latter being an administrative unit or vessel.

The different “levels” of the Church are responsible to the others through a series of relationships, one of which being that odd usage found in some Universalist-heritage church bylaws (including my church), that we “recognize the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the” — it now say Unitarian Universalist Association — “Universalist Church of America.”

"Manual of the Universalist General Convention" (1891)

Earlier I mentioned I was putting a significant Universalist polity document online — seeing as it is my day off — and what I have online.

See [2009. Moved from original posting. URL correct.]

I’ll finish it when I have a chance, but the “Laws of Organization” piece alone will give you a good insight into how the Universalist General Convention worked.

If I was planting . . . . IV

My concern for planting new Universalist Christian churches and my love of Universalist history meet in the subject of Universalist polity. It seems to me that if someone wants to try something innovative, there will be the problem convincing the powers-that-be that the project is “really UU,” as if the Unitarian Universalist Association was itself the keeper of a double-vowelled transcendent reality.

Of course, something innovative (i.e. not a quick start “programmed” church) plus Universalist Christian is bound to set off two red flags. What then, is a planter to do?

Claim the history, of course, and know what methods and values Universalists used, and understand that these were (are?) not always the same as what Unitarians valued.

That brings me back to the polity. Last night, was I search my computer’s hard drive for anything I might have saved about Universalist polity. Lo and behold! I found a mostly completed typing project that I had long forgotten, but a tiny part of which is General Plan of Organization [of the Universalist General Convention] (1891). I was working on typing in the whole booklet, Manual of the Universalist General Convention. It is about 80% done, and given that tomorrow is my day off, I’ll try to get as much of the other 20% done and put what I’ve got up tomorrow.

It is a fascinating look into what was, and what might yet be.

If I was planting . . . . III

I’ve been looking into the simple church/house church movement as an opportunity for Universalist Christian church growth (hi Derek!) but more about that later.

For now, the question of how a small church — “conventional” or house-based — would worship remains. I am not thrilled with the “anything is worship” (both from Unitarian Universalist and Christian postmodern sides) or the “charismatic meltdown” options that I seen. So let me start with resources, and the pleasing worship that came out of UNMC’s summer experience.

We worshipped in the parlor instead of the sanctuary, and didn’t have a pianist for the hymns. All of the parlor-based services were lay-led. It wasn’t what we usually do (though the liturgy was about the same) but it certainly did felt real and nourishing. It was well within the scope of a house church, and would be good, even if simplified a few notches.

So, what kind of resource would you want “in the pews” for a church that worships like that all the time, and, of course, has no pews.

Which hymns? Which psalms? Anything else? Since there is a Universalist worshipbook tradition that is finally getting some recognition, I need to ask: would a worshipbook be useful? And what would be in it?

I have ideas, but I’ll let you, the reader, add your comments first.