Saturday, March 25, 2017
Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, March 25, 2017 - “Minister” is a Verb
I ended up in a perfect little church. The Universe saw fit to guide me into a version of ministry so attuned to my calling to serve the City of Fitchburg I can tell It knows me better than I know myself.
I came to intern at First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church of Fitchburg in my second year of seminary as a Student Minister under the supervision of its then half-time Minister. Following his departure for a full-time position (understandably for his growing family, but disappointing nonetheless), I was kept on as the Student Minister for the remainder of my internship. I was assigned a replacement supervisor, the beloved Rev. Susan Suchocki Brown of the First Church UU of Leominster.
At the end of my internship, First Parish officially decided to become a “Lay-Led” Congregation while retaining me as its Spiritual Coordinator. At First Parish (as with a growing number of congregations nationwide) ‘minister’ is now a verb, not a job title. There is no longer a Capital-M Minister in the historic church at the head of the Upper Common.
That is not to say I don’t have my pastoral role in caring for people who need to talk to a spiritual ear. That will always be my honor when it occurs. But the congregation has taken a leadership role in making sure people are being noticed, being held. Being heard.
First Parish has been lay-led before. The members themselves, the “laity” have twice in the past run the church and engaged various speakers for periods in between Ministers. Other churches do it periodically or permanently as well; more all the time due to economic necessity. However, in choosing to retain a “Spiritual Coordinator” to essentially oversee the general spiritual direction of the church—but not as the defacto CEO—First Parish has done something a bit unusual. It’s a nuance, really. But with larger implications for ministry as a profession.
I am a member of First Parish. We all lead together. Each with our specialties and gifts which we are empowered to use for the betterment of all. Some old school churches are run like a constitutional monarchy. The Board of Trustees technically runs things, but at the pleasure of the Minister King. That model is not always empowering, nor does it always instill trust.
Lay-led congregations are springing up all around the country in various forms. Some for financial reasons, some for spiritual or even political ones. But it represents the wider shift toward creating a personal relationship with the Ultimate Reality.
Members of the clergy have made mistakes in the past, even in our own community, which undermine trust in the profession the way it used to be. As a result, we are increasingly relying upon ourselves to minister to one another. It appears the evolution of “church” is bringing us to a point where we need fewer intercessors. Perhaps it is within the purpose of world scripture to systematically release us from the nest. It’s a good thing. It may have been the point all along.
Posted by Wil Darcangelo at 5:12 AM