The purpose of blogging? ministry? churches?

I’ve enjoyed blogging less lately. Looking back, the every-day blogging schedule was too demanding. The main reason I would write some days was the certain knowledge that, once the daily chain broke, my readership would decline. Indeed, I now get about half the readers I got when I’d post once a day or more.

And why do the numbers matter? It’s not that I have to justify my reach to anyone, and I don’t accept advertising. The numbers matter because I was willing to let increased readership feed my self-esteem. I didn’t write — or don’t think I wrote — anything I don’t believe, but I did appreciate the feedback and the spikes in readership.

But — not to put too fine a point on it — it isn’t worth it. What is worth it?

One of the lessons of the ministry is that you get early-on is that you may not know where or when you do some good, and I suppose the same is true for churches, too. Sometimes it’s the listening ear, the kind word or the open door that does more good — or so we hear, or imagine — than programs, or planning or a fine education or stained glass. But I wonder if that’s not face saving; perhaps not untrue, at least in the past, but a less-than-productive use of time, talent and treasure. And in a secularizing world, we can make a clear and candid review of the work of the church and the ministry, or others will do it for us.

The same thought occurs: what is the value of our work, what reason do we have to engage it, and its value to others?

Where I got my favorite Geneva bands

The “Boy in the Bands” moniker began as a terrible double pun: a throw-away name to sign up for a site I rarely visit today. I was in a pastorate when I began this blog, and wore a collar and Geneva bands, with gown and hood in the pulpit.

I don’t wear a clerical collar often these days: I’m not in a pastorate, for one. And when I preach supply, and then visit after the service it draws too much attention. And a dress shirt and tie is more comfortable. So, I’ve gone from the kind of bands (or tabs, if you like) that you tie on and wear under a clerical collar, to the kind that you tuck in.

2014-06-29 08.40.59
Shameless selfie

Tuck in, that is, between my neck and the shirt and over the tie to hide it. Here am (left) I before assisting with communion at First Universalist Church on the Sunday of General Assembly. (Had I been preaching, I might have worn my hood, too. But the real reason is that I didn’t want to pack it. The gown was borrowed.)  It’s a comfort to only carry a couple of ounces of linen to “suit up.”

I’m writing about the bands, not to draw attention to me or them, but because a younger minister was drawn to this elegant custom, and wanted to get a set.

Alas, they’re German, ordered from Germany with the help of an expat former church member. That was about eleven year ago (and they’re still in wonderful shape.)

I got them from church textiles workshop of Diakonie Neuendettelsau. The “hohlsaum” (handworked decorative holes), made of linen. This is the one I got.

Selection_009 And when you click through, you’ll want the Reformed (Reformiert) style. The Steckbeffchen (insert-bands). I got the 17 cm long ones; then again, I’m 6-foot-4.

Selection_008Good luck after that. I don’t read German, and the site doesn’t assume Anglophones would want their product. Or non-Germans, for shipping.

I though: perhaps the Transylvanians have something similar, and their tailors could also use the work. By which I mean the Reformed Church.(Though I’ve never seen them.)  As the late Bishop Szabo, of the Transylvanian Unitarian church put it when I was kitting him out for a communion service, “we don’t wear the Moses’ tablets…”

But ministers. you might try then. Someone ought to keep tabs on you.


“Fathers” and “Mothers” among the Universalists

For decades, perhaps generations, Universalists applied the honorific term father and mother to honored elders. The most obvious use is Father and Mother Murray — John and Judith — but there are others, none recent.

So I wondered: how did one earn the honor, to whom was it applied (generally, for it was surely not ministers only, and, which particular persons were so called) and when did the practice fade? I know the term brother, to describe a minister, has survived into living memory. I recall Brother (Leonard) Prater, for instance; he died in the 1990s. And the translation of honored and beloved siblinghood can easily be transferred to parenthood.

I’ll post or link future findings from here.

Signs of life at UUCF-MIN

[Later. Title fixed.]

One of the oldest Internet communities for Unitarian Universalist Christians is the UUCF-MIN list. But as email has lost some of its cachet, and Facebook and Twitter have taken over some of its utility, the list has had less and less traffic, and now is more often quiet than not.

I sent an email to check in: to see if the mailing list is live, and to see if its former participants were still present and interested. They are. Some people, after all, just don’t like Facebook or Twitter or any other social network.

If you are interested, and are a Unitarian Universalist and kindred Christian ministers or seminarians,in the United States or anywhere in the world, you are welcome to ask the moderators to join. (I think there was a provision for non-fellowshipped ministers who served denominational churches, but I cannot find any note of that now.) But don’t ask me: I’m not one of them now!

“Bishop of the Universalists”


Presented for your amusement. You hear of bishops from time to time among the Universalists — Paul Dean’s Charleston, S.C. ministry comes to mind — but always accompanied by hot words.

From the California Digital Newspaper CollectionSan Francisco Call, (Volume 85, Number 166), May 15, 1899


LOS ANGELES, May 14.— The most important action during the recent Universalist State Convention in Pasadena was the election of a state superintendent of churches, or what in other denominations would be called a bishop. The convention having created the office, Rev. L. M. Andrews of Santa Paula was by vote elevated to the position. According to the records. Rev. Mr. Andrews is the first Universalist bishop of California.


Bold experiment in ministry

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.)

Read the outline of the proposal here.

The team ministry begins June 15, and I pray them and the church every success. I’ll return to this subject from time to time.

Can ministers in and out of parishes work with one another?

The title of this blog post is a question — can ministers in and out of parishes work with one another? — and an appeal for discussion.

It’s not a hypothetical or philosophical question. Given the different work schedules of ministers who work in parishes and those who work institution or in secular settings, can we get together for meetings, or even conference calls or online? Do our interests line up? Or resources, say expense accounts, or what a non-parish salary (some much higher and much lower than in a parish) can bear?

Sometimes I feel we have four ministerial colleges, in descending esteem: those settled or hired in parishes, those settled or hired in non-parish ministries, those occupied in secular work (or secular unemployment), and retired ministers. And the last two make up about two-thirds of all living Unitarian Universalist ministers.

Why do ministers hate writing newsletter columns?

I was chatting with some parish ministers; one complained about having to go back to finish a newsletter column, to the moans and commiserations of the others. (The weekly newsletter-meditation implied by the order of service-themed blog post yesterday only raises the demand.)

I lightly chuckled, since I don’t have that responsibility anymore. And funny, as I was already blogging in my last pastorate, it was always easier and more pleasant to blog than write newsletter columns, so it isn’t the act of writing, per se. (The only thing worse was coming up with suitably vague but interesting blurbs for sermons I hadn’t written yet.)

So preachers,

  • why is this task so awful?
  • what can be done to make it less awful?
  • would anyone notice if we stopped?

And by “we” I mean “you.” I’d love to hear from you. I’ll allow anonymous comments for this post, for obvious reasons.


R&E Newsweekly on shortage of mainline pastorates

Required watching for anyone with romantic ideas about going into the ministry. The “gone into nonprofits” is my story of the last ten years. Not sad, but the existential piece hits close to home

See the Religion and Ethics Newsweekly site for a transcript.
Diminishing Job Prospects for Protestant Pastors” (May 2, 2014)

Archives search: what is the verb of Universalist fellowship?

When you read the 1899 and 1935 Universalist basis of fellowship, you realize the talk of anti-creedal absolutism isn’t right, or isn’t quite right. But what did Universalist ministers (and presumably state conventions and churches, the three subjects of fellowship oversight) actually own up to?

Let’s review, emphasis mine.

From 1899:

The conditions of fellowship in this Convention shall be acceptance of the essential principles of the Universalist faith and acknowledgment of the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Universalist General Convention.

This, following

These historic declarations of faith with liberty of interpretation are dear and acceptable to many Universalists. They are commended not as tests but as testimonies in the free quest for truth that accords with the genius of the Universalist Church.

In 1935, you get the same, around which was wrapped

The bond of fellowship in this Convention shall be a common purpose to do the will of God as Jesus revealed it and to co-operate in establishing the kingdom for which he lived and died.

To that end, we avow our faith in God as Eternal and All-conquering Love,…

Each avowal contained those before; the 1935 document has the 1899 document within in, which has the 1803 Winchester Profession in it.  (And since the original Principles of the then-new Unitarian Universalist Association pulled language from the 1935 document, I read a hidden, dormant but not broken continuation today.)

But what did Universalist minister actually affirm? The application forms for ministerial license and ordination help us understand the dynamic.

An application for license from 1920, using a standard blank and written in the form of a letter, states:

I desire to devote my life to the work of the Christian Ministry, in the Fellowship of the Universalist Church. I respectfully apply for a Letter of License to preach under its auspices. The motives are expressed on the other side of this paper. I cordially accept the essential principles of the Universalist Faith as follows:

and then the Five Principles follow, after which it reads:

And I freely acknowledge the authority of the General Convention, and assent to its laws, promising to co-operate faithfully in all measures but maybe by the General Convention and by the state convention in which I am connected, for the furtherance of the work and welfare of our church.

An application for license as a lay preacher from 1959 has a similar format, with the pledge reading:

I cordially accept the essential principles of the Universalist Faith as expressed in the Bond of Fellowship and freely acknowledge the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Universalist Church of America, and assent to its laws, promising to cooperate faithfully in all measures that may be why it and by the Convention or Conference with which I am connected, for the furtherance of the work and welfare of the Universalist Church.

The key verb is accept; nothing craven or crawling, but still a statement of faith, and even more pressingly, a statement of order. I don’t suggest we return to it, but let’s recogize our forebears asked more and less than we are asked today. And there was room for flexibility. A Unitarian minister (and Tufts graduate) in 1942 asking for dual fellowship pledged the following:

Being in accord with the general principles of the Universalist Church, and desiring to manifest my sympathy with the cause of Liberal Religion as a whole, I hereby make application for dual fellowship, and submit the following information…

He was admitted.