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.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. This is a familiar problem. I was a parish minister for 13 years before moving to community ministry (25 years now), and I’m married to a parish minister. The fact that community and parish clergy are on different schedules often precludes participation by community ministers in the same conferences and activities; and it simply does that. Attempts to work around it have IMHO largely failed.

    When the UU Ministers Association announced that it wanted a percentage of a minister’s income an annual dues, a number of community ministers (including myself) gave up on it as it appeared to offer no real services in support of community ministry. These days, a lot of community ministers consider the Unitarian Universalist Society for Community Ministries their professional home (full disclosure–I am the current President of UUSCM).

    I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but we’ve tried to 25+ years to shoehorn two very different types of ministry into a single professional association, and I came to a personal decision that it wasn’t working. Others probably have a different take on it, especially as UUSCM dues are very low ($75) and many can easily afford them.

  2. I wrote this post weeks ago, and slotted it this morning to give me more time to work on tomorrow’s post. It was about that time I joined, and have since been admitted to, the UUSCM.

  3. Thank you for this post Scott. I feel bad that I miss most UUMA activities because they conflict with my hospice work schedule. I really enjoy my parish colleagues but it is also always awkward being the only one in the meeting who is not a parish minister or a seminarian. I’m very happy to be reminded of the UUSCM too.

  4. The issue of having a schedule that can include bi-vocational ministers applies as well. Many who pair secular and sacred work live with inflexible spots in our work weeks. And I found that many meetings were scheduled by parish clergy, while I was doing the secular jobs. Attending larger District and UUA events was also a problem, since doing so required getting scarce vacation time from the secular employer (or taking unpaid time-off).

  5. This has been a problem since community ministry fellowship was started back in (someone will tell me exactly) the early 90s or so. I’m not sure that we can make one professional organization work well, for the reasons cited above: scheduling, for one, and the very different preoccupations of the two professions for another. Parish ministers will inevitably be concerned with the dynamics, joys and challenges of their ministries–preaching, administration, committee support, etc.–that will be remote from the work of community ministers, while the various agencies, the paperwork, the supervision, etc. of community ministers are going to be remote from the parish. I see nothing wrong with admitting this. Why not have two differing, but strong and mutually supportive professional associations, each serving the needs of its own constituents? Why not leverage social media, etc. rather than try to make one old model of monthly, weekday, face to face chapter meetings try to serve both? I speak as a parish minister of 20 years experience who has seen community ministers try harder than parish ministers to make this work–and for the most part it hasn’t.

  6. If there is any hope of mixing the various types of ministers, it will be through getting radically local. Here in Northern New England, we have all these types of ministries, but in reality, for most of us, our tightest ties are highly local. That is, we are divided east and west by the White Mountains of New Hampshire, north and south by the valleys/passes whose roads are US 302, US 2, and US 4. Severe weather forces us to commune within these quadrants, with wider quadrants when the weather is better, and barely getting out of our own driveways for several months of the year. Which means that we rely on each other locally, with somewhat less regard for the various categories, at least during those times. There was a weekend last October when First UU Burlington was ministering to three memorial services — one emeritus, one community-based, and the settled minister — because that’s when the families needed us.

    Having examined and recorded the history of this congregation, I can affirm that it was ever thus.

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