If the UUA helped with non-church placement, I would have stayed

There’s no secret and no shame in saying I’m out of work. Have been since late August when a financial crunch at Day Job led to layoffs. Looking for work means I’ve been blogging less; thanks to James Estes for referring me to a good job search counselor. Say a little prayer for me please; I’ve got some reason for optimism before Christmas.

I was talking to PeaceBang about this before Thanksgiving. After all, job loss and career transition is common and (if disliked) accepted today. Of course, I would like to be back in a parish church (UCC this time, but a liberal independent church would be nice, too) if for no other reason than I think I have something to offer a church and — oh, yeah — I’m still paying on my seminary loan. It is hard to still be paying on one’s last career path and having to find a new one.

Hubby gives me the Sunday job section a Certain Well-known Newspaper, his employer, and the cover article a while back was about the economic slide young adults have experienced in job earnings, urban rent and cost of education. Even at 37, I know these pinches. I never liked listening to the Old Lions (now all retired; many deceased) at General Assembly boast-gloat-rue how thin the numbers of seminarians were in their day, and how their educations were paid for, or nearly so. And having gone to a non-UU school, I count myself one of the lucky ones having been the recipient of a very generous grant package from the Disciples of Christ. I should be out of debt by the time I turn 40.

It’s Harder for Your Generation” by Mary Ellen Slayer. (Washington Post, 26 November 2006)

Now, to the point of the article. My decision to leave the UUA for the UCC is not so cut and dried as a theological decision, though that plays an important part. The health and functioning of institutions is an important part, too, as are prior relationships. The UUA doesn’t and hasn’t offered me, as a youngish minister the kind of services I need. I got very little financial aid from the UUA, even though the UUA would benefit from having a mobile force of ministers at hand. At least I got an internship, which seem to be fewer and fewer. Tales about the low regard Unitarian Universalist with authority have for seminarian families come up too often to be ignored. My take is that the UUA is ideally communitarian when convenient and laissez-faire when not.

But since the UUA does have a glut of ministers, and since these ministers very often have so few options in other denominations, and since there has been so much personal and institutional (if not enough by my estimation) investment in their formation, wouldn’t make some sense to try and keep them afloat when ministry positions aren’t available? Help to market that weird M.Div. or support in finding meantime secular work without the risk of loosing fellowship for “inactivity.” Some ministry that would matter in practice. That would have shown me the UUA has its act together and values the people who have given so much to support it. Am I bitter? Only a little, and less and less each day.

By Scott Wells

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


  1. Scott – I always was of the opinion that your work with the old Day Job, should have been counted as a community ministry. Service for a non-profit (even when secular) that seeks to improve the lives of people with a history of being marginalized, should have been counted as ministry.

  2. Scott, you are in my prayers–though you were already. Don’t let the job situation get to you. My partner, Jennifer, has been unemployed now for six months. If it is difficult to find work in ministry, imagine applying for a position in public relations with five hundred other applicants.

    One of the things that I have been forced to adapt to in ministry has been the need to redefine my sense of ministry. For example, as a vocational interim minister I have become accustomed to engaging in conflict with entire congregations–something that I never thought that I could never do years ago. I never imagined years ago that my ministry would form in this direction.

    I sense that your calling is still very strong. Keep your spirits up. Something will appear if you are open to new possibilities.

  3. Dear Scott

    I am sorry to hear about your job situation. You have my best wishes for a happy landing somewhere good.

    Heaven forbid that I should give anyone advice, but you are one of the bloggers I admire the most and I want to help so here goes: If you say the Holy Name a million times, it actually changes your head. (But it has to be a real Holy Name.)

    God Bless you


  4. Scott, I wish you the best on your job hunt, and you’ll be in my prayers.

    Like you, my departure from the UUA was not entirely theological or liturgical, but had a big practical component – I was unlikely, as an African American Christian-leaning lesbian, to be hired by a UU congregation.

    There are, I think, a lot of ways that the UUA could improve the minesterial formation process, as well as how they work with ministers who are not currently settled, as you say.

    And, like people here have already said – ministry is such a more broadly defined thing than is traditionally thought. I’m ready to move into nonprofit technology ministry. :-)

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