Options for ordination: UCC

Chuck Currie forwards without comment a news release about a proposal that will come to the United Church of Christ General Synod (Atlanta!) this summer.

Since the subject of alternative formation and fellowship has come up several times before, I can’t help but be interested. Now, I have to wonder if there is a difference here despite the historical ties between the UUA and the UCC. We have a rare ministerial glut. Perhaps the UCC doesn’t. There’s also a different, semi-Presbyterial mechanism for ordination.

But, like the UCC, we have an underused “equivalent to M.Div.” proviso standard. We also have a history, via Universalism, of licensed ministers, though the use has morphed in a couple of small ways in local areas.

There’s a link to the proposal at Churck Currie’s blog or the UCC press release.

But a line makes me consider the purpose of the proposed change: to open up the ministry more effectively to ethnic and cultural minorities.

Episcopal bishop (for the American churches in Europe) Pierre W. Whalon wrote an article (read to the end) about how that would work under their alternative ordination Canon 9 and another on the importance of recruitment to the ministry. Both are worth a read.

By Scott Wells

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


  1. The UCC has a storage of clergy.

    I didn’t comment on the article because I’m conflicted by the proposal. Without a seminary education I’m not sure how one could be a good minister. But I’m open to the idea that people learn in different ways and that one path will not work for all. I’m assume the proposal will pass. How the different conferences in the UCC implement the ideas will be interesting to watch.



  2. The UCC has experimented with one alternative model, with some success, in the South Dakota Conference. By opening up an alternate route to ordination, they’ve been able to raise up ministers from their local/indigenous, rural, Prairie populations. These people could not have likely entered ministry if they had to leave their state for a distant seminary (the only accredited theological school in South Dakota is Baptist). These UCC ministers have been trained through an M.Div. equivalent program involving mentoring, and intensive format classes at Yankton College. At the end of the process, they have a ministry certificate (but not an accredited M.Div.).

    Yankton was a UCC affiliated college, founded by German Congregationalists. As a degree granting institution it closed, but the South Dakota conference keeps the property in operation as a field school for alternative ministerial training, and lay education enrichment.

    So far as I’ve been told, the results have been the production of good ministers, who intimately understand the rural culture they are part of. And they churches they serve feel they have good pastors who understand the work of ministry, the traditions of the UCC, and who want to call rural South Dakota communities home.

    There are similar programs in some Episcopal diocese (I believe Kansas is one of them). In the Indianapolis diocese, such a process is used to train ministers ordained to the order of permanent deacons (a bi-vocational ministry in the Episcopal tradition).


  3. If you are called to the ministry, you can figure out a way to go to seminary. Plenty of folks in my seminary class gave up lucrative careers and moved their families to pursue an M.Div. You need the three years not just because of what you learn, but because of how you are spiritually formed to be a pastor. I find the idea of letting folks who think they don’t need seminary be ordained to be insulting to those of us who went through the process. Plus, there are a lot of clergy who have a seminary background and would like to serve. Part of this is helping churches realize that pastors play an important role and need to paid reasonable salaries. I haven’t seen one church in all my years of ministry turn around after being sent a lay pastor. But I’ve seen it time and again when a congregation cares enough to hire a pastor who is committed enough to go to seminary.

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