Personal M.Div.

Now that I’ve gotten a new feed reader, I can scan through fresh RSS feeds even faster, and pick up some blogs that I had to drop from being overwhelmed. One of this second class is the ChangeThis newsletter, which points to new manifesto titles at A manifesto is a prima facie argument and plan for why someone or some entity should change its behavior to X. Some are quite sensible and others wacky, but all have some merit. One — to substitute the incredibly expensive taught M.B.A. for a self-study (a web forum exists to facilitate) of foundational works on business — caught my attention. (Download it here.) Self-study under a mentor was the most education many (American, anyway) ministers could historically expect before the rise of the seminary system. And the money part: anyone who has worked the numbers around a seminary education knows that its effects on financial security are humbling, especially when coupled with the current opportunities for ordained clergy in the UUA. Or as I used to say, “if you’re going to go into the ministry, learn to cut hair first.” Or repair bikes or fix computer networks. Church or not, you’re going to have to eat.

Of course, others, chiefly Jordan Cooper, (also here) had already made the mental leap to the “personal M.Div.” and have already written about it. (I had dropped his feed, too.) For the most part, it has been a small bloggish ripple in the Internet. A development wiki has been created. [Site dead. Link to a snapshot at] Some have pointed to “essential” reading lists (like this one) which is the kind of thing that makes other nervous about ruining the institution of the ministry, and that the whole idea of a “personal M.Div.” runs counter to common sense or good church practice. The whole notion smacks of self-gratification and ego.

Perhaps a generation of self-studied ministers would be a problem, but I hardly think seminaries are the solution either. Right now, Unitarian Universalists, for example, have a polity-for-congregations that effectively excludes congregations from all formation but the final act: ordination. (Yes, I know about sponsorship and how that can be worked.) The current formation process — mind, I “went through” before the regional committees, but I suspect the difference is in degree, not kind — depends on the seminarian’s “entrepreneurial” skills to find a school, find funding, and finding an internship. Followed then by finding an ordaining church and a settlement. If that isn’t a recipe for ego and eccentricity, what is? Churchly formation — when it occurs — comes from mature internship sites and by proxy from the seminaries themselves.

By Scott Wells

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

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