The Real World: Unitarian Universalist edition

After the strong response to my words about debt — and thank you all for replying — I was going to write about the logjam which is ministerial formation in the Unitarian Universalist Association

If you can pay for school, you might not get the needed internship. If you get fellowship, you might never get a pastorate or ministerial position. If you get a pastorate or position, it might not pay a living wage or offer adequate benefits. In case you wonder why I work for a D.C. nonprofit.

I was going to go into some detail. But David Soliday (Facilitating Paradox) today put it into rather poignant, personal detail.

By Scott Wells

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


  1. I read David’s post and it has caused must thinking on my part. I work at a “lay lead” UU congregation in Ohio and know a little how political things end up. This being the case I read David’s post and the recent posts on debt and I don’t know what to do with my life. I’m told its just as difficult trying to go into the academic world — but I cannot think of anything I’d rather do with my life other than full time ministry or teaching. As of late I’ve read more horror stories than happy endings!

  2. I wonder if Ms Theologian and I ended up as theologically-educated laypeople for similar reasons. Unlike David Soliday, I didn’t have a family to support — but the debt load that would have been involved in completing the UUA’s fellowship requirements was too daunting and I didn’t have the heart to keep going. My wife and I are paying down our student loans (which we consolidated separately during the super-low interest rates a few years back) and all my credit card debt is gone, but the expense of seminary will be lingering in my household for years to come. I don’t regret going, but it is deeply disturbing how financially demanding internships, CPE residencies, and theological education are now.

  3. I posted on David’s blog, but I will also post here. In my case I could not complete the fellowship process without going into heavy debt, and/or having had to endure a 1 to 2 year seperation from my spouse (many internship sites the years I was looking were located far from my part of the U.S., were half-time, 2-years with a compensation package of $10,000-$12,000 per year).

    I ended up with an “irregular” ordination from my home church, technically allowed by congregational polity and UUA by-laws; but not fellowshipped by the MFC. While many congregations will not consider me, I’ve still enjoyed good ministry with 2 liberal churches (one within the UUA, one outside the UUA), and have met colleagues ordained under simmilar circumstances.

    However, and here we get to my main point, I’ve met MANY more people who started off down the ordination plus fellowship track, and who then pulled out because they were unwilling to sacrifice their marriage to lengthy seperation, or to go into extreme debt. Most of these folks also decided to go into areas where ministry training was useful, but where ordination was not required. I’m talking hospital lay-chaplaincy, homeless shelter community ministry, service with charities, and service with other kinds of non-profits and advocacy organizations.

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