From Pipeline to Pulpit: Expanding Excellent and Diverse Leadership in UCC Parish Ministry

This week’s post is written by Rev. Kathy Clark and Rev. Malcolm Himschoot of the Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization (MESA) Team within the UCC’s national setting. 

God our Creator has a way of affirming us in our different and diverse identities. This is a statement we can claim theologically.

Professionally, Kathy Clark works with the over 750 Members in Discernment (MIDs) in the United Church of Christ. Particularly in MID gatherings both locally and nationally, she notes the high degree of diverse identities that Members in Discernment carry while they prepare for possible authorization as Licensed, Commissioned or Ordained ministers of the church. Malcolm Himschoot works with processes undergirding Search and Call for local church pastors in the UCC. He notes that between 12-14% of ministers presently in the profiles database have opted to identify a heritage considered a “person of color” in the United States. These two observations indicate a higher percentage of diversity in available personnel than in UCC membership overall.

Members in Discernment, if seeking pastoral opportunities in the United Church of Christ, commonly report that they worry about bias against the particularity of their identities: woman, transgender, person of color, Black, young, old, gay, differently-abled. In gatherings of African-American women in ministry and in settings where queer ministers gather, specifically, anecdotes of waiting a long time for one’s first call abound. The Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization (MESA) Team has noted far more people of color present in Member in Discernment gatherings compared to those present in gatherings of newly authorized ministers, leading us to believe there is a clog in our pipeline that needs to be addressed. Not calling excellent, diverse leaders to our local congregations results in a loss to the whole Body of Christ.

Members in Discernment at a regional gathering in Cleveland

Members in Discernment at a regional gathering in Cleveland

The way for search committees to draw the most talented ministers to serve Christ’s church is to begin by recognizing that there is implicit bias in our systems.¹ Search committees who are most successful at meeting the Bold, Inspirational Goal of Excellent, Diverse Leaders for the UCC, engage the following practices. They:

• Explicitly adopt as a goal the inclusion of racial and other diversities in their candidate pool;
• Take concrete steps to ensure diversity within the batch of applicants;
• Write a careful position description that focuses on gifts and competencies, not only of the candidates but also of the congregation and the communities it serves;
• Publicize widely including in communities of color and other informal and formal networks, such as the UCC Disabilities Network and UCC Ministry Opportunities;
• Carefully review profiles according to abilities in the position description;
• Ask all applicants the same interview questions; and
• Are prayerful and discerning in this process, inviting and trusting the Holy Spirit to be at work in their midst.

Sailing on Faith depicts one example of a search committee coming to new awareness and new possibilities by overcoming categorical criteria. This 25-minute video is viewed by many search committees who are surprised by their congregation’s readiness to follow God’s lead into non-partiality in Christian leadership (Acts 10:34).

The new UCC Ministerial Profile, reflecting the vision of the Ministry Issues Pronouncement of 2005, was developed to incorporate inclusive paths of formation and education. Use of The Marks of Faithful and Effective Authorized Ministers of the UCC has overall raised standards in authorization while lifting up competencies equivalent across various kinds of educational systems. The Marks address what a minister does well, and the deeper question of what a minister is for. Using the Marks in a search committee’s discernment, conversations are prompted about the vocation to which both minister and congregation are called.

Some ministers are bicultural, meaning they have more than one cultural location from which they live and minister. An example is the person of color educated in, and pastoring out of, a Euro-American context. Some ministers serve cross-culturally–for example, an indigenous Hawaiian minister serving a Chinese-American congregation. Some ministers are involved in culturally-specific ministry using one or more of their identities, like a minister of African descent serving an Afro-centric congregation or a Latina minister serving a particular Latin@ ministry. In addition to offering bicultural identities and cross-cultural competencies as gifts for the church, many Members in Discernment have begun naming particular identities to use in culturally-specific ministry. If ministers wish to find out how being Deaf in ministry will serve the Body of Christ, for example, or if they are ready to build new bridges using their skill speaking Arabic, they include that information in their Snapshot which is searchable to conference staff. Conferences’ work to diversify batches of profiles not only redresses implicit bias preventing bicultural and cross-cultural ministry, but also capacitates new possibilities for inter-cultural work.

UCC Members in Discernment

God not only affirms us in our different and diverse identities, but also God calls us onward as the church – a new identity altogether. Excellence in beginning the theological conversation about God’s calling provides a solid basis for spiritual growth and leadership between congregation and minister, fruitful in these times of increasing demographic diversity and richness.

AUTHOR NOTE: As co-authors of this article, we reflect on our white social location across two different generations and the queer/straight continuum. We hail from different parts of the country and are most familiar with working-class and professional journeys, our own and others’. Having worked among Black, Latina/o, Native, Asian and Euro-American communities, we recognize that we bear white privilege in systems of racism and racial inequity. We are embodied human beings who have experienced differing abilities at different times in our lives, who currently carry able-bodied privilege.

¹ For further information on recognizing and overcoming bias, see the Sacred Conversation on Race handout and the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity’s annual publication “Implicit Bias Review.”

4 thoughts on “From Pipeline to Pulpit: Expanding Excellent and Diverse Leadership in UCC Parish Ministry

  1. Beloveds of God, it’s an exciting time to be a church and to be in search!

    Having been in search and call, I know that there is such risk in identifying as queer and/or transgender in the process. It takes much longer for those of us who choose to disclose our identity to receive interviews and call-backs, if we get them at all. I know some gifted clergy who have spent years and years in search, reflecting not their ministry… but of who they are and who they love.

    So while you look through the piles of ministerial profiles in front of you, I encourage you to look too, to the amazing gifts inherent within diversity. Highlighting Queer Clergy in an irreverent, yet holy, way, look to the Queer Clergy Trading Cards! The folks on these cards serve in denominations and ministries all around the world, and are uniquely well-equipped to the changing face of Christianity. These individual clergy folk may not be in search and call themselves, yet their super powers and kryptonite and the songs to which they’d walk out to preach inspire many along the way.

    Why consider us? We are used to thriving when the odds are against us. We are accustomed to being in relationship across diverse communities. We are creative and flexible and many of us know the resurrection story as a deeply intimate part of our own stories. We bring gifts to church that may be overlooked, and we are ready and willing to serve the God who called us into being and into direct ministry, for the sake of the Gospel!

    So while we look together to this exciting time, may the spirit lead you and your congregation to whomever will cultivate your gifts, as well as using the entirety of their being to lead you in faith for all that is to come.


  2. Thank you for a great message that touches on several important topics related to ministry, and especially the “Search and Call” pipeline. However, I wanted to mention two issues that are relevant to this discussion that weren’t  mentioned in your post. Right now there are 277 open positions listed on the UCC Ministry Opportunities page, counting only the numbers listed next to each Conference. For example, I didn’t count the postings for Higher Ed/Seminaries, CPE, Ecumenical, Global Ministries, etc.. Certainly several of these postings listed as “open” are certainly not but there are also lay and Authorized openings in UCC congregations as well that are not listed on the Ministry Opportunities site. Some congregations use Craigslist, seminary employment job boards and other spaces to post their positions. More effort to keep the Ministry Opportunities site up to date with accurate information and encouraging all UCC churches to list their open positions (lay, Authorized and Internships) on that site would be a big help to those in the Search and Call process. Another issue that deserves more attention is the UCC’s Multiple Path process. While the national church has endorsed this process, for the most part, Seminaries, Conferences and Associations have not. This ends up being a “Catch 22” where  Associations haven’t made addressing Multiple Path a priority because the demand is low and MID’s and seminary students don’t want to consider a process that doesn’t exist and is never mentioned as a viable option for them. While a small number of the postings on Ministry Opportunities do mention that they will consider non-ordained applicants, usually in Associate positions, not a single posting mentions that they offer Multiple Path and are willing to consider Multiple Path candidates. Rather than truly embracing and promoting this process throughout the UCC, in my experience, Multiple Path and the ministry candidate exclusion issues that the original General Synod Resolution sought to address have virtually disappeared at regional and local levels of the church. Peace be with you, Daniel Romero           

       From: Vital Signs and Statistics To: Sent: Monday, August 31, 2015 1:45 AM Subject: [New post] From Pipeline to Pulpit: Expanding Excellent and Diverse Leadership in UCC Parish Ministry #yiv9183698208 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv9183698208 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv9183698208 a.yiv9183698208primaryactionlink:link, #yiv9183698208 a.yiv9183698208primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv9183698208 a.yiv9183698208primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv9183698208 a.yiv9183698208primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv9183698208 | Kristina Lizardy-Hajbi, CARD Director posted: “This week’s post is written by Rev. Kathy Clark and Rev. Malcolm Himschoot of the Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization (MESA) Team within the UCC’s national setting. God our Creator has a way of affirming us in our different and diverse i” | |


    • Response from Rev. Malcolm Himschoot:

      Thanks for your comment, Daniel. We have noticed some of the same things, but we also note progress. When UCC Ministry Opportunities went live three years ago, open public postings were down considerably, only 207 pastoral positions at that time. Because of the format and the energy created by the new website, conferences immediately increased listings. MESA’s encouragement is to continue to increase listings and the transparency of listings, including non-settled positions such as designated-term, intentional interim, and even supply. All of these are considered vacancies, and the provision of the UCC Constitution and Bylaws is for national communication of all pastoral vacancies, reported by conferences. To your second point – although local church search committees might not know whether they are looking for a minister ordained through a “multiple paths” process recognized by a Committee on Ministry (COM), COM decisions are recognized as equivalent in the ministerial profile. Some search committees have this past year called someone whose formation was beyond the typical seminary formation. –Malcolm


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