Rev. Holly MillerShank, Team Leader of the Ministerial Excellence, Support, and Authorization (MESA) Team in the UCC’s national setting, conducted extensive research last year on the nature and function of Committees on Ministry within the denomination. Below is a contribution from Rev. MillerShank summarizing her findings.
Committees on Ministry in the United Church of Christ are the touchstone for ministerial formation, ongoing support, and oversight. Committees on Ministry (or COMs) are the embodiment of covenantal relationship. Intentionally trained and resourced COMs provide both empowerment and accountability. Service on a Committee on Ministry by lay and authorized UCC church members is a ministry in and of itself, representative of the whole of the United Church of Christ.
In 2014, a comprehensive report was completed on the state of Committees on Ministry in the United Church of Christ. The research was designed to capture a moment in time between July and September of 2014, but it also speaks to larger trends in our COMs.
Within the 38 conferences of the UCC, there are approximately 173 Committees on Ministry including association-based COMs, permanent subcommittees within associations, super-committees within conferences, and conferences acting as Associations.
Of the remaining 22 conferences whose COM work is largely association-based, there are significant areas of collaboration taking place in larger “super-committees” of the conference, for example:
- Iowa: 5 of their 6 associations do fitness reviews together.
- Massachusetts: all 11 associations do fitness reviews together, 4 of the 11 do Member in Discernment (MID) work together.
- New Hampshire: 7 associations do fitness reviews together.
- Penn Southeast: 4 of their 7 associations do fitness reviews together.
- Vermont: 5 of their 8 associations do all of their COM work together.
On average, Committees on Ministry have 12 members. Six COMs in the UCC have 20 or more members (highest is 30), and 6 COMs have 6 or fewer members (lowest is 2). For 64% of COMs, committee member terms are 3 year renewable; 29% are 2 year renewable. Florida is the only conference with 4 year terms.
Twenty-six of the conferences reported that the majority of their COMs meet monthly. Five conferences reported that at least one of their COMs meets every other month. Five conferences reported that their COMs meet quarterly; both Montana Northern-Wyoming and Central Pacific said that their quarterly meetings last two days. One association COM in Nebraska meets twice a year. A handful of conferences have regularly-meeting subcommittees but only bring the whole committee together once or twice a year. Seven conferences said that they have at least one association COM that only meets as necessary.
Only 3 conferences have at least one association that does not require boundary training; two of these three have re-evaluated that decision since this report was published in December of 2014. Nine conferences have at least one association that requires continuing education for authorized ministers.
During the course of this research, approximately 95 documents were collected from 19 different conferences. These materials are formally adopted policies and procedures in their settings, in addition to the UCC Manual on Ministry (MOM). A clear 50% of the submitted materials were guidelines for the Member in Discernment (or MID) process. This trend is logical because the current version of MOM is dated from 2000, and the Ministry Issues Pronouncement in 2005 dramatically altered language and practices regarding those seeking a call to authorized ministry in the denomination.
Thirty of the conferences responded to the question “What requirements do you have for Members in Discernment?” In answering, most referred to these requirements specifically for MIDs seeking ordination.
- Of the 30 respondents, 15 reported that Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) was required. An additional 6 said CPE requirements were determined case by case.
- Of the 30 respondents, 23 reported that psychological assessments (usually through a Ministry Development Center) were required. Four stated that psychological assessments were determined case by case. Three said they do not require psychological evaluations.
- Of the 30 respondents, 27 conferences reported that UCC History, Theology and Polity was required for Members in Discernment. The other 2 conferences reporting said they assumed MIDs took this course in seminary.
In conclusion, the statistics and trends captured in this blog and in the complete report reinforce the understanding the Committees on Ministry are essential parts of UCC polity; however inconsistency across conference and association settings is apparent.
COMs need to be well equipped and trained for this vital ministry within the denomination. The information collected in this report provides a larger picture of COM work for associations and conferences, and it informs the work of the Ministerial Excellence Support and Authorization (MESA) Team as they endeavor to re-vision the UCC Manual on Ministry with the Habakkuk Group.