This week’s article is written by Rev. Elizabeth Dilley, the UCC’s Minister for Ministers in Local Churches. Learn more about the work of Elizabeth and her colleagues at www.ucc.org/ministers.
One persistent concern that the Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization (MESA) team hears in the church is about the future of ministry. Specifically, given all the concerns about seminary debt and church closures, are people going into ministry any longer? We hear this question from clergy who are considering retirement, from churches who have faced or expect to face a pastoral transition, and from others who are concerned about the future leadership of the church more broadly. Of course, this question is likely to be rooted in other anxieties about the future of the church as we experience it now, but the MESA team is happy to report that the pipeline for clergy continues to be strong. The United Church of Christ Data Hub lists 722 Members in Discernment (or MIDs) across 37 of our 38 conferences (only Northern Plains does not have MIDs currently).
Additionally, there is a fairly wide distribution pattern of MIDs among those thirty-seven conferences; Massachusetts and Illinois have the most MIDs with 64 and 52 respectively. Rounding out the top five conferences are Connecticut (47 MIDs), Ohio (42 MIDs), and Michigan (37 MIDs). Additionally, only 6 conferences have fewer than five MIDs right now.
The top five conferences in terms of numbers of MIDs per churches-in-conference are: Rocky Mountain (26 MIDs among 74 churches), Southeast (16 MIDs among 56 churches), Northern California-Nevada (30 MIDs among 109 churches), South Central (20 MIDs among 73 churches) and Michigan (37 MIDs among 138 churches). The Southeast Conference in particular has identified itself as a “launching conference,” which authorizes a significant number of people for ministry, knowing those individuals are most likely going to serve in other parts of the United Church of Christ. We can celebrate that our denomination continues to call forth leaders to discern their potential future as authorized ministers in the United Church of Christ.
We uncovered some other fascinating information about these 722 MIDs. One hundred are also licensed, serving in a supervised ministry setting requiring authorization, and one is commissioned. Nineteen additional individuals are listed as “ordained” or “seeking Privilege of Call,” meaning they are authorized by another denomination but seeking standing as a UCC minister.
There is also a great deal of demographic information, although this being optional, it is incomplete. We have a MID born in the 1930s! We also have 21 MIDs born in the 1940s, 92 born in the 1950s, 81 born in the 1960s, 63 born in the 1970s, 84 born in the 1980s, and 11 born in the 1990s. (We also have 369 MIDs whose birth year is not listed in the Data Hub.) We could report the data on Boomer/Gen X/Millennial distribution, but given that there is not uniform agreement on the years for each generational category (and there are some overlapping years for Boomers and Gen Xers), all I’m prepared to say today is that the Xers have a slight edge on the Boomers among MIDs, and the Millennials are coming in strong!
In other demographic categories, we can report that of the 625 MIDs who list a gender, 393 identify as female, 226 as male, and 6 as transgender. Nearly 21% of the 407 MIDs who have a race/ethnicity marked in the Data Hub are people of color – 60 identify as African-American, 11 as Hispanic/Latino/a/x, 10 as Asian/Pacific Islander, 4 as Native American, and 3 identify as Bi-Racial or Multi-Racial. The remaining 319 self-identify as White/Euro-American.
There are any number of ways to continue to slice the data. Want to know how many male-identified MIDs were born in the 1980s and 90s? There are 37 of them. Want to know how many women over the age of 50 are in discernment? There are 117 of them. Want to know the age range of our transgender MIDs? They range from 29-63 years of age. Want to know how many of our African-American MIDs are female? We celebrate 44 of them. (Their birth years range from 1953-1985, by the way.) Are you curious if we have any transgender MIDs of color? We do!
All of this affirms that people of all ages, backgrounds and life experiences are answering God’s call to ministry and exploring that call with their congregation and Committee on Ministry. We pray for these Members in Discernment, the congregations and Committees on Ministry who are discerning alongside them, and we give thanks that the future of the church looks to be well-served by an abundance of well-trained and prepared leaders.