This week’s blog post is written by Rev. Malcolm Himschoot who supports cross-conference infrastructure for Search and Call as the denomination’s Minister for Ministerial Transitions, and Rev. Elizabeth Dilley who serves as Minister for Ministers of the Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization (MESA) Team within the UCC’s national setting.
In any economic downturn, researchers measure how often workers are willing to relocate in a given industry. Pressure for livelihood can work in different ways, sometimes reducing people’s expectations for prospects elsewhere, and sometimes freeing people up to follow new horizons. In the field of ministry, is the trend really as simple as ministers staying close to home?
The UCC Search and Call Fair, held at General Synod in Baltimore in July 2017, gave evidence of a room full of 200 people learning about pastoral service throughout the country and networking across conferences. The MESA offices hear regularly from ministers raised up in the UCC or coming into the UCC who state they are willing to go anywhere God calls them. The MESA offices also hear from judicatory leaders who find it difficult to find candidates for certain pastoral ministry positions. What can account for these divergent experiences? We explore this through observations of supply and demand, geographical mobility, and diversity.
Supply and Demand
S: In terms of ordained ministers (plus those approved for ordination or with Privilege of Call), 903 profiles were prepared and validated between February 2, 2016 and August 2, 2017. This number includes ministers in search of ministry positions in local churches and those who prepared their profiles for other reasons.
D: The number of UCC conference-entered pastoral positions marked “filled” during the above time span was 234. Listings by UCC congregations for pastors at a given point in time on August 2, 2017 showed 267 vacancies. Note: Although increasingly all designated-term and even intentional interim positions are posted at UCC Ministry Opportunities, some conferences may have an unknown number of additional openings not posted online.
S: A total of 4017 ministers have entered data in the current online profiles system since 2014. This compares to a total of 5137 ordained ministers, Members in Discernment, and persons with Ordained Ministerial Partner Standing or employed with Privilege of Call.  There were 2156 non-duplicated Snapshots viewable to conference staff on August 2, 2017. Of these, at least 1478 ministers have indicated availability for full-time pastoral work and at least 920 have indicated availability for part-time pastoral work (with some overlap of ministers who indicated both full-time and part-time availability).
D: Of pastoral positions indicating terms of call on August 15, 2017 at UCC Ministry Opportunities, 120 listings were for full-time pastors and 65 were for part-time pastors. Considering part-time pastors, 46 listings were ½-time, 17 listings were ¾-time, and 2 listings were ¼-time positions.
S: All conferences generated new ministerial profiles over the 18-month period described above. The range was from 7 new profiles in a small conference to 181 new profiles in a large conference.
D: All conferences received new ministerial profiles in circulation during this time. The range was from 129 profiles in the same small conference to 318 profiles in the same large conference.
Is the minister from New York ready and willing to go to Texas? Is the minister who spent a lifetime in Chicago cut out for ministry in North Dakota? Actual stories of UCC ordained ministers indicate the answer is potentially yes. In every conference, the number of profiles received is greater than the number of profiles generated by ministers within that conference alone. In the Ohio Conference, that factor is 1.6. In the Iowa Conference and in the Southern Conference, it’s a factor of 3. In Hawaii, it’s 7. In the Montana-Northern Wyoming Conference, that factor is 16.
The comparative number of ministerial profiles indicates a large quantity of ministers willing to relocate. Numbers above also indicate a large quantity of ministers able to serve churches part-time.
A crux of the challenge may be whether many ministers are able to relocate for part-time service. How are churches dealing with this challenge? Some explore partnerships with related organizations, discern that shared ministry with another congregation is appropriate, or support bi-vocational clergy. Using the Call Agreement Workbook, congregations should strive for fairness when designing a part-time package and position description.
What kind of minister are churches open to? Both anecdotes and statistics suggest that bias in Search and Call prevents minister mobility on some occasions.
Of gender diversity, age diversity, sexual orientation, and race, race correlates most closely with geography. Vast parts of the U.S. are relatively homogeneous and white, compared to more racially diverse cities, seaboard states and islands. UCC churches are established throughout rural areas, while more Members in Discernment come through metropolitan associations. This means greater diversity in the pipeline of future ministers compared to churches.
From God’s point of view, statistical probabilities as well as unlikely matches spell great possibilities for transformative ministry in the 21st century. As ever, those possibilities can only become manifest when congregations and clergy are open to change and surprise.