Licensed Ministry According to Licensed Ministers and Conference Staff: Survey Results, Part One

This week’s post is written by 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 the summer of 2017, the Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization (MESA) Ministry Team and the Habakkak Group sent a survey to all Licensed Ministers listed in the UCC Data Hub and a second survey to Associate Conference Ministers (or Conference Ministers) in every conference. The purpose of these surveys was to gather specific feedback about the practices of licensure and the experiences of licensed ministry across the United Church of Christ. Of the approximately 660 Licensed Ministers in the UCC, 243 completed this survey. This article is the first of two articles sharing the results, along with some demographic information from the CARD office.

In the 1986 version of the Manual on Ministry, the scope of licensure included individuals performing “specified duties….for a designated time under the supervision and guidance of [an] Association,” reserved for “those special situations when ordained ministers are not available to provide these services [of preaching and conducting services of worship] to a local church” (quotes from the 1986/2002 version of the Manual on Ministry, Section 7, pages 1-2).

Overall, Licensed Ministers comprise approximately 10% of all non-retired authorized ministers in the United Church of Christ. The Nebraska Conference has the highest percentage of Licensed Ministers, with 45.1% of their non-retired authorized ministers being licensed. Penn West is second at 28.6%. Northern California-Nevada has the fewest Licensed Ministers among their non-retired authorized minister population at 0.4%; Massachusetts has the second-fewest percentage, with 2.8%.

TENURE: Almost half (46%) of Licensed Ministers report being licensed for 5 or more years at their current setting, with an additional 40% serving for 1-5 years. A high margin (72%) have been licensed only to their current setting, while 17.7% have been licensed to one other setting, and the remainder have been licensed to 2 or more additional settings. Nearly half (45.8%) of Licensed Ministers hope to serve in another context, and 16.1% are pursuing ordination as a Member in Discernment. The rest indicate that they do not plan to serve in another setting, either because they are only serving temporarily in the UCC, plan to retire from their current context, or only feel called to licensed ministry at this time.

SCOPE OF WORK: In the survey results, 21.5% of Licensed Ministers report serving full-time, with the rest serving part-time. Among those serving part time, 30.8% serve ¾ time and 9.5% serve “as needed” or supply on a part-time or volunteer basis. This indicates that licensed ministry is being used largely in contexts when a congregation cannot afford to pay a full-time salary. This is unsurprising; however, we cannot extrapolate from this data any information about the availability or willingness of ordained ministers to serve in settings that only pay part-time.

ORDINATION (OR NOT): Fewer than half (43%) of Licensed Ministers have not considered ordination or are not seeking that path to authorization. Despite the 25th General Synod Ministry Issues Pronouncement affirming multiple paths of preparation for ordination, including but not limited to seminary, and despite the fact that only 9.7% of respondents said that seminary was a prerequisite for ordination in their Association, many of the perceived barriers to ordination focused on seminary. (Multiple answers were permitted in the category, so the numbers will not add to 100%). More than a quarter (26.7%) say they “can’t afford” seminary, 21.8% say they can’t move for seminary, 20.8% say they have no desire to attend seminary, and 19.4% say they do not have the prerequisites for seminary.

A significant percentage (46%) of individuals in this category also marked “other” reasons, including age, lack of time, family or health constraints as reasons not to consider ordination, including 22.5% of respondents who report that they do not sense God’s call to ordination, and 18.1% who say that their time in discernment with a Committee on Ministry led to a decision of licensure.

REQUIREMENTS FOR STANDING: Licensed Ministers report a variety of prerequisites for licensure in their Association, including: an interview with the Committee on Ministry (88.1%), letters of reference (82.7%), Boundary Awareness Training (73.6%) and a UCC History, Theology and Polity course (71.4%). Fewer than 1% of Licensed Ministers report that there were no pre-requisites to their licensure. The most common requirements for continued licensure include Boundary Awareness Training (88.7%), an annual review with the Committee on Ministry (72.9%) and attendance at Conference or Association meetings (54.8%). Only 2.3% of respondents reported no requirements for continued licensure.

Licensed Ministers represent about 10% of our non-retired authorized ministers in the United Church of Christ, who serve faithfully and diligently in their contexts. This article also only covers a portion of the data received in this survey. There is more to share and to digest! Look for our next piece at the end of the year to share more data (including information from the survey sent to Conference and Association staff), and further reflections.

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