Asking What we Didn’t Know to Ask

This week’s post is written by  Rev. Holly MIllerShank, Team Leader of the Ministerial Excellence, Support & Authorization Ministry Team (MESA) Team in Cleveland. 

Standing among the big wooden pews with starchy red fabric as a child, I memorized the words “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”

These words from the Apostles’ Creed were formative to my worship experience. At the time I didn’t question, “What do we mean by the communion of saints? Does resurrection of the body assume resurrection of the soul? Who exactly is the holy catholic Church?” These were questions I didn’t know how to ask, or more accurately, that I didn’t know to ask in the first place.

In the intervening years I have become increasingly familiar with and appreciative of the holy catholic Church, the big C church, the church that is the body of Christ on earth, the church that longs for unity amidst the divisions of the world.

Being a part of the United Church of Christ means that we are part of the United and Uniting Church movement, a movement that calls us together under the headship of Jesus Christ regardless of our individuals creeds and confessions. The center is Jesus’s prayer, “That they may all be one.” This ecumenical spirit and lust for oneness in Christ creates multiple opportunities for cross-ministry collaboration across the Protestant church.

A few years ago CARD published a report on multiply-affiliating congregations, which maintain relationships with more than one denomination. We have opportunities for clergy, too, to relate to more than one denomination or to move between denominations: Dual Standing, when a minister holds temporary credentials in the denomination of the UCC church they pastor but maintain their credentials in their primary denomination; and Privilege of Call, the process by which a minister leaves another denomination to fully enter the United Church of Christ. These processes are spelled out in great detail in the Ordained Ministers from Ecumenical Bodies Article in Section 2 of the Draft Manual on Ministry.

In pursuing additional research into which denominations’ clergy most frequently request permanent or temporary ministerial standing in the UCC, I discovered that we haven’t known to ask the question. Out of the 142 individuals listed in the UCC Data Hub with Privilege of Call, only 27 had their original denominations listed. Similarly, 94 of the 307 Data Hub entries for ministers with Dual Standing did not include the name of the other denomination in which the ministers retained credentials.

Of the Data Hub entries for Dual Standing that include the name of ministers’ primary denominations, here is the breakdown of denominations with more than five individuals holding Dual Standing:

  • Presbyterian (75)
  • Baptist (46)
  • Methodist (26)
  • Lutheran (19)
  • Reformed Church in America (11)
  • Congregational (10)

The Data Hub does not currently record subsets or branches of denominations. For example there is no way to identify whether “Lutheran” indicates the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, or other permeations of Lutheranism. Likewise, there is not yet a designated drop-down option within the UCC Data Hub to record the concurrent ecclesiastical relationships many UCC clergy hold with The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries.

We are now in a place, aided by the clarity of ecumenical agreements and details provided to Committees on Ministry through the Manual on Ministry, that we know the questions we should be asking and recording for future research on the denominations of origin of clergy holding Dual Standing or seeking Privilege of Call.

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