Saturday, May 30, 2009

Parker's Legacy for Ministerial Formation & Development

The Eclectic Cleric has a wonderful post "Theodore Parker's destructive legacy . . ." It provides an explanation for his comment on my post "Glory Days."

To read about this exchange in detail, please follow the links above. The short version was my concern that our love of our past--both our shared historical past and the pasts and cultures of our individual congregations--might discourage us from making the changes necessary for a vital future. The Eclectic Cleric wrote the following: "The influence of people like Theodore Parker (in particular) on subsequent generations of Unitarian clergy has in many ways been more harmful than good."

With the best of intentions, I meant to ask him to clarify his remark, but didn't get around to it. Now in his "Theodore Parker's destructive legacy . . .", he's provided that clarity. While I encourage you to read The Eclectic Cleric's complete post, a critical observation he's made is that Parker suicided through overwork, setting a bad example for subsequent UU clergy.

While I'm new to UU ministry, I'm not new to UUism or to overwork. I believe that we set UU ministers on the path of self-destruction by expecting that they will be competent in 15 different areas. We put an "S" on their chests, give them a robe (not a cape), and tell them to make a leap of faith over tall, if not impossible, demands.

Success is often attributable to being specialized and focused. Those who try to be all things to all people may end up disappointing everyone.

It may come as a surprise after the above, but I have some ambivalence around this issue. Ministerial formation caused me to stretch in painful yet growthful ways. The line between a healthy stretch and an injury isn't always clear. The line between appropriately addressing multiple responsibilities and wasting one's energies by spreading them too thin is similarly cloudy.

The mind wants to simplify and is particularly fond of bifurcation. Focus on the congregation or on the community? Hallman or Morales? But the issues we're raising are too complex to neatly fit into dichotomies. Let's continue to bring attention to these questions and encourage others to do so as well.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Bringers of Hope; Companions in Despair

One of my CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) supervisors, Rev. Dr. Peter Yuichi Clark, taught me that a critical role of chaplains is to be bringers of hope.  It was a challenge to figure out what this meant to a non-theist like me.

The Rev. Patty Franz, then a hospice chaplain, was a guide.  I asked her what one said to a dying person when you yourself had no clarity about what happens after death.  She told me to ask patients what they imagined would happen.  In time, I saw myself not bringing hope but drawing out the hope that was already within others.

Candidates preparing for their MFC (Ministerial Fellowship Committee) interviews are frequently told that the MFC is looking for "ministerial presence."  Is the candidate able to minister to the MFC?  Is the candidate someone that the MFC members would like to have as their minister?

When I was preparing for my MFC interview, I certainly had my bouts of fear and despair.  Before and during the interview, I had moments of high anxiety. How does one bring hope and be a companion to despair when one is feeling hopeless and afraid?

Before reading my answers, I recommend you reflect on your own answers.  What's below worked for me, but each of us has within ourselves the answers to these questions.

I found myself asking for help and guidance.  There's a long list of UU and non-UU ministers and lay persons who supported me.

For some reason, I am reminded of my work on a unit for persons with serious psychiatric illnesses.  I was frightened.  Yet, I came to learn that I was not alone, that others "had my back."

When you go in for your MFC interview, there will be a whole bunch of folk who will have your back.  The members of the Committee are not nearly as frightening as they may appear in your imagination.  They have your and UUism's best interest at heart.  Bring the hope that is within you and draw out the hope that is within them.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Washitarians & Other Strange Creatures

A wise friend from Charlottesville, VA, home of the University of Virginia (founded by that quasi-Unitarian Thomas Jefferson), once told me that all university towns exist in invisible bubbles that separate them from the rest of the planet.  Now that I've lived in the Berkeley bubble for several years, I better appreciate what he said and the opportunity to get out of town every once in a while to breathe the air outside the bubble.

I am a Washitarian, i.e., a Unitarian (now UU) from Washington, DC.  There are over 20 UU congregations in the Baltimore-Washington metro area.  To be a UU at the Fairfax, VA, congregation, for example, may be different than being a UU at Arlington, All Souls, or Bull Run.

Before I moved to Berkeley, I knew what it was like being this UU in DC; Northern Virginia; Madison, WI; and Tampa, FL.  However, being UU at the Starr King School for the Ministry was honest to God culture shock.  I found this link on the subject and started checking out my symptoms.

What is the relevance of all this for examining for UU ministry?  For me, it speaks to the question of "fit."  A minister might "fit" wonderfully well at the Berkeley Fellowship and bomb at the Tampa Church.   A minister might fit the needs of a church in 1995 and bomb at that same church (of course, it wouldn't be the same church) in 2009.

How do we examine for ministry in a way that recognizes the wide range of cultures, needs, and environments in which our successful candidates will find themselves?  What are the lessons learned from successful ministers who've had to grow into positions in cultures unlike their own?

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How to Use This Blog

In my fantasy world, all readers of this blog would be tech sophisticates reading every word of my deathless prose with bated breath. Meanwhile, back in this universe, I know that many of my readers are seminarians and other candidates for UU ministry who are checking it out for pointers for preparing for RSCC and MFC interviews. And, like the rest of us poor mortals, there are seminarians who have not yet achieved tech enlightenment.

Therefore, there are lots of labels, such as "Preparing for the MFC Interview," on the lower right side of this page. Click on one of them, and only those posts related to your interest will appear.

Knowing how stressful it can be preparing for these interviews, I hope this guidance and these shortcuts are helpful to you.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Envy & Evangelicals

Of all the books I read in seminary (and there were many!), one that made a particularly deep impression was The Very Large Church by Lyle E. Schaller.

A lifelong UU who'd never been inside a metachurch, I'd lumped together "evangelicals" and "fundamentalists." I learned that not all evangelicals are politically and social conservative and that the message of many of them is more about hospitality and salvation than about dogma.

The programs and services offered by the megachurches are amazing.   I became jealous, imagining what UU congregations and ministers could do with the resources of churches of this size.  While nationally we UUs were holding our own in absolute numbers, we were becoming increasing insignificant as a percentage of U.S. population. 

In "The Coming Evangelical Collapse," Michael Spencer, predicts a major decline of evangelical Christianity.  His reasons include evangelicals having become identified with culture and political conservativism and their failure to pass onto their youth a faith that can survive the impact of secularism.  He write [italics his]:  We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith.

In "The Future of Religion," Jon Cleland-Host raises interesting questions about the future of religion.

What does all this have to do with examining for UU ministry?  Well, when you don't like an outcome, e.g., the flatlining of UU membership since the Us joined the Us in 1961, you may be tempted to round up all the usual suspects, including the formation and development of ministers.  In this case, ministerial formation and development played a role in UUism's failure to grow, but the above articles give us context and perspective for evaluting that outcome and that role.

Have UUs also confused causes with a faith and have we failed to provide our youth--or even ourselves--with a faith that can survive secularism?   How do we form and develop UU ministers who bring hope for our religion and for our planet?

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Love-Making Elephants and Moments of Clarity

The last sentence of my previous post was too long, complicated, and obscure. Clarity hopefully follows.

When I worked at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), we used to say that all the major projects were like elephants making love: the underbrush was trampled, small creatures and flora could be damaged or even destroyed if they were in the way, there was a lot of trumpeting and other unpleasant noises, and there was no visible result for at least three years. (The actual gestation period for elephants is around 22 months, but for VA projects, 3 years could be just the kickoff.)

Over at the UUA View from Berkeley, UUA Trustee Linda Laskowski reports that the UUA Board has created a working group on excellence in ministry that will be convened by Rev. Doug Gallager. Starting on page 3 of its April 16, 2009, Report to the Board, the Ministerial Fellowshipping Committee (MFC) recommended a "comprehensive review of the MFC's role in fostering excellence in ministry" which is anticipated to take 2 to 3 years.

I applaud this recommendation of the MFC and wonder what might be done while the review is being undertaken. My previous post on prototyping was an argument for making adjustments while data collection and analysis occur.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Francis Bacon, C. Otto Scharmer, & the Evolution of Competencies

Since there may be a UU who hasn't yet discovered The Teaching Company, let's start with a shout-out.  The Teaching Company is a purveyor of audio and video recordings of college courses: a great way to fill the gaps in one's knowledge or to challenge one's "knowledge" with new perspectives.

I've been listening to Great Minds of the Western Intellectual Tradition, 3rd Edition.  Lecture 30 is "Bacon's New Organon and the New Science."  The professor, Alan Charles Kors, tells us that when Francis Bacon (1561-1626) entered Cambridge University all university education was essentially clerical (religious) education.  In The New Organon, Bacon argued for a separation of religion and science (then known as "natural philosophy") and for learning by direct observation and inductive reasoning (from the specific to the general) rather than the study of words (Scriptures) and deductive reasoning (from the general to the specific).

 In "Addressing the Blind Spot of Our Time: An executive summary of the new book by Otto Scharmer Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges," C. Otto Scharmer, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, claims that "we" weren't properly educated for innovation.  (His "we" is engineers, scientists, managers, and economists, but I suspect his claim also applies to ministers and lay leaders.)   He writes about his experiences learning about prototyping from Hans (Nick) Roericht, a design professor at the Berlin Academy of Arts.  Scharmer was impressed with Roericht's design teams producing prototypes in four hours that most managers would not have undertaken without years of analysis.  Scharmer learned:  

The prototype is part of the sensing and discovery process in which we explore the future by doing rather than by thinking and reflecting.  This is such a simple point--but I have found that the innovation processes of many organizations are stalled right there, in the old analytical method of "analysis paralysis."

The division between science and religion isn't as neat as we might assume reading about Bacon's innovation in thinking and education.  Throughout this blog, I have been arguing for applying scientific methods to examining for the ministry.

Scharmer provides an interesting correlative to this purpose.  Rather than limiting ourselves to exhaustive analysis to support inductive reasoning about examining for ministry, it may be more beneficial and expeditious to prototype examining and formational processes first and then start testing the prototypes.  I will provide future posts describing what this might look like.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Glory Days

Glory days well they'll pass you by
Glory days in the wink of a young girl's eye
Glory days, glory days
--Bruce Springsteen
Growing up in Virginia in the 1950s and 60s, there were lots of opportunities to reflect on "glory days." With Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe all Virginians, it was easy to reflect back to the glory days of Virginia, the Mother of Presidents.

With the pride and the offended honor that only the defeated possess, there were also the glory days of the Civil War, immortalized on Monument Avenue in Richmond. If Virginia has a saint, it's Robert E. Lee; a martyr, Stonewall Jackson.

I compounded the problem by falling in love with Greek mythology. We were an agnostic household, but every boy must have his gods. With wonder, I contrasted these glory days of ancient Greece to Greece's standing in the modern world.

OK, OK, I bet you're wondering what the above is doing on a blog on examining for UU ministry. Like Virginia and Greece, UUism has a proud and significant history. In a culture where so many have never heard of us or confuse us with Unity or Unification, UUs wear "famous UUs" tee shirts just to claim our identity and differentiate ourselves from followers of other religions.

In this reverence for our history, we risk falling into a glory days syndrome. Let's return to the Boss for a reminder:

And I hope when I get old I don't sit around thinking about it
but I probably will
Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture
a little of the glory of, well time slips away
and leaves you with nothing mister but
boring stories of glory days

If you'll excuse the cliche, we must find a way to honor the past while preparing for the future. In a religion where the average age is creeping upwards past 55 and we've remained at about 200,000 members (adults and children) since consolidation in 1961, we want to make sure that we're not left with nothing "but boring stories of glory days." Our stagnancy in numerical growth has resulted in a dramatic decline as our percentage of rapidly growing U.S. population.

Currently, I'm serving as an organizational consultant to a Fellowship where the average age is much, much higher than the nationwide UU average. The minister and the Board are supporting the development of a young adult program and an oral history project so that this congregation's wonderful legacy of social justice work may be passed on to another generation. The Fellowship is participating in a "quadrilogue" with two other congregations and the Starr King School for the Ministry to see how all four UU institutions may support one another.

We are cheered and inspired by the stories of growing, vibrant UU "breakthrough" congregations. While it's clear that many factors--including lay leadership, governance, location, and facilities-- contribute to such breakthroughs, the role of the minister is significant. As we contemplate revising the examining process for UU ministry, we should focus on the lessons learned from these successes to identify ministerial performance and competencies that will lead to a whole new set of glory days.

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Saturday, May 9, 2009

Of Guilds, Gatekeepers, and Paraprofessionals

The Ministerial Fellowshipping Committee (MFC) plays the very important role of gatekeeper of fellowshipping as a UU minister. We want it to exclude those not ready for ministry and include those who are.

No gatekeeping function is perfect. However, the greater the validity (measuring what you intend to measure) and reliability (consistency in measurement) of your examination the less likely you are to exclude those who are ready and include those who are not.

Examining can be a delicate balancing act. You want to assure the competency of practitioners for the safety and well-being of those whom they will serve. Yet there is a temptation to restrain trade/oppress/exclude as may be seen in this Wikipedia article on guilds.

Examining for the professions should include both professionals and nonprofessionals as a way of fostering professionalism and of assuring that the profession remains responsive to those whom it serves. The mixture of clergy and laity on the MFC reflects this wisdom.

Over at the UUA View from Berkeley, UUA Trustee Linda Laskowski expresses concern about the anticipated turnover in UU ministry of 50% during the next 10 years. She writes the following:

Add to that the calling many lay leaders feel for ministry, especially in their later years. Is devoting yourself to several years of seminary the only option to satisfy this deep longing?
The answer is clearly "no." Some UU congregations have wonderful worship associate programs. At least one, the UU Congregation of Fairfax, VA, has an outstanding lay pastoral care program developed by a psychiatrist and a hospice nurse. You don't need to be an ordained minister to have a ministry any more than you need to be a physician to perform the duties of a nurse practitioner. Let's go for a both/and solution that recognizes the need for professional clergy and lay ministry.

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Resistance is Futile (and Unwise): Excellence & Oppression

Often people are wisely concerned about the relationship between examining and oppression. A powerful historical example of oppressive examining is the "literacy tests" that were used to deny the vote to African Americans in the South from the 1890s through the 1960s.

The other side of the examining coin is presented in this history of the relationship between barbers and surgeons. Suffice it to say that we all may be thankful that the examining of surgeons is much more rigorous than it once was.

A third interesting example comes from the film Jazz. Listening to Wynton Marsalis wax poetic about Louis Armstrong, we are reminded of the roles that genius can play.

Incompetence in the professions is dangerous. People do not die on the operating table because of an incompetent chaplain, but incompetent and unethical ministers have done much damage.

Ministers have also inspired. While not every minister may have the genius of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we may all--ministers and laity--be inspired by his example.

Resistance to examining is futile and unwise. It's important to make judgments about competency, excellence, and genius. However, it's also important that such judgments and the processes by which they are reached are congruent with the first (the inherent worth and dignity of every person) and second (justice, equity, and compassion in human relations) principles of UUism.

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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Competencies & Performance

"The best predictor of future performance is past performance."

The above was our mantra for the Performance-Based Interviewing project at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Jobs at VA were described in terms of duties and responsibilities, the competencies required to perform the duties and exercise the responsibilities were identified, and interview questions were developed to assess whether candidates possessed the required competencies.

In Hire With Your Head: Using Performance-Based Hiring to Build Great Teams, Lou Adler suggests a more direct approach: figure out what you want done and ask the candidates to describe or demonstrate the capacity to do it.

In one way, this is a very old idea. When I entered the workforce as a typist, I took a typing test. (AKA keyboarding for the post-typewriter generations. :-) )

The idea of performance testing gets much more complicated when dealing with duties and responsibilities that are more difficult to demonstrate in an interview. Adler gives the example of an interview for a position involving the development of marketing plans. The interviewer and interviewee outlined a plan during the interview. The interviewee was hired and used that outline to complete and implement the plan.

If we try to apply this concept to the MFC (Ministerial Fellowshipping Committee) interview, we can see that the first challenge is deciding what we want ministers to do. The tasks of healthcare chaplaincy, community organizing, and parish ministry overlap, but are far from identical.

The second challenge is evaluation. During an interview, you can demonstrate skill outlining a marketing plan or delivering a 10-minute sermon. Neither assures is that you will be successful at implementing a marketing plan or regularly leading worship that inspires a congregation/community.

That these challenges are daunting should not be discouraging. The reflection and dialogue required to address them will be strengthen and deepen our religion.

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