Reverend Mike’s Wayside Pulpit
The Ministry of All, for All
The ministry of a congregation is the work of many hands. Some may say that the minister is the head of a congregation’s ministry, but I would hasten to add that, if that is true, it is also true that the members are the heart and hands. A ministry cannot succeed by the work or willpower of a minister, alone. Ministry is shared. And yet, we realize that a congregation (any and all congregations) are a collection of individuals with diverse theologies, values, and points of view
In describing this phenomenon, the late Conrad Wright, a UU and former Harvard professor of American church history, once wrote about the UUA and its congregations that:
… the principle of the toleration of diversity has become axiomatic with us. But principle and practice are two different things. It is hard to live up to high principles without ever faltering; and we must admit that some of the most dramatic moments in our [UU] history have occurred when our tolerance of diversity wore very thin, and we were challenged to live up to the principles we proclaimed.
I think this quote illustrates the most profound challenge to shared ministry—upholding diversity, particularly divergent opinions, while still finding ways to work together in common cause. In this case, we are talking about diversity as being about more than just race, ethnicity, or cultural background. We are talking about the diversity of peoples who walk through the church doors at all different ages and stages of life, in different places regarding their own spiritual development, and with different ideas on how the church can serve the needs of its people. It becomes easy to profess high principles, to place leaders on pedestals, and yet the differing views, and differing expectations, make it difficult (perhaps impossible) for leaders to meet the needs of all people, at all times. Also, it should be noted, that is possible for a church to honor differences, and develop systems to address the same, other than conflict-avoidance (which may be an unhelpful strategy).
It appears that shared ministry is very much an exercise in maintaining balance. Balancing high principles with realistic expectations. Balancing needs and wants with the realities of budgets and manpower. Balancing differing theological perspectives, such as the most common source of tension in UU congregations: spiritual/theist beliefs vs. humanist/atheist beliefs. Balancing internal, political issues and external, social justice issues. Balancing between the needs of different ages and stages; in other words, balancing the needs of elders who form the core of any congregation, with the need to impart our values to children and youth, who are our future (to use a cliché that became one because of the truth it contains).
I don’t have all the answers, and the truth is that, in the coming months and years, it will be members of SFUU who define the shared ministry of your church. To help you, I have some questions for you to consider:
· What do we want to be, as a whole church community? What is our mission, our burning coal at the heart of our community? And, just as important, how can we make a difference in the world around us?
· What role(s) do we wish various leaders to take? What are the responsibilities of our Trustees, Committee Chairs, Staff Members, the Minister, and other leaders?
· How can we address divergent viewpoints? How do we honor differences, without creating conflict? Can we live up to our mission, or will we allow conflict-avoidance tendencies to hamper our ability to do anything at all?
· What role will you play in all this? What can you do in support of the shared ministry of your congregation? What talents, interests, and gifts do you bring to the table?
The Shared Ministry of the Sierra Foothills Unitarian Universalists, a congregation which is the sum of its parts, is not the responsibility of any one person or committee, but rather the responsibility of all of us. You are all the hands and beating heart of this shared ministry – now, what is it you hope to accomplish together in the coming months and years? The possibilities are endless!
May it ever be so and blessed be you all! – Rev. Mike