Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Location and Cost and Diversity and more about Ministerial Education/Formation

I really like what colleagues Christine Robinson at http://www.iminister.blogspot.com/ and Scott Wells at http://www.revscottwells.com/ have to say, again, on issues related to the system of ministerial education, and especially with Scott, on wondering about greater options to the "standard seminary approach" to formation for at least most denominational oriented church ministers. My questions run even deeper in questioning the system, I think, and proposing a shift to "seminary congregations" dispersed around the country, say 10 of them.

But let me say, as I work in part for a seminary, that I love seminaries, gained soooo much from them, and can't imagine being the kind of minister I am without them, to a large degree. In fact, my love for the seminary is why I want to see them de-centralize and be re-located missionally so more can be touched by their mission, and they can be touched more by the mission of others. The question that needs to come up for all churches, institutions of all kinds, and seminaries, and especially here for the system of liberal Protestant ministerial formation, is: given the changing new context of religion and ministry and leadership and churches, if we were starting over from virtual scratch, how would we do it? We are the inheritors of much for good and ill now, and we can't undo that even if we wanted to, but we need to at least hold forth the vision of what could be, needs to be, so that we can see what is possible and be surprised by what is more possible than we can imagine.

We are on the path to this already with more and more online courses (so faculty don't always have to be in physical proximity with students), with the plethora of non-UU seminaries educating ministers for UU churches (such as my seminary, http://www.ptstulsa.edu/), with churches and seminaries moving more toward leadership formation irrespective of ordination outcome, extending their degree programs and non-degree programs, and as churches are looking more at the old model of educating, raising up, from within. And with the great rise in community ministries extra-parish. Collaboration is the new watchword.

So, imagine the seminary libraries online more or completely online for all practical purposes; imagine a scholarship institute that cultivates the research interests of seminary faculty and others related to the work of ministry, either in a setting of its own or that exists as a convocation, perhaps in a retreat center managed by another institution already so that you don't have building costs limiting you; and this institute could be the site of offering intensives where faculty and students from around the country could meet, but it wouldn't be a requirement to do so, much as the situation is now.

And imagine 10 congregations around the country being identified and resourced as seminary congregations, with the UUA getting involved primarily to help initiate the change by setting a deadline for when it will stop its current system, and then as also mentioned at the final fellowship process end, to certify and connect and celebrate associationally the ministries produced. It seems it would connect formation and theological education into the life of the churches in a region in a new way, could help them with leadership, could spur on covenantal lateral relations and even a kind of regional capital campaign to help fund the work.

Hard road to get there, as Scott mentions in his piece, and hard to get even someplace like it I suppose (when so many UU churches reap the theological education funded and endowed by non-UUs; a lot of addiction all around to kick), but with all the changes afoot or on the horizon for UU seminaries and churches and our ministry demographics and desired settings and the economic and cultural changes, this could be the time to have change thrust upon us. And, thinking missionally or publicly, do it all in the framework not of how do we produce new leaders for our own organizations, but how do we do it to produce what our various areas need, and carry it out in collaboration with others not a part of our sphere?

These 10 congregations might enlarge themselves by using the project as a way to engage with other non-UU churches, major non-profits, and for-profits interested in the vision. Not sure but how this might bring costs to students down too in the long run as we shift the locus.

This is connected too with the sometimes stated desire for more entrepeneurial and bi-vocational ministries and how to plant in a multiple of cultures. Many seminaries in the liberal Protestant tradition just have not had the expertise or the focus or the will to engage with ministerial formation and practice in the light of entrepenuerism and church planting and organic and missional callings as the more conservative Protestant seminaries and church-based seminaries have done, not to mention as have the unaccredited non-degree but all important parachurch networks. I think going to a more local, congregation-seminary system can only help that situation by getting theological education more into the needs of the churches and able to draw on expertise beyond itself to help meet the needs.

And I would like to see the 10 congregations picked not only for their passion and mission and resources which could handle a bump in identity and mission, but also for some theological particular depth in orientation besides trying to be able to produce a generic UU minister to a generic anything to anybody UU congregation; at least some might offer to go deeper into leadership in the life of a Christian, humanist, etc. formation. Another reason, lol, besides regionalism, to shoot for ten...

Start with the congregations and what they do well already and have to offer and think how to turn them inside out to expand and grow into having seminary tracks connected to them. All of them will be in places where there are other institutions offering courses such as biblical languages, e.g., and care, and systems dynamics, and many of the other knowledge-based classes that students connected with the church could draw upon.

Let those 10 seminary-churches replace the three regional MFC subcommittees (ministerial fellowship committee); let the one national MFC be focused on the overall work of the 10 and relate with them to the UUA and vice-versa and be advocates and accountability with them, instead of being individual-minister-to-be oriented. Let the internships and student ministries be rolled into the life and work of those 10 seminary-churches. Make sure of course that there are CPE (clinical pastoral education) opportunities in the cities of the 10 sites.

Connected to the mission of this blog, in fact I think the 3Rs of missional church might be a roadmap here too. 1. Relocate the formation (responsibility, authority, and trust for it along with the physical relocations); 2. Redistribute resources (move online with library, and many classes, promoting of course to those pursuing ordination and those not and don't worry too much about that since ordination itself is a matter best left to congregational discernment, and redistribute funds by redirecting local donors and funding to the new sites); and 3. Reconcile (churches and other groups with theological education and leadership, and also promoting cultural reconciliation by creating new leaders for new or underserved areas with new groups).

Since we are just daydreaming our way along to a different kind of church.

Type rest of the post here


Anonymous said...
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Christine Robinson said...

You are one of our real "out of the box" thinkers, Ron. Thanks for putting your creativity to this!

Joy said...

I have brothers who were missionaries in a very conservative
Lutheran church. They were both in
Latin American mission fields. One
did a traditional mission approach.
The other set up a store front
reading room, invited people in to
read and ask questions, and then
agreed to minister to those interested only if they were interested in also being trained to be ministers. He and his wife
produced the materials and started
the church with himself only as
support and counsel - with the
local "minister"-in-training serving the congregation. This brother knew that the time was coming when the leaders of the
synodical body were going to have
to withdraw their financial support and missionary presence.
His materials and methods have
allowed a growing church presence that is very alive, still in contact with the "training" missionary for support, information, and materials. But it is a living church. I would love to see that kind of approach
in a UU "mission" within the USA.
In areas traditional UU churches
have difficulty drawing and sustaining a rainbow of members.
Rural areas, ethnic communities,
underprivileged areas, etc. There are people searching everywhere.... Sara