The other day I was talking with a friend of mine from Houston and the topic of “shared ministry” came up. She indicated that there was a discussion about “what it is and isn’t” at one of the groups at her UU congregation and asked me what I thought it was. My response: “It’s my guess that if you ask 10 UUs for the definition, you would have 10 different answers, maybe even 15!” She laughed and then said, “Seriously, what do you think?” After a moment or two of thought, I responded – “It’s when the minister, the lay leadership, and the congregational volunteers work collaboratively in covenant with mutual trust and support toward a common vision, a set of goals, and a legacy of this progressive faith for the congregation and the community at large.” She said, “Whew! That’s a mouthful.”
I went on to say that “It’s not when there are a lot of individual volunteers doing a lot of work.” I don’t mean to minimize the great work of individuals, but that’s not ‘shared ministry,’ in my opinion. The key part for me is “work collaboratively in covenant with mutual trust and support toward a common vision, a set of goals, and a legacy.” After all, our UU principles begin with the words “we … covenant to affirm and promote” and our sources end with “we enter into this covenant, promising to one another our mutual trust and support.” Happily, she agreed.
Upon my return to Bryan, I “Googled” shared ministry to see how others might describe it; after all, I was interested in finding the other 10-15 UU opinions. It appears that at least one UU minister shares my opinion about what “shared ministry” isn’t – a lot of individual volunteers. In fact, he says that “individualism” is preventing us from growing. In the words of Rev. Fred Muir, minister of the UU Church of Annapolis: “…we [Unitarian Universalist Congregations] are being held back and stymied – really, we are being held captive – by a persistent, pervasive, disturbing, and disruptive commitment to individualism that misguides our ability to engage the changing times.”
The minster of the UU Congregation of Frederick, Maryland, the Rev. Dr. Carl Gregg, says in a recent blog (“Who’s in Charge Here?”: The Dance between Shared Ministry and Authority) shares that “shared ministry is about partnership – and power-with instead of power-over. …We are together in this work of transforming ourselves and of transforming the world.”
At the “shared-ministry.net” website, I found three components of shared ministry:
1. Collaborative Working
Bishop Stephen Pickard, professor of Theology at Charles Sturt University, is concerned that our patterns of working in the church are not instinctively, habitually collaborative. He says that “Teamwork of shared ministry … is the way a community flourishes even amidst the pain and conflict. It is no easy street, but it is the street upon which the church has to travel…”
2. Contextual Mission
Essential to Shared Ministry is a commitment to those outside the immediate church congregation. It should not be about evaluating the church’s activities and church development. It needs to be primarily about mission, examining the place of the church within its neighborhood … how it is perceived by non-church goers and the partnerships it has or could develop with community groups. A responsive, mission-focused congregation must recognize that change is inevitable and thus must develop approaches to ministry that can help the members to cope with change, rather than seek to control it. Shared ministry offers a place to reflect and respond to rapid and discontinuous change as it gives a space for issues to be discussed collectively and where reactions to change can be evaluated and responded to.
3. Shared Learning
Shared ministry encourages others to offer their skills and experiences and take on new responsibilities. Learning presupposes setbacks, blocks, and even failures. Shared ministry seeks to make congregations a place where people can take risks and sometimes get things wrong. It is a process that is one of learning for clergy and laity, one that encourages the whole congregation to become involved in the learning and growth required of all of us.
In closing, I would ask that you reflect on our ministry here a UUCBV. Are we “working collaboratively in covenant with mutual trust and support toward a common vision and a set of goals, working toward a legacy of this progressive faith for the congregation and the community at large”? If not, what changes can we make to be in “shared ministry”?
Stop by the “CommUUnicate Table” during coffee hour on Sundays to share your ideas about “shared ministry” or any other topics that are on your mind.