Unitarian ministry questions

posed by Steve Dick

Is training for ministry the same as education for ministry?

Training is directly useful skill acquisition. Education is more round and about, for example the Unitarian tradition, and interfaith thought. It is unclear whether spiritual training is training, education or none of these, but certainly a minister in training should develop a self-critical reflective inner resource, which only comes about through spiritual practice, confidential conversation and diary writing.

If there are any differences or variances, are both needed?

They are both needed because education is like reading round the subject and links the person into the various traditions, whereas the training is skill, but the skill gets its added substance and resource and comparison from education. Education delivers more options and reduces isolation. Education allows greater critical thinking.

Are there differences as to how they might be provided or obtained?

In my view training for the Unitarian ministry could move from Manchester to Hucklow. This is not a daft suggestion, but based around practical training. I'm ignoring MCO for the moment.

The student should start by observing churches and chapels every Sunday, and by following ministers and lay leaders. They should be unable to take whole services for a year, except within the Hucklow chapel amongst teachers, students and Unitarian visiting people, to learn the ropes. The observations of others' services and ministerial activity should be evaluated in writing every time back at base.

These observations, particularly of following ministerial activity, should be imported into active pastoral training. Not the university "study of", but applied. Another important part is theories applied of education, in order to facilitate leadership. There is a particular association between the educational theories of Paulo Freire, liberation theology, and enhancing volunteer theological communities. I once wrote a paper on this as additional work at UCM, which vanished into nowhere despite some people saying it should be read widely. It got away from the unhelpful cliches of Protestant ministry of everyone to theological and practical parallels with education theory.

The education learning element can be by correspondence or attending one of a selection of nearby universities, but should not be limited to theology, but include adult education, social science or psychology. But back at Hucklow, the academic study should be evaluated by the student for its usefulness and application within ministry.

Evaluating is very important because this is what a minister should do all the time in post, in order to first understand before acting pastorally.

Hucklow with its students and teachers should aim to be monastic and be a basically Unitarian monastery. There should be a great emphasis on spiritual discipline to counter the freedoms that must be granted regarding beliefs and worship experimentation. If a student is not prepared to engage with spiritual discipline, they should be regarded as unable to be an authentic minister.

And finally, THE ministry. Is there such a thing as THE ministry anymore or are there different type of ministries with perhaps different needs in terms of training and education?

I think that the paid minister or volunteer equivalent should have a stronger education in the tradition, and a stronger training in facilitating using education theory. Ministers should not be tied to churches, but move between them regionally or even nationally, perhaps with some functional specialities, and be paid nationally by funding and appropriation. They should pass on their learning: both education and skills to leaders of actual local congregations.

Later response...

I am suggesting that one of the prime disciplines of training should be a spiritual discipline. This is helped by the chapel, by the rural location, the isolated setting. I'm not suggesting separating male and female, wearing habits, or huge austerity, though I think preparation for a ministerial career and its financial renumeration might benefit from a stint of austerity - more seriously, though (that wasn't?), austerity might help to get values in order.

Later response...

There is of course a motivation in training regimes to make a person to become a company person. I have a few problems with this because I am not a denominationalist. For example, we can track down present problems with The Inquirer (the Unitarian creed Invocation, comments on MCO) down to denominationalism. However, where I went wrong as a ministerial student (in fact it was Keith Gilley who said this to me and he was right), was that I thought I knew what Unitarianism was and went round assuming that everyone believed in freedom of religious thought. In fact they did not, and I learnt fast about congregational possession, and a prime qualification for being a minister was "fitting in" as subsequent reporting stated. Keith Gilley said I should have taken no services early on, but simply spent my Sundays observing. Though how this would have affected me I'm not sure.

But I've taken Keith's comment further, that I think study, like a lot of teacher training, should be evaluative. The work that is handed in at UCM (when there was any - my "training" was pathetic) was based on an old fashioned academic model. I'm throwing this out as the main model in favour of evaluative essays, of which there would be many. It may be possible to create a form to evaluate services and application to one's own outlook.

Training and education for the ministry is about developing the person: this means spiritual resources, knowing how to listen and speak sympathetically, and knowing oneself. It is also about being an educator that comes from developing oneself as a strong resource in this way.

Text originally on UK Unitarian email list


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful