When I was in seminary and we seminarians were feeling anxious about seeing the Ministerial Fellowship Committee (the “MFC”), we would reassure ourselves that we would certainly become ministers someday no matter what because “all you really need is to be ordained.” Only congregations have the power to ordain a minister, and congregations can (and do) ordain to the ministry people who have not otherwise completed necessary requirements. We all felt certain that we could convince a congregation to ordain us, even if we didn’t “pass” the MFC.
I see things differently now.
“Passing the MFC” means that a minister enters into fellowship (preliminary and then final) with the Unitarian Universalist Association. The MFC has jurisdiction over ministerial fellowship, and even has the authority to remove ministers from fellowship.
What I understand now that I didn’t understand in seminary is that the MFC’s authority after final fellowship is important. REALLY IMPORTANT.
An example: In the history of the congregation I serve now, there was a part-time minister who failed to pass the MFC twice but continued to serve the congregation (this minister was not called but had a contract). He was ordained in another faith tradition, so used the honorific “Rev.” even though he was not ordained as a UU minister. When he was accused of sexually harassing two staff members, he resigned from the congregation.
Because he was not in fellowship with the UUA, the Department of Ministry (as it was called back then) could not take action, but the man in question has continued to serve UU churches. He is currently the part-time minister at one of our East Coast congregations. They may have no idea that he is not a UU minister, or they may not care (congregations have the authority to hire or call whomever they like, after all).
But they WOULD care (presumably! hopefully!) if he’d been found guilty of harassing staff. Because he is not in fellowship, the MFC has no authority over him, and the congregation he serves now has no way of knowing he was accused of misconduct. In fact, he may have engaged in misconduct again and again over the past 20 years, and who would know? The MFC has no authority over him if he misconducts again.
I know of another minister who has been investigated for misconduct and is no longer in fellowship with the UUA, but continues to present himself as “a UU minister” to preach in UU congregations.
Perhaps this bothers other people less than it does me. But clergy misconduct and abuse across faith traditions makes people suspicious of churches (rightly so) and has pushed people away from religious communities. I am saddened by our collective inability to ensure that the ministers serving our congregations are competent, suitable, and able to navigate the complexity of human relationships and ministry without hurting others through sexual harassment or other abuses.
It is the responsibility of congregations to research the background of anyone invited to serve them. So if you want to check out whether someone is a UU minister or not, here’s what you need to know: The only way to know for sure if a minister is in fellowship (preliminary, final, or retired) with the Unitarian Universalist Association is that they are listed in the UUA Directory.
The UUA Directory does not list those who are in candidate status. Congregations that would like to confirm that someone has been granted candidacy status may contact the Ministerial Credentialing Office.
Absence from the directory won’t tell you what you might like to know: Is this person really ordained? Have they ever been before the MFC? Were they ever a UU minister? But it will tell you if a person is in current right relationship with the UUA or not. And that’s a step in the right direction.