Reading The Fine Print: Worship and Pulpit

Hallooo, kids! The Unitarian Universalist Match Game starts on Thursday, as congregations and ministers make and receive and reject offers and Rev. Keith Kron and the staff at the UUA Office of Ministerial Transitions get lots of frantic calls!

Here’s some advice for all of you about what questions to ask regarding worship expectations and move beyond the letter of the law to the spirit of the congregation.

P.S. At 6:02 when I saw that many Unitarian Universalist ministers get a lot of the “Sundays off,” I meant to say “summer.”

Negotiating Your New Call: Compensation

You are a deeply holy person, we all know, but even you can’t live on good will and the Holy Spirit (unless the Holy Spirit drops a bag of money under your pillow every night like the Tooth Fairy). In New England, the clergy were historically paid partly in potatoes but now we accept French fries and direct deposit.

You need to get the details of your compensation and benefits clear before you get deeply emotionally involved with the congregation and start to get stars in your eyes about the possibilities of ministry with them. Listen to your Auntie PB.

Ordinations And Installations

‘Tis a shame that there is no comprehensive, current, authoritative resource for the planning of ordination and installation services in the Free Church, which leaves each minister and their congregation flailing a bit in the planning of the liturgy.

These services are extremely important in marking the moment at the culmination of ministerial formation or search and call process by which a layperson becomes a minister, and a minister becomes the settled minister of a congregation. It is a fairly simple matter to call upon one’s colleagues to find out “what they did” and to pass down the theological and ecclesiastical import of each element of the liturgy: eg, the Act of Installation, the Charge to the Minister, the Right Hand of Fellowship.

I know that the Unitarian Universalist Association Department of Ministry has a file with orders of service from these ceremonies, and I assume that this may also be true of other denominational headquarters.

Given that such resources for planning of ordinations and installations exist, I would like to say a word about what these services are not.

To use totally old-fashioned language, an ordination is the ceremony by which a member of the laity is set apart by a congregation and anointed an ambassador of Christ to do the work of God in the world of men. The service should therefore center not on the ordinand but on the vocation of ministry itself, on the work and mission of the Church in the world, and on the authority of the congregation to discern which from among them should be set apart to serve and lead them.

An ordination is not a graduation.

PeaceBang has squirmed through many lengthy testimonials at ordinations as to the hard work and commitment of the new minister given by spouses and family members.
This is inappropriate, as family and partners have no role in an ordination service except for silent and symbolic one: perhaps lighting a candle or taking part in the laying on of hands after the clergy mentors have been first called forth. The ordination ceremony is between an ordinand and the Church. Family tributes should be saved for receptions, if at all.

Ordinations and Installations are not comedy roasts.

Ordinations and installations are not time for cute palling around, jokey commentary about the minister that demonstrates what a hail-fellow-well-met the guy is. This silly nonsense should be saved for dinner and drinks among the clergy friends and other intimates: its inclusion in the religious ceremony is puerile and excluding of the most important participants in the occasion — the lay members of the gathered church. Clergy comportment at ordinations and installations should be formal even when it is warm and affectionate. It is only natural for friends to be happy and excited when one of their own dear colleagues is settled in a congregation or is endowed with the title “reverend” on a great day of ordination. That said, it is thoroughly obnoxious that the congregation should be made to chortle indulgently at shoulder pounding “atta girl” moments between participants in the service. In a world where so little is sacred any more, it is the clergy’s responsibility to assure that these rites of passage reflect their historical and ecclesial importance.

Ordinations and Installations are not an Olympic sport:

Participants in these services are not in a competition to see who is closest to the ordinand or installee, to see who can share the most entertaining anecdote or who can most flagrantly violate the time limit set by the person who planned the liturgy. There is one preacher, who alone should give the sermon. The other participants should be very clear about the theological and liturgical function of their piece of the service in advance, and prepare accordingly. Let not the Introduction to the Offering become a Charge to the Congregation and let not the Laying On Of Hands become a Sermon, and let not the Invocation become a Prayers of the People or a poetry slam. Let not the Postlude be a recital. It is the liturgist’s responsibility to review every part of the service with each participant well enough in advance to assure their understanding of their role, and it is each participant’s responsibility to show up on time, sober, prepared, and respectful of their time limitation.

Ordinations and Installations should never focus entirely on the special vocation, hard work, commitment, religiousness and sacrifice of the clergy without including equal appreciation for the vocation and commitment of the laity.

PeaceBang has attended more than one ordination where she felt like apologizing to the lay people at the reception for the ridiculous carrying on about the special status of the clergy. While the new minister stands smiling in their new robe and stole greeting well-wishers and getting fussed over, notice the elder ladies quietly bustling around putting out the egg salad sandwiches and serving the punch. They’re every bit as holy and have likely made many sacrifices for the church. Lest we forget. Clergy participants, it’s not induction into the Society of Martyrs. Cool it on the overwrought, self-serving statements. There are other demanding professions, most of which come with no accompanying privilege. Let’s get over ourselves.

Ordinations and Installations are not eternal punishment for the faithful:

There is no reason whatsoever on God’s green earth that these services should last over 75 minutes. See to it that they do not unless you worship in a tradition where services regularly flow well over an hour.

For all:

Shine your shoes.
Get to the venue early enough to take your time robing. Brush your hair, for heaven’s sake.
Straighten each other’s stoles.
Make sure that you have your necessary papers or electronic devices onto which you have already downloaded any documents you need. Do not rely on there being wi-fi!
No saracastic asides: they’re jejeune and distracting.
If you’re using a microphone, do a mic check and still be sure to project and enunciate.
Put a check or money in the pocket of your robe for the Offering.
Get rid of your gum.
Don’t you dare look at your phone during the service.
If you’re on the chancel, keep your feet on the ground. No crossed legs. It’s sloppy and disrespectful.
Remember to your reading glasses if you need them for the Processional and Recessional hymn.
No wearing reading glasses on the top of your head. They are not a headband.

Lenten Check-In

Oh my gosh, oh Lordy, heavens, yikes.

Well. We are in Lent. Here we are.
This has been a Lenten year, my darlings. A Lenten year. So much cause for penitence, sackcloth and ashes, prostration before the God of mercy, the God of justice. Emotionally and spiritually I am relieved for this season that matches so well where our souls ought to be as Americans, as global citizens.
Liturgically, I am panicked because Holy Week is so soon. We are living on so many levels. Well, I certainly feel that I am – how about you?

There is the pastoral level: how are my people? Visits, counseling, funerals. Wedding consultations.
The preacher level is tense and vigilant and entirely reliant on the Holy Spirit: how to weave together what I had planned to say and what urgently needs to be addressed in the wake of the latest appalling and grievous news?
The priestly level is just trying to stay connected to the Eternal, to keep my soul centered and my hair neat for the next ritual which must be beautiful, powerful, dignified.
The prophet is FRAZZLED AS F—.
Administratively, always piles of things to attend to.

I’ll try to post more this week. I want to talk about bright spring bags, some recent halos of praise, and why ordinations are turning into narcissistic spectacles. Stay tuned! STAY HYDRATED.