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Ian Evison’s Entirely Unofficial Glossary for Match-Making between Ministers and UU Congregations

Draft: May 8, 2007

Match-making between UU congregations and ministers is governed by a somewhat technical vocabulary: interim minister, consulting minister, settled minister, and so forth .[1][2] There is no adequate guide to this terminology—and for good reason. It is inconsistent, changing, and disputed. What follows attempts to orient the uninitiated. This glossary is should also be regarded as an object lesson. In spite of the attempt to explain, the meaning remain fuzzy. Congregations and ministers are well advised to define terms and clarify expectations.

Called minister. The term “call” refers to the means by which a congregation decides to employ a minister. If the minister is employed through a vote of a congregational meeting, that person is said to be “called.” A called minister only may be asked to leave through a vote of the congregation as a whole (under the terms specified in the by-laws of the individual congregation) except when the Executive in a congregation governed according to policy governance possesses such delegated power.

Consulting and acting ministers. These terms refer to the breed of arrangements lying between settled ministry and interim ministry; consulting ministry refers to service of less than 75 percent time, acting ministry to 76 percent up to and including full time. In contrast with a settled minister, an acting or consulting minister is hired by vote of the board, for usually a year-to-year contract with or without an end point. Often the possibility of a call may lie in the future. Each of these ministries is to be distinguished not only from a called minister. They also are distinguished from an interim minister, who is almost universally restricted from serving longer than two years.

Compensation consultant. A volunteer lay person who advises congregations on issues regarding compensation usually for ministers but also on occasion for others employed by the congregation. Compensation consultants are appointed, trained, and supervised by the UUA Church Staff Finance Director in consultation with the District.

Fair Compensation Guidelines. The Unitarian Universalist Association seeks to model justice within our congregations as well as to work for justice in our communities and our world. It is an unfortunate reality that our congregations all too often offer working conditions and compensation are not on a par with what we would expect of other employers. Our Fair Compensation Guidelines are our effort to practice what we preach. These guidelines also represent our cumulative experience about how best to attract excellent minister and build relationships with them that endures and flourishes. See: http://archive.uua.org/programs/ministry/finances/compglines.html, http://archive.uua.org/programs/ministry/finances/compensation.html

Fellowshipped minister. Fellowshipping is the method by which the denomination accredits ministers. To be fellowshipped, a minister must hold a degree from an accredited theological school and also undergo various other interviews and background checks. Unitarian Universalist rules of congregational polity allow a congregation to call anyone as minister. The denomination and the district serve all congregations who are members of the association without regard to whether the minister is fellowshipped. However, the denomination only assists in the settlement process for fellowshipped ministers. Any congregation that decides to call a non-fellowshipped minister should recognize that it takes on a heavy burden of due diligence regarding the background and credentials of their candidates. When a person enters the process of moving towards fellowshipping, they are called “aspirants.” When the UU Transitions office has determined that people are ready to seek employment, they are granted “preliminary fellowshipping”. After successful completion of a probationary period (normally three years), the Ministerial Fellowship Committee grants “final fellowship.”

Full-time minister. Under congregational polity, congregations have the right and responsibility to determine what work they will ask and what compensation they will give for positions that they advertise as “full-time.” If a congregation decides to offer less than what the UU Fair Compensation Guidelines specify for their position, they are encouraged to reconsider their expectations for the position and to make the position into a part-time position. If a congregation decides to decides to list as full-time a position paying less than the minimum recommended Fair Compensation, a notation will be made indicating that the pay is substandard.

Hire to call. Sometimes very small and very large congregations find the need to adapt the usual processes of selecting ministers. Recently, two large congregations in the Central Midwest District have employed associate ministers through a process termed “hire to call.” The decision to employ has been made under the authority of the board of trustees (in consultation with the senior minister), without a vote of the congregation, but with the understanding that—if the relationship went well—there would be the option for that person to be called later by a vote of the congregation.

Lay minister. Some congregations designate and train lay members to carry out ministerial functions such as preaching, pastoral visiting, or rites of transition (e.g., marriages). This happens both in small congregations without professional ministerial leadership and in large congregations. While some districts and congregations have had programs for training lay ministers, there is no continent-wide program for training or certifying them.

Interim minister. Twenty-five years ago, the Alban Institute found that a minister who followed a long ministry or a conflicted ministry, often did not last long. In response, a number of denominations began to strongly encourage congregations in those instances to select a minister who has been specially trained for work in transitions and to give that person a term limit (usually no more than two years). Increasingly, the term “interim minister” has been applied to any ministry of short duration—whether by design or not. To recapture the original sense of the term of “interim” sometimes the term “intentional” interim is used. Some who end up having short-term ministries did not intend it that way! Those who have received the special training for this work are sometimes called “accredited interims.”

MOD minister. The Central Midwest District and Meadville/Lombard Theological School co-sponsor the MOD (or “Ministerial Opportunity Development”) program. Under this program students in their final year of theological school are paired with congregations for part-time ministry (often one weekend a month). It is intended for congregations working for growth and willing to make the commitment to an arrangement nine-month’s duration and to pay the costs of the program (a start-up seminar in addition to the fees of the student). This program is primarily for congregations of the Central Midwest District. Congregations who would like ministerial services from students outside of this program are welcome to request them through the Meadville/Lombard pulpit supply program.

Ministerial settlement representative. A person from the district who volunteers to work with congregations advising them on issues regarding search for full-time ministers. The minister’s chapter of the district nominates this person. Often it is a minister, though not always. This person is trained by the Transitions Office.

Ordained minister. Normally one expects that an ordained UU minister be fellowshipped and have a degree from an accredited theological school—but not always. In Unitarian Universalism the authority to ordain, and to determine who to ordain, lies entirely with the congregation. Stated negatively, a congregation should not assume that an ordained minister is also fellowshipped.

Part-time minister. See “full-time minister.”

Pulpit supply. This refers to one-time agreements with theological students or with ministers to lead worship.

Settled minister. The term “settled minister” has various, differing meanings. Often it used in contrast to an interim minister. One hears congregations say “we have an interim minister this year and are looking for a settled minister to start next year.” However, there are instances where the term is used more broadly. For the purposes of determining who may be a delegate to the UUA General Assembly, the UUA Board defines a settled minister (Rule 4.9.2) to be any minister serving a congregation more than half time or any community minister affiliated with the congregation.


[1] The official UU denominational document governing the process is the Settlement Handbook, http://archive.uua.org/programs/ministry/settlement/handbook.html). See also the supplement (http://archive.uua.org/programs/ministry/settlement/resourceguide). The guidelines of the UU Ministers’ Association also play a crucial role shaping this process: http://www.uuma.org/Documents/guidelines.html. The one other attempted glossary I have been able to find is specific to the Canadian Unitarians, though it seems generally applicable to the UUA, http://www.cuc.ca/ministry/Part_time_ministry_process_guide.pdf.

[2] Unitarian Universalists also have a great—and I would say overweening--love of acronyms. It is a convenience but it is also an insider language. You may feel excluded when you hear someone say that they went to GA where you heard an MFC representative discuss anti-anti-M. One very incomplete list of these is included as a glossary in at the end of the Settlement Handbook. Heartland District’s website includes another, also partial: http://www.heartlanduu.org/news/alphabet_soup_explained.php.