Becoming a UU Minister

Hannah Gallo, Ministerial Intern

Many of you were present for my Question Box sermon, where I briefly explained that I’ll be seeing the Ministerial Fellowship Committee at the end of March. But I figured that for those who weren’t there, it might be interesting to hear more about this process of becoming a professional minister in the UU faith.

To begin, one must be a Unitarian Universalist – one must be a member of a congregation and obtain congregational sponsorship for the process. One must attend a seminary and receive a Masters of Divinity degree, typically done in three years of full time academic attendance. There are a variety of areas of study which must be addressed while in seminary. Additionally, one must complete one unit (equivalent to 400 hours) of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) in which you serve as a chaplain in an institutional setting such as a hospital, a nursing home, or an outpatient facility. CPE is done in cohorts, with roughly two days a week spent in group reflection, with much writing and processing of your weekly experiences. One must also have a professional career assessment performed by a psychologist and a certified pastoral counselor to evaluate your personality, your mental health, and your character traits for a fit with ministry. Lastly, one must complete an internship with a Unitarian Universalist parish or affiliated site. Of course, these are only the formal steps. There are lots of informal recommendations such as attending retreats with colleagues, trainings, participation on a regional or national committee of the Unitarian Universalist Association, plus develop a healthy sense of self and relationship outside of Unitarian Universalism. Honestly, it’s possible I’ve even forgotten a thing or two I had to complete!

In March, I’ll appear before a committee which looks at the totality of the work I have done up until that point and makes a determination of my fitness for ministry. There are seven major areas of competency I need to have demonstrated, through my writing, my recommendations, and my experiences. At that meeting, I’ll do a chalice lighting with a reading, then I’ll preach for ten minutes, and then the committee can ask me anything for the next 60-90 minutes that pertains to any area of required competency. At the end, I’m given a grade of one to five. A one is unconditional endorsement to pursue ordination. A two or three means conditional endorsement. A four or a five means there are major obstacles to your becoming or ever obtaining ministerial credentials.

There is no doubt that it is a daunting amount of work, and I have found that the best way for me to tackle it has been to take it one step at a time, diligently completing each step as it became necessary, without too much attention to the steps two or three beyond that. But I will also say, that while it has taken years and so much effort and money, I do feel that becoming a minister should be hard. I think that there’s a lot of power in this position and the title should be earned through professionalization. I think the power of the title means you have a great deal of responsibility, both in how you treat people and in how you represent Unitarian Universalism. To be drawn to the ministry requires a personality that is comfortable with attention and leading: two qualities which show up in some ministers and candidates as narcissism and fondness for tyranny. The training and experiences we are required to have prior to fellowshipping provides ample opportunity to bring these qualities into balance with other characteristics, and to receive varied and pointed feedback about your interpersonal skills.