Last summer, Dianne Star came into my office to tell me all about the background of a scripture passage that she had researched. It was the story of Martha and Mary, and she had found some exciting information about the story. I mentioned that this Gospel passage was coming up in a few weeks, and suggested that she might like to preach on it. She did, and she did a bang up job.
Over the years, as I have gotten to know Dianne, I have been impressed with her commitment to our church, her good ideas, and her own background. She attended a Lutheran college, and got a degree in religion and psychology. She worked as a Parish Worker in two Lutheran churches for a brief time, but left ministry because the Lutherans were not welcoming or ordaining gay people at that time.
As I sat in church, listening to her sermon, I found myself wishing that there was a way to acknowledge and affirm the gifts of ministry that she has clearly been given. Suddenly, I thought of licensure. This might be a possibility!
In the United Church of Christ, there are three levels of authorized ministry. The first is ordination, when a person has three years of seminary after college, and has served a church internship, as well as an internship as a hospital chaplain. They are ordained to serve any church to which they are called, (as long as they are in good standing), in the UCC.
The second is licensure. This usually occurs when a small church can’t afford a full time minister, but someone in the congregation shows that they have gifts for ministry, or the church requests that a seminarian be allowed to act as their minister. Hospital interns also sometimes find that they need to celebrate sacraments, even though they are not yet ordained. A licensed minister is allowed to perform all functions of a minister, but only in that one specific place, and their license must be renewed on a yearly basis.
The third level of authorized ministry in the UCC is as a commissioned minister. This is someone who has a life calling to a specific form of church work, such as a youth minister, social justice minister, or minister of the arts. Just like licensed ministers, they need a college degree in ministry or a related field.
The more I thought about licensing for Dianne, the more I liked the idea. She could be my backup when I am out of town, or if I were sick. She could preach occasionally throughout the year, or help with special services or events. I spoke with her informally, and found that she would be interested in pursuing this.
Last month, I brought the idea to Council. There are several steps that would need to be taken, and the outcome is not guaranteed. Council would need to write a letter to the Conference Committee on Ministry requesting that Dianne be licensed, and laying out our reasoning and her “job description.” Dianne would need to submit her transcripts from college, several letters of reference, and probably attend a class at the seminary on UCC history and polity (governance). She and I would need to meet with the Committee and she would be interviewed. Dianne would not be paid, and this might not be approved by the Committee on Ministry.
Most churches are required to pay a licensed minister, although it isn’t usually presented as a ‘back-up’ option, like it would be for us.
The Council was unanimously supportive of the idea. It seems to have all positives, with no downside. I wrote to Associate Conference Minister Steve Boorsma, who thinks the idea, (although not the norm), has interesting potential. He invited Dianne to meet with him to discuss it further.
This will not be a quick process. If approved, Dianne will need to take the seminary class, (for which she is willing to pay). Council still needs to decide specifics about her job description, such as if we would ask her to do hospital visiting if I were gone, how often we’d like her to preach, and if there would be other church responsibilities/opportunities that we would ask of her. After meeting with Rev. Boorsma, she will still need to write about her sense of being called, and about her Christian pilgrimage.
While we don’t know the end result, I think this is an exciting process, and an exciting possibility, both for Dianne, and for Parkway. We are a church with many ministers: BeFrienders, hosts for homeless families, those who keep our building and grounds structurally sound and beautiful, choirs and musicians, and all who take part in service, or are active in any of our many, many ministries inside and outside of the church.
As we look at adding one more specific ministry to our busy and active church, I am grateful that we are a blessing to so many, and that we are so blessed!