Response to Open Letter

I received today by email a response from the Reverend Sarah Lammert, Director of Ministries and Faith Development, to yesterday’s open letter which I am sharing here, with permission.

PDF here, text of the letter behind the fold.

Continue reading

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Open Letter to UUA Leadership

An open letter to UUA Leadership regarding recent changes to the ministerial credentialing process:

To Whom It May Concern:

It is unclear to me whether I ought to address this open letter to the Board of Trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, both of these bodies or some other entity entirely. Perhaps that itself is telling. I write in response to the recent series of decisions leading to the defunding and discontinuation of the Regional Sub-Committees on Candidacy (RSCCs) and the resulting changes to the ministerial credentialing process, including the development of an in-care process for those discerning and following a call to ministry.

As a seminarian in formation, one who has been both embedded in and occasionally critical of our existing process, I welcome the decision to make these necessary changes and am still deeply disappointed in the execution of this transition.

I will make particular reference below to the letter signed by the Rev. Sarah Lammert on behalf of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, which appeared on the UUA’s website on 4/24/2015 but was not shared directly with seminarians in process. This letter references the UUA Board of Trustees’ decision (voted 4/23/15) to adopt the FY16 budget removing funding for the RSCC process, and outlines the MFC’s response including preliminary changes to the requirements for candidacy following the elimination of the RSCC structure.

The decision to release these changes in a publicly accessible forum before aspirants in process could be informed about our next steps was, at best, a missed pastoral opportunity. Aspirants did receive in late March an email from the Rev. David Pettee, notifying us that the draft budget would remove funding for the RSCCs and that we would receive more information after the Board vote in late April, but that email did not include any details about how the credentialing process would be modified. Maybe “how to proceed without the RSCCs” had not yet been determined. I don’t know. Nor do I know why Rev. Lammert’s letter was released – perhaps prematurely – when there would be no direct communication to students in process until this morning, a week and a half later, when an email from the Ministerial Credentialing Office confirmed these changes among other details. This failure of communication, planning, or both has raised considerable frustration and anxiety among students invested in the process.

With respect to Rev. Lammert’s letter, I wish to respond to a couple of remarks in the last paragraph of page 1, which reads in part:

Unfortunately, a large number of aspirants did not use the RSCC’s for early feedback, choosing instead to put their appointments off until late in the process, thwarting the intention of offering early feedback. Additionally, none of the 26 individuals stopped by the RSCC’s from gaining candidacy status dropped out of seminary, thus they continued to accrue debt.

Since the 2010 funding cut which reduced the number of RSCCs to two (east coast and west coast) and cut the total RSCC funding to a figure significantly less than many seminarians’ student debt, the wait time for RSCC appointments has lengthened considerably. As of spring 2015, before the decision to de-fund the RSCC system was confirmed, RSCC appointments were being made for Fall 2016, more than fifteen months away. I understand that as of today the MFC is now scheduling appointments for December 2016, nineteen months from now. To suggest that seminarians in process are primarily responsible for delayed credentialing appointments, when there is so much lag in the system, demonstrates – at best – an incomplete understanding of the mechanics of the process.

Furthermore, given the profound investment of time, money and effort in attempting a graduate degree in any field, it does not surprise me to learn that students who interviewed unsuccessfully with RSCCs in the past have elected to continue in seminary. In terms of overall employability, completion of any graduate or professional level degree seems like a better return on investment than quitting in the middle with nothing to show for it.

But there is a deeper issue here, an invisible issue that permeates our denominational systems and processes. Implicit in the quoted passage above is the assumption of responsibility (by the RSCC, MFC or other body of the UUA) for students’ decisions whether or not to remain in seminary and continue accruing educational debt.

It is not now and has never (to my knowledge) been the responsibility of the UUA to manage seminarians’ financial choices.

Seminarians in formation are neither minor children nor widgets on an assembly line. We are adults – many beginning second or third careers – who are quite conscious of the high costs, both financial and personal, of pursuing the call to ministry. We enter this process understanding that it demands a major commitment – of time, of money, of effort, of sacrifice, of everything. To devote one’s life to a calling is a daunting endeavor – and we choose it anyway. There is a level of commitment at work that has nothing to do with money.

It is for this reason that appropriate support from our institutional systems is so critical. The personal transformative work that is part of the formation process is difficult enough, and looks a little different for every student in formation. We who are called to the work of ministry arrive with diverse strengths and vulnerabilities, gifts and growing edges; the ministries of the 21st century to which we are called demand no less. We need credentialing structures and processes that facilitate the development of the vast resources we bring, not ones that make a difficult process even harder.

No system will be perfect. The RSCC system was not perfect; the system it modified was not perfect; the in-care programs that exist now are not perfect and the ones that are under development will not be perfect either. They will not be flawless – and therefore they will not ever be complete; rather, all our systems must be subject by design to ongoing feedback at all points in the process from stakeholders in every situation.

“Nothing about us without us!” This rallying cry from anti-racism, anti-oppression and multicultural work applies more broadly to all relationships with significant power differentials, particularly those where one powerful party assumes decision-making authority on others’ behalf. It is is a cry to be seen, to be heard, to be acknowledged as dialogue partners in a shared process and not objects in a machine. Please solicit feedback from seminarians and ministers in preliminary fellowship – early and often and ongoing – while in-care structures are being developed. Nobody knows how this part works – and where it doesn’t – better than those of us in the middle of it.

As Unitarian Universalists we are frequently called to prophetic action in the public sphere, holding the systems and structures of the wider community up for evaluation in the light of our values. But when we are unwilling to lift up the prophetic lens through which we evaluate our social and cultural context and to turn that lens upon our own systems and structures we, collectively, risk hypocrisy and irrelevance.

We can do better.

We must do better. I write “we” because I am in relationship with you, the governing body of the UUA and the committee charged with responsibility for the credentialing of students in formation, and with each of your members through the Association whose future we share. I write “we” because my hope for my own future in this work lies with you and in the systems and structures which are as yet in your control and not in mine. I write “we” in the hope that the future we create is for the greatest good of all stakeholders in this process and for the good of the wider world of which we are a part.

May it be so.

— Claire Curole
aspirant to the Unitarian Universalist ministry

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Drive-by posting

Whoops, it’s gone almost a month without a blog post. That can happen this time of year.

When I got back from Chicago it was still definitely not spring yet here in Maine, but the last few days have been clear and beautiful and the snow that I thought would be here forever is mostly gone. It is mud time, soft earth and last year’s limp dead leaves on the ground, the tiny shoots of growing things just barely making their first appearance.

It’s finally warm enough to varnish paintings so I’ve been working through the backlog of art from this winter.

And it’s the end of the semester, so I’ve been engaged in epic procrastination around my end-of-term projects. I have thoughts about interesting things – some of them end up on the Sand Hill Diary’s facebook page these days – but long form writing is likely to wait until next month.

Blessed be the turning of the day, of the seasons, of our lives. Amen.

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All the Colors

The weather in Chicago has been beautiful the last week – for a day or two I was lamenting that I had not packed more short sleeves, and the last several days have been cool and clear. Nothing lasts forever, though, and we are expecting to see a little bit of snow soon. At least I packed for that.

Staying in a different part of town this time, a little further away than I have been in the past. I have appreciated the pleasant weather on the half-hour walk down to school, but I suspect the snow will send me scurrying for the L tomorrow morning.

I am in love with this place. It is so perfectly imperfect, a kaleidoscope of improbable quirks that put together are so real and vivid. Continue reading

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As We Are Called

The suitcase is in the living room again and I am once more packing for travel to Chicago. We’ve had a good long stretch of uneventful weather, but are forecast for another storm on Saturday when I’m scheduled to fly out, so I am praying for the bad weather to be some other time and some other place than when and where I need to be on an airplane. Such is modern life: we have the expectation that somehow our lives will continue, full pace, unaffected by petty circumstances such as winter weather. What would it look like if we lived in ways that were integrated with our environment?

Well, I would probably not be traveling to Chicago all the time, for one thing. It is a minor miracle – or defiant human ingenuity – that I can bop halfway across the continent in a few hours’ time (weather permitting.) It is another miracle of human ingenuity that I did not have to move there to go to seminary there; that I have this magic box with keys on which I can type these words and send them out into a place which is not a place, a world parallel to the physical world, where any of you who are so inclined can reach out and pull them down into your magic box and read them, wherever you are. Is this not wow? We live in the future. Really.

I have been spending a lot of time making art lately, which sounds a lot less pretentious than “I have been making a lot of art,” which is also somewhat true. I will be leaving a number of unfinished things here in Maine when I head to school, and that makes me itchy. But I have finished more pieces this winter than I did in all of 2014, so I will call that a qualified success – qualified because I have more ideas than I have time or skill to realize, and qualified also because I have more stuff than I have space to store or work with. First world problems, indeed.

I find it delightful and amusing and maybe a bit ironic that seminary and the formation process have for me the side effect of art squishing out of my life all over the place. If working on my MDiv is making me a more prolific (and arguably better) artist, will I need to do a MFA degree to become an effective minister? I hope not! One graduate degree at a time.

That was my joke of the day for yesterday, at least. But like any joke it has a thread of uncomfortable truth woven in; that’s what makes things funny. Continue reading

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A Miscellaneous Collection of Impractical Things

Somehow it got to be March while I was doing things other than updating the blog. That happens a lot now.

I have not been idle. I have been occupied with an assortment of things – feeding my soul through art, writing for my church and for my upcoming classes, a few rounds with a head cold that Spouse brought home a couple of weeks back. All the bits and pieces that add up to the ordinary reflective sort of life that belongs to a person who also, occasionally, gets a wild hair to paint flowers on a snowbank in the front yard. Just in case anyone was wondering what sort of person does that sort of thing.

Part of it, I think, is that the flowers painted on the snowbank sort of went viral – I am still getting more hits on that post than on everything else put together, so my Bacon Cat suspicions are proving true – and I find myself wondering whether I really want to put this thought or that one in my public internet spaces which at the moment are mostly being viewed by people who are tired of looking at winter and probably not thinking too much about ministerial formation or Unitarian Universalism.

Do I really want to put my whole self out there? Old habits die so hard. Continue reading

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A Rose in the Wintertime

And I’ll bring you hope
When hope is hard to find,
And I’ll bring a song of love
And a rose in the wintertime

I have to admit that has never been one of my favorite hymns. The melody is simple, almost sing-song, far perkier than I usually feel at this time of the year. And I flinch at the image of a perfect rose – grown somewhere far away under who knows what kind of labor and environmental conditions and imported for out-of-season retail sale – as a midwinter expression of love and beauty. If there must be flowers, I prefer them local and home grown, thanks.

But it is February and not very much is growing here this time of year.

Here in central Maine we have had five or six accumulating snowstorms – at least three of them over eight inches – in the last three weeks. Two storms the last week I was in Chicago left at least two feet of fresh snow on the ground and it’s kept coming, one storm after the next, since I’ve been back. And we have more coming this weekend, another coastal storm that is forecast to dump a foot or more here and twice that downeast. Not sure what Boston is getting this time around, but they bore the brunt of the last storm that only gave us a glancing blow, so I will forgive them if they get off easy this time.

I shoveled the back roof on Thursday. Understand that I did not grow up in snow country and “shovel the roof” is a phrase that makes no sense in my native vocabulary. Nevertheless, Thursday morning I was out on the back roof, the part over the kitchen extension and the sun porch, in my pajamas, shoveling snow off the roof in preparation for the next load to arrive. Okay, I had my coat and boots on in addition to my pajamas, scooting along the roof on my backside pushing snow off it with the shovel. The roof in question is just steep enough and just high enough, and I am just clumsy enough, that standing up there when it’s full of ice does not seem like a good idea. I may be arguably crazy, but I’m not stupid. Continue reading

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