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.

May 8, 2015
Dear Claire –

Thank you again for your open letter to the UUA leadership regarding changes to the ministerial credentialing process.

Communication is such an interesting challenge these days. I apologize that our efforts to keep aspirants and UU leaders in the loop as decisions unfolded regarding the changes to the RSCC in any way added frustration and anxiety for students in the process. There have been many important conversations happening almost simultaneously.

I began my work at the UUA immediately after the significant 2010 budget cuts to the RSCC system. The UUA Strategic Review of Ministries (completed in 2011) indicated a demand for a shift away from so many layers of evaluation to a greater emphasis on “In Care” efforts for seminarians. In 2011 we held a Summit on In Care to gather the people working in their regions and to learn in particular from the Mountain Desert District model which was highly developed. Since that time we’ve created a curriculum for building In Care, provided annual grants to support the regional programs, and created the foundations to expand the program. In March of 2015 we held a follow up Summit on In Care, which has led to a strategic planning process we are very excited about implementing. I’m happy to say that the UUMA, UUA Field Staff, and the Panel on Theological Education have been very strong partners in this effort.

It seems to me that there is a deeper issue at play in the level of anxiety about these recent changes. I’ve been concerned for some time about the overall ‘Economy of Ministry.” Seminary tuitions have risen as much as 300% in the past 20 years. Many seminarians are carrying debt forward from their undergraduate years, adding to the burden. At the same time, traditional forms of church are struggling to achieve funding goals and new entrepreneurial forms of religious community haven’t yet produced sustainable financial models that support fair compensation for their clergy leaders. Denominational resources are at best flat or shrinking. As author Gil Rendle noted in a recent monograph, “Ours is not the time of growing resources to support a growing challenge.” The UUA is holding a Summit on the Economic Sustainability of Ministry in June to talk more about these trends, and to apply the principles of adaptive leadership in coming up with some experimental forms of addressing what are huge societal issues of where we express of values through money.

It may not seem to you that the UUA is checking in with seminarians enough about all of these trends, and I am taking note of this challenge. We received over 185 responses from aspirants, candidates and recently fellowshipped ministers to the recent evaluation survey about the RSCC’s. Significant concerns were raised in that evaluation about bias in the RSCC interviews, about the expense of the RSCC interviews for aspirants, and about the feeling that the RSCC/MFC continuum was experienced as a series of evaluative hoops. We were hearing this message: “I’m evaluated by my school, my internship, my CPE, by the Centers for Ministry, and the MFC. What I really need is more formational support and care.”

I very much appreciate the collegiality of your letter – you are correct that there is only the “we.” None of us alone has the answers, but together we can live into the promise of Unitarian Universalism.

In Faith,
Sarah Lammert

24 Farnsworth Street, Boston MA 02210 | P (617) 742-2100 | F (617) 367-3237

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