Minister’s Musings: Ordination in the UU Tradition

Some of you might have noticed the letter last week from Sue Coyle, the TRUU board president, about the congregation voting on ordination for your minister, aka me, on March 6th, and you might have been puzzled: “What? I thought she was already ordained? How else could she be our minister? And why do we vote? Aren’t ministers anointed by someone?” I thought it might be helpful if I addressed some of these hypothetical questions.

“Isn’t she already ordained?” Well, yes and no! I am clergy because I am ordained in the Soto Zen tradition (since 2007), with all the rights and responsibilities of clergy, but I am not yet ordained as a Unitarian Universalist minister. To be ordained into UU ministry, I needed to go to seminary, work as an interfaith chaplain in a hospital setting, complete a year long ministerial internship, undergo extensive psychological evaluations (isn’t that nice to know?), and finally, meet with the Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC) in Boston, which I did last October, and successfully pass their rather rigorous final evaluation, which I did, thank goodness.

“How could she be our minister if she isn’t ordained?” Because I was so close to completing all the requirements last spring, I was allowed to apply for and accept your position here as a one year position. And oh, I am so glad I did! This has been extraordinary for me, and I feel so privileged to serve as your minister.

All of the requirements for ordination have now been met, except one, a vote of a UU congregation. “Why do we vote to ordain?” This is an awesome thing, and part of the history of being Unitarian. In the early Puritan churches of New England, they decided that the members of the church should ordain and choose their own ministers, not some hierarchy of powerful bishops. When the liberal Unitarians went their own way, they continued this tradition. To this day, all UU ministers are ordained by a congregation.

When I brought up the possibility of being ordained by Two Rivers UU to your Board, there was widespread enthusiasm for the idea. They suggested a brief congregational meeting on March 6th for the vote of the members, with an ordination later in the spring (this is how it’s done: vote first, ordination later). I am profoundly touched and moved by the idea of being ordained by you, the first congregation I have served as a minister, and it will be a milestone for TRUU as well. The ordination itself is a separate service, usually on a Sunday afternoon, with music, many visiting ministers who speak, friends, family, and the congregation in attendance. The actual act of ordination is performed by a member of the Board, as an elected member of the congregation. Then there is a big party!

I’m happy to talk with anyone about this, and if you are a member, I hope you will be able to stay on March 6th for at least a little while for the vote, and then stay for the stewardship lunch after that. And if all goes well, I will, after that, in the eyes of all Unitarian Universalists, be Rev. Florence Caplow.