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Download PDF “One Well-Educated Order of Ministry” by Roger Janes

Although it has been more than twenty-five years since my ordination, I remember vividly the journey to become a paid accountable minister very well. I recall in particular being an 18 year old “intended Candidate” and thinking ahead to seven years of formal education and two summer internships.  Would I ever live long enough to complete it?  I also remember a particular conversation I had at that time with a clergy person in the Presbytery. He asked if I would like to test my call by serving a small pastoral charge as a solo staff. I was horrified at the thought and said that there was no way I could serve without proper training. I believed it was too awesome a responsibility. I still think the same – after two university degrees and 25 years’ experience.

The Historic Value of an Educated Clergy

As I consider the discussion around the future of paid accountable ministry in The United Church of Canada, and whether we should have “one order of ministry,” I feel most adamant about this – we clergy need all the education we can get! It was a challenge to start to serve as  clergyperson 25 years ago; but today, in this time of rapid flux and brand new challenges, it is even more important than ever that paid church leaders get a substantive and good quality education. We owe it to those with whom we are called to serve.

The Changing Curriculum

I recently read that 80% of a person’s job success comes not from our IQ level, but from our EQ, or emotional intelligence.[1] My experience bears this out.  Ministry is all about nurturing relationships, successfully negotiating realistic expectations with those with whom we serve, having a keen awareness of our own and others’ emotions, and grounding our lives in a theological context.  We need to be able to relate well to others, to model good spiritual practices, and passionately preach and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ. I know that some people are blessed naturally with wonderful gifts for such ministry, but I honestly believe that all of us, with good formative theological education, can become more effective clergy. Whatever comes out of this important discernment, I hope and pray we hold on to the necessity of a solid educational requirement.

Ordained and Diaconal together

I personally value both the differing education, and the unique foci, of ordained and diaconal ministers. I would like to see the distinction remain, even as I am aware that many diaconal clergy are serving in solo ministries of “Word, Sacrament and Pastoral Care.” I have served as an Educational Supervisor for a Diaconal Minister for five years. In the process I worked closely with the Centre for Christian Studies. I think the education and training of this particular order of ministry has been a gift to our church. I have no problem with ordaining diaconal ministers and thereby giving them the ability to administer sacraments regularly, without renewing an annual licence. Indeed, I think two streams of one ordained ministry makes sense – it reflects the modern-day reality in our churches, where there is most often only one paid minister; it reduces confusion for parishioners who often really don’t understand or care about what the differences are; and it gets clear of the tension that sometimes exists between the two groups of clergy.

What about Designated Lay Ministers?

In this discussion there seems to be a commonly acknowledged challenge around the name and understanding of the function of this group of important ministers. In Newfoundland and Labrador, where I grew up and have lived out my ministry, we have a long history, originating from our Methodist roots, of lifting up gifted lay leaders for some of the functions of ordained ministry.[2] In truth, we have been very fortunate to have had many incredibly effective, committed, and caring leaders who have served God and their appointed pastoral charges well.  I hate to think how we would have operated as a Conference without them.

But the reality is that many of these folks feel called to the Order of Ministry, most often desiring to both serve and be recognized as such. Life circumstances, the difficulty of leaving home for extended periods of study, and/or age considerations make the long journey to ordination or commissioning seem impossible. And yet, I expect that many of them today would admit that they wished that they could have done the longer training that would have led to ordination or commissioning.

The challenges of holding on to this particular manifestation of paid accountable ministry for me outweigh the benefits however. I fear that to create one order of ministry that has differing levels of education, but the same pay and recognition, might lead to an erosion of the value we place on having a well-educated clergy, and will create tension in the church, and among the ranks of clergy.  Why would someone undertake seven years of education and training, for instance, if they could “get in” by doing less?  Where is the incentive to sign up for a longer course of study?

A Possible Way Forward

I would suggest a different route. As I have said above, let’s have one order of ordained ministry with two streams: “Word, Sacrament and Pastoral Care” and “Education, Service and Pastoral Care.” Next, create an “in-training” group. These folks, including present Designated Lay Ministers, would commit to work towards one of the two streams, but could serve as they study.  The training would be the same. The end result would be the same: ordination. I would suggest that those in training might be given a generous amount of time to complete study, but accountability to be on the training journey be discerned annually. To me, this makes the most sense going forward.

Roger Janes is presently serving The United Church of Canada as Regional Stewardship & Gifts Officer for Atlantic Canada.

[1] This term came into common usage through Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence. His research indicated that EQ accounted for up to 80% of the abilities needed for effective performance in leaders. I feel that education for ordered ministry needs to continue to include this important focus.

[2] Lay Ministers regularly provided leadership in the ministries of the Word and Pastoral Care.