So We Probably Really Can’t Have Poor Ministers

I know lots of others have realized this and commented on it, but it just struck me anew this weekend. Two things reminded me of this. First, there is a family in our congregation where the dad is, like me, on the path to ordination.* They have three children and I can’t imagine how hard it has been for them for him to take three years off to go graduate school, and then try to find an internship and CPE that pays anything close to a living wage. I assume the irony must not be lost on many of our leaders and congregants that the UUA and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee are members of the interfaith Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign, but we don’t typically pay student ministers a living wage and require them to do a unit of CPE which is a job that requires you to pay them.

The second thing that reminded me of this (aside from my ongoing realization of it in my own life), was a post on a message board where the poster was considering going to graduate school in pursuit of eventual ordination. She didn’t say her denomination, but I could tell by the details she posted that she was UU (which I know is not technically a denomination, but you get the idea). It was absolutely clear to me that she really didn’t realize what it took, or how impossible it would be for her given her situation as a single mother and the challenges with poverty that she described in her post. I didn’t have the heart to try to compose a post discouraging her.

I’m sure it has occurred to people before that one of the reasons our congregations are so un-diverse is because it is a pretty un-diverse privileged crowd of people who can afford to become our ministers. It seems to me that this would be something on the priority list to reform, but it is my sense that it is not. I wonder if it is because we have enough ministers so there is the sense that making fellowship and ordination more accessible would just flood the Association with too many ministers? Or there are just other financial/reform priorities?**

*In case you know me and wonder, “Really? She is still at that?” Yes, I am. It is the so-called “turtle track.” Slow and steady…

**It is important for me to point out that I recognize that I am implicated in this structure of injustice, as well, as a Unitarian Universalist and privileged person. I also don’t want this to be read as “Oh, bad Unitarian Universalists can’t get anything right,” which I know is a favorite past time of UUs. That said, I still thought it worth it to post my thoughts about it – both as a way to contribute to bringing the issue to our attention and, let’s face it, because blogging about things is helpful to me to “get it out” and reflect on things. Why I feel the need to write this long explanation, I don’t know. But I did.

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7 Responses to So We Probably Really Can’t Have Poor Ministers

  1. […] So we probably really can’t have poor ministers […]

  2. […] UU Ministry Got to Be So Expensive at Polity Wonk I ramble on about my thoughts on the cost of becoming a UU minister and how it pretty much guarantees we […]

  3. […] agree with Elizabeth (of “Elizabeth’s Little Blog”) that you should read PolityWonk’s “How […]

  4. alex says:

    Maybe another model would be to have a church “sponsor” a seminarian with the agreement the seminarian would work at the church for a specified period of time. Knowing what we’re going through in a Ministerial search, not sure how that would work.

  5. Elizabeth says:

    Thanks for your comment, Alex. The thing is that tuition for M.Div. programs is around $15,000-20,000 a year for three years, not including living expenses or books, and there are just so few churches that could even begin to think of sponsoring a seminarian at that rate.

  6. […] given these two things that are quite present on my mind, coupled with the fact that many people who want to be ministers can’t even begin to afford school and other costs of min…, I just can’t get my head around spending $615,000 to boycott Arizona. Not because I am […]

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