Today was "Ministry Days" (a misnomer, because it's one day and one evening, really). The two highlights for me of Ministry Days are the 25/50 worship service and the Ministerial Conference at Berry Street. The 25/50 worship service features a speaker from that group of ministers who have been in the ministry 25 years, and also one from that group who have been in the ministry 50 years. It's always a delight to hear their stories of their experiences and how things have changed and yet been the same. We have a similar thing at the Meadville Lombard Theological School alumni dinner, which will be later in the week. Can you imagine about 800 Unitarian Universalism ministers singing "Turn the World Around"? (We were some fewer than that, I think, but I can't remember the number. The total number of UU ministers is now in the 1700s.)
The Berry Street lecture is, we were informed, the oldest running lecture in the United States. It was started by William Ellery Channing in 1820. I can't explain the exact words shared of what the purpose of the Berry Street lecture is, but my understanding is that the person giving it is called to bring a new understanding around an issue of their choice to the UU ministers assembled. For example, Mark Morrison-Reed in 2000 talked about how we leave congregations. His discussion was fresh and informative, and I know congregations that have used his Berry Street words as study when their minister is leaving. Today the Rev Dr. Deborah J. Pope-Lance took us to task on an issue that's been plaguing our ministry for decades--clergy misconduct. It was incredibly timely. The UUMA has been wrestling with what language to have in their code of conduct for, well, a very long time. We had voted in some new language this morning, in fact, with an immediate amendment of stronger language following right on its heels. The tension is our ministry is between those who believe it is always wrong for a minister to get involved with a member of his or her congregation, and those who say that if done carefully and openly, ministers can and have built successful marriages with members of their congregations, and for single ministers in isolated locations, it's unreasonable for them not to be able to pursue romantic relationships within their congregation. Pope-Lance made it very clear that we need to take a hard line here. And in an increasing number of states in the U.S. it's already illegal for a minister to get sexually involved with a congregation member.
The votes this morning that we took were very confusing--it seemed like we voted to put certain language into place and then voted to study that exact same language for a year. I'm still sorting that out. But whichever it is, what seems to be in place for UU ministers starting now or soon is a best practices recommendation (not enforceable) that says that before ministers get sexually involved with someone in the congregation, that person must leave the congregation, or the minister must leave the congregation, for a period of six months. The minister must inform the UUMA Good Offices person. And then after six months, the relationship can be pursued, but the congregation must also be informed. There are a lot of further details, but that's the heart of it. And there's less detailed language in the enforceable part of our code, but that's where, I think, we're still also working on strengthening up the language.