Homesteading: What Does It Mean When UCC Authorized Ministers Don’t Move?

This post was originally published on the Vital Signs & Statistics Blog, on the UCC’s Center for Analytics, Research, and Data (CARD) website on June 12, 2017.

According to George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen, Americans are not relocating from one part of the country to another, the way they used to. Increasingly, they are staying put (“The Unseen Threat to America: We Don’t Leave Our Hometowns,”, February 2017).

“Americans [imagine] themselves as great movers” and migrators, Cowen explains—and indeed, they were, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. “People move[d] for better jobs, marriages, a different climate, new social networks, or just to shake things up.” But since the 1980s, “long-distance moves have declined for all groups: homeowners, renters, dual-income couples”—and the well-educated. Indeed, “interstate migration has fallen 51 percent below its 1948–1971 average. Moving within a state fell 31 percent. [And] moving within a [single] county fell 38 percent. Th[e]se are steep drops.”

Cowen attributes “the decline in residential moving [to] the growth of occupational licensure,” increasing cultural and economic homogeneity throughout the United States, and a reduction in “job-switching.” Many workers today are staying in jobs that are tolerable, even if they are not ideal, he notes. “Poverty and low incomes have flipped, from being reasons to move”—to becoming “reasons not to move. Those who most need to move are, on average, the least likely” to do so.

This trend is evident in the American Protestant Mainline Church. Historically, authorized ministry was a peripatetic vocation; parish ministers relocated often—and some still do. Barna Group research conducted in 2009 reveals that the average tenure of mainline pastors in their churches is only four years (“Report Examines the State of Mainline Protestant Churches,” Barna Group, December 7, 2009). Many of these pastors move hundreds of miles every time they rotate into or out of a church.

But there are indications that more and more authorized ministers are staying put. Indeed, there is an important clergy analogue to Cowen’s observation that workers are hanging on to jobs that are tolerable, even if they are not ideal: United Church of Christ (UCC) General Minister and President John Dorhauer writes that he “now advise[s] clergy not to even think about looking for another church if they are [currently] in one that is paying them a living wage with benefits” (Beyond Resistance: The Institutional Church Meets the Postmodern World [Chicago: Exploration Press, 2015], p. 51).

Ministers are not moving—in large part, because their partners and spouses work outside the home today (they didn’t, at least not as much, a couple of generations back), and because pastors’ family members now have networks of friendship and community that they don’t want to give up. In addition, ministers are buying their own homes—most do not want to live in a parsonage, and they do not want to have to sell, move, and buy a new house every four years. Indeed, clergy are reacting negatively to the tumbleweed existence of their predecessors in ministry; they want to grow roots in a particular geographic location. Then too, “homesteading”—residential permanence—works for many ministers.

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The United Church of Christ Looks at Sixty: You Can’t Dismantle an Idea Whose Time Has Come

This post was originally published on the Vital Signs & Statistics Blog, on the UCC’s Center for Analytics, Research, and Data (CARD) website on June 19, 2017.

A year ago, on June 14, 2016, our Conference Minister, the Rev. David Gaewski, delivered his “State of the Conference” address to annual meeting delegates of the New York Conference (UCCNY). His words had a curious relevance for the United Church of Christ (UCC).

The UCCNY was “sewn together as a quilt from different swaths of cloth,” Rev. Gaewski noted; historically, its churches and Associations “had neither a common identity nor a common commitment.” And while diversity can transform a Conference into a beautiful tapestry, “if the stitching is weak or loose, [it] will not last.” Indeed, too often, “we have taken pride in identifying” ourselves regionally, but not as a Conference. “And this has [weakened] the seamwork of our quilt. Pride in our separateness is a misconception of the Body of Christ. In Christ there is no east or west, no north or south, no Congregational Christian or E&R, no urban or rural Christian.”

Broaching the subject of Conference finances, Rev. Gaewski outlined “a multi-dimensional plan” to eliminate the UCCNY deficit. Key elements of the plan included a new “Covenant Share” offering, which is “a hybrid to per capita giving;” a special appeal to “Friends of the Conference;” an annual “‘Fair Share’ in OCWM giving” program, which calculates an appropriate pledge amount for each UCCNY congregation; the incorporation of new church starts and affiliations into the Conference; and several staffing and administrative efficiencies.

Rev. Gaewski then expressed disappointment that the UCCNY’s Covenant Share appeal had not attracted more dollars from more congregations and individuals, but he speculated that many churches and Conference members still didn’t know about the new offering. Finally, our Conference Minister issued a warning: “We have three years to resolve our fiscal direction. And if we don’t, we’ll need to begin dismantling this Conference”—or at least, drastically reorganize the way it operates.

Rev. Gaewski was right to deliver this inauspicious message, and as I say, I think his statement is relevant to the entire UCC. I suspect that the financial challenges we are facing in the UCCNY are ubiquitous—they are evident in all UCC churches and in all mainline denominations—and we need to talk about them rather than ignore or hide from them. And we need to see how they relate to broader societal trends.

To read more of this blog post, go to the Vital Signs & Statistics Blog site, at


A Peek at the New UCC Manual on Ministry Draft, and Two General Comments about the Streamlined Marks of Faithful and Effective Authorized Ministers and the Unified Ministerial Code

This post was originally published on the Vital Signs & Statistics Blog, on the UCC’s Center for Analytics, Research and Data (CARD), in April 2017.

So, I used to have this ministry colleague, George, who carried a stack of dog-eared 3×5 cards in his hip pocket. George had scribbled the Sermon on the Mount and assorted Bible verses on those cards, and he consulted them frequently, he said, in an effort to live a more virtuous and holy life. He kept this up for months. At the time I thought that George was odd and needed to lighten up, but then again, I probably was not as virtuous or holy as he was.

Over the past two or three years I have wondered if the United Church of Christ’s (UCC’s) Manual on Ministry (MOM), the Marks of Faithful and Effective Authorized Ministers, and the Ministerial Codes are like George’s 3×5 cards. Or perhaps, like the Boy Scout Law (“A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent”). Nice universal imperatives, but difficult to put into practice.

Recently, MOM, the Marks, and the Codes have undergone significant revision. MOM was written (and it still serves) as a tool to help UCC Committees on Ministry, churches, authorized ministers, and Members in Discernment (MIDs) understand the different forms of authorized UCC ministry, and negotiate the various processes of search and call and ministerial authorization and standing.

Perhaps the most controversial feature in the draft of a revisioned MOM is a proposal to streamline the three current forms of authorized ministry (i.e., Commissioned, Licensed, and Ordained) into just one: Ordained ministry. A big reason for phasing out Licensed and Commissioned ministry has to do with the inherent unfairness of the current three-tier system of authorization, which effectively relegates Licensed and Commissioned Ministers to a “second-class” ministry status, and allows them to be paid much less than (and often assesses them by different measures than) their ordained colleagues.

The Marks, you may recall, are an outgrowth of the Ministry Issues Pronouncement of General Synod 25 in July, 2005. They were developed as a tool for discernment and assessment of UCC authorized ministry, and consisted of 64 skills, aptitudes, and areas of knowledge that informed and defined such ministry. The new Marks are similar but have been reworded and pared down from 64 to 48 in number.

The UCC Ministerial Codes have been around for a long time, and parallel the standards and ethical rules that guide the work and interactions of physicians, lawyers, teachers, and other professionals. In the new draft version of MOM, the Ordained, Licensed, and Commissioned Ministers’ Codes have been consolidating into one unified Code consisting of 35 “covenants.”

Although the circulating draft of MOM will undergo another revision at the end of 2017 with wider church discussion continuing into 2018, you can read the draft version, which includes the new Marks and Code, here. In addition to updating the Marks and the Code, the “reimagined” MOM reflects the changed “landscape of ministry today,” including “the shift to ‘multiple paths’ of [ministerial] formation (including but not limited to seminary),” as well as “decline[s] in traditional expressions of church” (pp. 3-4).

My reaction to the new MOM, Marks, and Code is twofold.  First . . . .

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Turned Off, Fed Up, Dropped Out: Can the United Church of Christ Become a Home for Disaffected Evangelical Millennials and Other Church Dropouts?

This article was originally published on the Vital Signs & Statistics Blog, on the UCC’s Center for Analytics, Research and Data (CARD) website in January 2017.

Young Evangelicals are leaving the church in droves—and their exodus has bracing implications for us in the United Church of Christ.

Not that anyone could have predicted their departure in 1972; that’s when sociologist of religion Dean M. Kelly published an influential study entitled, Why Conservative Churches Are Growing. Essentially, Kelly argued that, in the words of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler, Jr., “Evangelical churches grow precisely because they do what liberal congregations and denominations [do not]—they make serious demands of believers in terms of doctrine and behavior” (“Why Conservative Churches Are Growing,” Christian Post, April 26, 2011.

As it turned out, a lot of those serious demands were exclusive and harsh—and living up to them proved unsustainable. Today—forty-five years later—Barna Group President and pollster David Kinnaman, a self-professed Evangelical, tells us that many Evangelical congregants and former churchgoers, as well as the vast majority of “Unchristians” (who don’t ascribe, or no longer ascribe, to any organized religion) “are skeptical” if not “hostile and resentful toward present-day Christianity.” They “have little trust in the Christian faith, [or] esteem for the lifestyle” of churchgoers. They view Christianity as “weary and threadbare,” and are offended by conservative Christians’ “swagger”—how Evangelicals “go about things and the[ir] sense of self-importance” (David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity… and Why It Matters (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2007), pp. 9, 13, 16, 22, 24).

Indeed, a 2005-2006 Barna Group study concluded that “the most common perceptions” of those outside the church toward Christians and Christianity are antihomosexual, judgmental, and hypocritical. These were followed by: old-fashioned, sheltered and out of touch with reality, insensitive to others, boring, not accepting of other faiths, too focused on converting people, and confusing. “This is what a new generation thinks about Christianity” (Unchristian, p. 25).

Tellingly, many Evangelical Millennials and “Gen-Z’ers”—young adult churchgoers —“share the same negative perceptions as outsiders” (Unchristian, pp. 31-32); in a related poll of 18-29-year-olds with Evangelical backgrounds, young churchgoers “describe[d] their individual faith journeys” in words that were startlingly similar to those of Millennial outsiders. “Most of their stories include significant disengagement from church—[and/or] from Christianity altogether” (David Kinnaman with Aly Hawkins, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2011), p. 9).


To read more of this post, go to the Vital Signs & Statistics Blog on the CARD website, at