What comes to mind when you hear the word “Leader”?
At Live Oak – and I venture to guess, at other UU churches – our feelings are complicated. Many of us work collaboratively, so to accept the title of “leader” may feel like we’re hoarding the glory for ourselves. Also, there is an assumption of responsibility that comes with the term – think of Harry S. Truman and “the buck stops here.” Then there is also a streak of anti-authoritarianism in our UU culture. Many of us have resisted unprincipled authority throughout our lives.
We resist authority … but does that mean we should also resist being an authority, one of ethics and integrity?
Going through seminary and the formation to become a UU minister, this was one of the challenges we were repeatedly questioned about. Like it or not, we were becoming religious authorities, through education and praxis. When it finally came time to go in front of the UUA credentialing body, the Ministerial Fellowshipping Committee (MFC), one of the things they were looking for was “does this person own their ministerial authority?”
But the MFC would often give candidates another question about authority, equally important: “From where does a UU minister receive their authority?”
The answers vary, as the authority comes about through learning and experience. But in a strict sense, the answer in our tradition is clear: through the power of the congregation. The congregation formally acknowledges the religious authority they see in you.
When one is ordained into UU ministry, that ordination is performed by a UU congregation. Period. Not the UUA. Not a seminary. The only body that can ordain a UU minister is a UU congregation. It takes away my breath. And when that stole was placed across my shoulders for the first time, its weight was both heavy and joyfully welcome.
So … let’s circle back to Live Oak members.
We are filled with gifted leaders. Including gifted leaders who often chafe at the word “leader.” Chafe all you want, but I see you, and you are a leader. I see the way people turn to you in the fellowship hall, to see what you think about a matter. I see the way you pick up the duties of something that simply must be done, and by hook or by crook, you get it done. I see the way you inspire other members to get involved, and with teamwork, to do great things.
Your authority comes through your experiences, through things you’ve learned, through gifts you were born with.
AND … your authority comes through the power of this congregation. This church – the Board, the Executive Team, the Nominating Committee, and others – see the leadership authority that is already in you, and acknowledge it, by naming you as a Live Oak Leader.
Let us honor that trust placed in us. This is a church full of leaders, here and out in the wider world. And so when you are called to leadership, realize we are a community of leaders following other leaders. Be willing to own your authority. And for that, we will thank you.