The Learning Clergy

Some of the books I’ll be studying this summer.

A Live Oaker was interested in my study leave, and what kinds of things I’m doing during this time. Maybe you’re interested, too?

First thing, I’m finalizing the liturgical calendar – the calendar of worship services – for the next year, and doing some of the deeper research that will be needed. This year, we’re going to be doing a deep dive into our Unitarian Universalist principles, so some of the books I’m reading or re-reading include Our Seven Principles in Story and Verse: A Collection for Children and Adults by Kenneth W. Collier, The Seven Principles in Word and Worship by Ellen Brandenburg, and With Purpose and Principle : Essays About the Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism, by Edward A. Frost.

Of course, our principles are an articulation of a deeper history and theology, and they speak to modern issues, so I’m studying particular sources that will be addressed in sermons. This is perhaps the biggest difference between what a UU preacher does, as opposed to a Christian preacher. The latter is working primarily with one book – the Bible. 2000 years of theology provide a plethora of commentaries and lectionary essays about every line of that book.

For UUs, our source is … ALL THE BOOKS! All the books, all the histories, all the wisdom that is out there. As we often say at Live Oak, “The Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, and Battlestar Galactica!” It is an embarrassment of riches, but it does take some concentrated time to read, study, and learn in order to find the information I need. My reading stack for this year is an eclectic one, including papers on such topics as Emerson, process theology, and anti-racism practices, and books like Spiritual Literacy, The Arc of the Universe is Long, How to Be an Antiracist, and David Bowie Made Me Gay: 100 Years of LGBT Music (it’ll be in a sermon, I promise).

Of course, ministry isn’t just preaching, and study leave gives me the time to do the concentrated learning I need, so I can help the leaders of Live Oak do what they do. Some years, the study topics arrive at my door with urgency, like the summer I needed to learn everything I could about R-22 freon and replacing air conditioning units. (“Things you don’t learn in seminary …”) And sometimes, like this year, it’s a matter of “Things are going great at Live Oak, and this is the direction we need to go next.” So this summer, I’ll be learning more about creating a methodology for welcoming and integrating in new members.

Unitarian Universalist ministry has long been referred to as “the learned clergy,” reflecting our expectation that UU ministers are to be scholars. This June, the UU Ministers’ Association voted to make a change and it’s one I agree with: we now use the term “the learning clergy.” We are being explicit that an expectation of ministry is that we continue to study, and continue to learn. I’m grateful for the time to do so. Thank you, Live Oak!