There has been some concern in the Unitarian Universalist blogosphere over the new rule concerning ministerial incompetence that was approved at the 2008 UUA General Assembly. You can read about it here, here, and here.
See the UU World online article titled "Ministers can be terminated for incompetence" for more details. Here's a summary of the new rule change:
"The fellowship of a minister may be terminated by the Ministerial Fellowship Committee for unbecoming conduct, incompetence, or other specified cause."First, it seems funny to me that any professionals should be this concerned about protecting colleagues who are incompetent in their profession.
A minister who demonstrates serial incompetence through several congregational postings does impact the public perception of ministry throughout the UUA. This requirement to be professionally competent is just as "vague" as the requirement to not engage in "unbecoming conduct."
This is especially important in light of the fact that our denomination considers ordained clergy to be an option for congregational formation and sustainment within the UUA. Ordained clergy are not a requirement for a congregation to be in the UUA and many congregations exist and even thrive without ordained clergy.
However, payment of pro-rated fair share contribution to the UUA Annual Program Fund and 30 members at the time of application are requirements to be a UUA member congregation -- check out Article III and Rule III in the UUA Bylaws for what it takes to create a new UUA member congregation.
If we want to see lay-led congregations grow to the size where professional leadership is needed for further growth, then these lay-led congregations should be satisfied that ministry as a profession is generally competent. A few negative examples will be enough to convince these smaller congregations to forgo hiring a minister.
Second, in spite of the language we use to describe ministers as "called," what we're really doing is "hiring" a religious professional through a formal congregational vote. I'm not a big fan of high-falutin' language. Ministers are employed by congregations (even if they are treated as "self-employed" for IRS purposes).
Third, Scott Wells is right that the UUA does very little to require competency in the various local "franchises" that carry out the local business of this association of congregations.
For example, my local congregation did a horrendous job with the Welcoming Congregation program a few years ago -- you can read about my congregation's "incompetence" here.
The local congregation's decisions have impacted our growth and outreach efforts to folks in the bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender communities. Our decisions have also affected outreach to allies (e.g. families who have BGLT relatives). We have lost members over our Welcoming Congregation decisions and many in the BGLT communities perceive us as unwelcoming.
The really strange thing about the Welcoming Congregation issue for our congregation is that one of our board members sent an email out to our minister and 31 of his closest friends where he wrote that our minister was "incompetent" for speaking in favor of the Welcoming Congregation program in our pulpit back in the fall of 2007 (we all know that email is always the best way to communicate in a congregation where there is a disagreement).
The sermon podcast audio where our minister spoke in favor of the Welcoming Congregation can be listened to here ... judge for yourself if this is "ministerial incompetence" or simply a sermon that made one board member uncomfortable.