UNCO

You're Not Alone: Finding Friends in Ministry

By Rev. Mindi

I graduated from seminary fourteen years ago, with ninety credits and one unit of CPE under my belt. Though I had loved my Biblical Studies courses more than anything, I made sure I took the more practical courses: Church Administration, Stewardship, and of course, Pastoral Ministry Ethics. I figured those would be the courses that would help me in my day-to-day ministry.

Until I came to a church that didn’t want to talk about money or stewardship.

Until I came to a church that had too large of a governing structure for its body.

Until I came to a church that had no internal governing structure for its body.

Until I came to a church that had unhealthy power dynamics within the staff and within the lay leadership.

Until I came to a church that was barely surviving.

You get the picture. In the variety of calls I have served, I have encountered situations that “they didn’t teach me about that in Seminary.”

And even though I am an outgoing person and have immediately sought out clergy groups, sometimes it is hard to relate to other clergy who have had a different experience in ministry. I find it hard at times to relate to clergy in which they were always paid a full time salary with benefits, or were always able to attend continuing education events and their regional and national governing bodies. We all know that relationships are the key to ministry, and if who you know matters, how can you move to a new call when no one at the regional or national level knows who you are because you have never been able to afford to attend? Or how can you compete with pastors who have D.Min’s or other credentials when your continuing education budget is small?

Ministry can be lonely, even when you have colleagues.

Sometimes, you have to build what you envision. “Built it, and they will come.”

A few years ago we began a great local “younger” clergy group. We are small. We can fit around a dining room table. We gather once a month for lunch and to check in with one another. We bless one another when they leave a call, or transition to something new. We honor one another by listening and not judging. We pray for one another when we are going through difficult times. We have built a beautiful support network that I could not minister without.

I also joined another clergy group, with clergy of different ages, but also different cultural and language backgrounds. Many of these colleagues I have been able to relate to in my experience of finding time for ministry while working another job. I have also had a good listening ear from my recently retired colleagues in this group, who get that ministry has changed from when they entered and that those of us in our early years of ministry need more support than ever.

But perhaps the greatest support network I have been part of is UNCO. The UnConference (and yes, I keep blogging about this here, and here, and here) began a few years ago as a “built it, and they will come” event that brings together clergy and church leaders without a keynote speaker. We share our ideas and our concerns in ministry and form breakout sessions based on those topics. All those things I didn’t learn in seminary? I’ve learned more from UNCO than any other continuing education conference. And, it’s affordable! It’s under $500!

Ministry gets awfully lonely at times, and sometimes we feel we are going it alone into uncharted territory, especially as the traditional church wanes and something new is birthing. What is coming forth? What is our role? UNCO is helping us to figure that out for each of us, and I always receive encouragement and support, and even enthusiasm as I return to my ministry setting. And the support continues, through Facebook, Twitter, and Google Hangouts. Sometimes we even pick up the phone and call the old fashioned way, across time zones and denominations.

UNCO West is October 24-26 at San Francisco Theological Seminary. The cost is $350 per person including meals and room for 3 days and 2 nights. There is KidUnco (the BEST!) and there is still space available. Register now!

The Best Darn Continuing Education Event You Will Ever Attend

By Rev. Mindi

A few years ago, some of the people I follow on Twitter started using the hashtag #unco. I asked what it was, and that was the first I heard of the UnConference, a time when clergy and other church leaders can gather together, share ideas, and dream together of what creative ministry could be. At first, I thought, “that sounds nice, but I have so many denominational responsibilities and other conferences I want to go to, I don’t think I can fit another in.”

Then I learned that the UnConference isn’t really a conference (re-read the name). There are hosts and organizers, but no keynote speakers. We all bring something. We all come away with something. We all participate and learn and teach together. I started thinking that this might be something I’d really like—a group of colleagues to hang out with and share stories and insights. After all, isn’t that the best part of conferences—the after-hours when you get together and talk, not the hours of listening to a keynote (even if they are great speakers)?

However, I learned even more: this was something you could bring your kids to! Say WHAT?! They have KidUnco. Kids have their own times to participate so you can go to breakout sessions and learn and chat together. Or, you can bring your kiddo with you if you want to. And there is free time to explore, and we all stay in the same place together so you can hang out with other adults when your kiddo goes to sleep. Unlike denominational conferences where you have to go to bed when your kiddo goes to bed because you’re in a hotel floors and doors away, you are right there.

The cost is way, way less than any conference I ever paid for. Right in line with a lot of denominational continuing education scholarships, too. And they have two locations: East (at Stony Point, New York) and West (at San Francisco Theological Seminary in California). East is May 16th through 18th this year (West is in October; we are still waiting to confirm exact dates).

I learned more in the first fifteen minutes in my first UNCO breakout on finances (called “Show Me The Money”) than I did in the required seminary course on church administration and stewardship. I learned more from my UNCO experiences than I have from any other continuing education opportunity. And, unlike most conferences and workshops, the work is continuing. Not like boring homework, but good work—new insights, ideas, and colleagues partnering with you. I have at least two groups that have continued, one since 2014 on funding, that meet monthly via video chat. I get to connect with my friends in ministry in real time and chat about what is going on and work on what I want to work on for my ministry.

All those @ names I was following that used the #unco hashtag? They became my friends, most of whom I have now met in real life. Most are not of my denomination, either, which is helpful. I have accountability, friendship, and encouragement in a very 21st century way that is helpful to who I am as a pastor and the ministry I am engaged with.

UNCO allows for creativity and collaborating. UNCO has given me a space in which I not only enjoy the work we are doing together but I also find rest and renewal. It’s both work and self-care all in one. And my clergy spouse and my kiddo get to come with me because it’s open for all of us.

Consider joining us at UNCO this year. For more information, visit www.unco.us. Registration for East is available, and West will be soon (those of us who go to the West location often like to say #westisbest, but to each their own). And follow #unco16 on social media! 

 

UnCommon Acceptance

By Rev. Mindi

Two years ago, I sat in a breakout session at my first UNCO—The UnConference for pastors and church leaders—and in the first fifteen minutes of the session titled “Show Me The Money,” I learned more about fundraising and stewardship campaigns than I had in seminary—and I had taken an entire January term course on stewardship and church finances. I listened as church leaders shared what had worked in their congregation, ways of talking about stewardship, and focusing on the positives (“Look what ministries we participated in last year”) rather than the negatives (“Our budget shortfall means we will have to cut programs unless we raise enough money”). 

Two years ago, I connected with pastors and church leaders that I still go to regularly for ideas, support, and encouragement, as did my husband who was planting a new church. But more importantly for us, it was the first church conference that not only provided space and childcare for children (called KidUNCO), but fully welcomed our child AJ, who has autism, into the full life of the UnConference.

Last year, when we returned to UNCO, not only did we receive our warm welcome again, but as AJ ran across the gathering space, where we livestream our worship services and large group “brain-dump” sessions, people who knew AJ from the previous years but could not attend tweeted their greetings to AJ.

UNCO has created a community of church leaders who are connected not only after UNCO meets via Twitter and Facebook, but a way of connecting those who are physically present and those who participate via Twitter and livestream. And following last year’s UNCO, those of us involved in new church communities and the challenges of raising funds for our new ministries began using Google Hangout on a monthly basis—not only to share ideas and knowledge, but also to check in, and lift up one another and our ministries in prayer. The networks created within the larger UNCO gathering, including a writer’s group and synchroblog, provide support and encouragement for creativity in leadership.

UNCO has given me and my husband the opportunity to attend a leadership gathering together—and to bring our child with special needs to an inclusive and welcoming environment. Because of KidUNCO, my husband and I have been able to attend breakout sessions without one of us having to care for our child while we are learning and sharing.

More importantly, UNCO has provided close friendships with colleagues facing similar challenges in ministry. UNCO is not a conference you attend and take back with you what you learn—UNCO is the UnConference, in which you are participating all year long and in person for three days, if you are able to be there.

UNCO West is October 26-28 at San Francisco Theological Seminary. Click here for more information and to register. You won’t find a more affordable continuing education event that will benefit you throughout the year. You can also read Carol Howard Merritt’s excellent article on UNCO in the Christian Century.