An interesting comment on the earlier thread (about whether a layperson would be acceptable as UUA president) suggests that a layperson might be inappropriate because they don’t understand the sense of “calling” that UU ministers have. The idea of a UU ministerial calling is an intriguing one, inasmuch as it is unclear what exactly this means in the modern UU context.
Traditionally, the concept of calling emerges from Christian ideas of God calling out to a person to enter the professional ministry in order to fulfill the destiny that God intends for them. This marks the person out as special in some way, designed by God to fill a prophetic or similar role above the normal fray of lay life. This concept is still very much alive in North American Christian communities.
But what about in Unitarian-Universalist circles? God’s had a hard time of it in UUism over the past two generations. While there have always been significant numbers of theists in the denomination, strong anti-God or simply non-God constituencies have had a prominent voice in some congregations that have been virtual “no God please, we’re UU” zones. Christians as a specific type of theist are a minority in the denomination and in the ministry, though certainly not a voiceless one.
So who or what is calling UU ministers? Is it God? If so, is this understood in the same way that non-UU Christians who created the concept of calling understand it? If it isn’t God, then who/what? What does it mean to have a calling if you are a non-theist or strong Humanist? How does one go about recognizing a calling? Is this ultimately an anti-egalitarian concept that elevates a small group as God’s chosen people over those intended to be the passive flock? Do ministerial committees have the right to admit or bar candidates based on their assessment of the authenticity or presence of a future-minister’s calling?
Probably the concept of calling varies among UU ministers (like everything else). Some have a traditional understanding, while others reinterpret it in ways that make a better fit for their particular UU spiritualities. Surely some ministers discard the concept, though then we might ask the opposite question and wonder why someone would go into the ministry without a sense of calling?
Do Unitarian-Universalist laypeople support the ministers’ feelings that they have a special calling? Do their understandings differ from those of the ministers? Is this difference of opinion so significant that they shouldn’t be elevated to the presidency of the UUA?
And does the presidency itself demand a particular sense of calling? Could a layperson receive that call, from God or whomever?
It seems that this is another realm of inherited concepts from our Christian past that offers both opportunities and challenges for our contemporary situation. And it points to the continuing efficacy of (often subterranean) Christian concepts in the denomination. By way of comparison, Buddhism, which is enjoying a heydey in Unitarian-Universalism at the moment, lacks a concept of calling for its professional religious class. That we take it for granted that a minister might have a calling and that this might be a legitimate concept, even one so powerful as to qualify or disquality someone for clerical or leadership positions, shows how much possibly unexamined Christianity is still operative amongst us.