The UUA’s Commission on Appraisal presented a new report to the General Assembly on Friday. The report, “Who’s in Charge Here?” investigated “the complex relationship between ministry and authority,” commission member the Rev. Erika Baron told the GA.
She said the study asked questions such as the following: “‘How do professional clergy or lay people make decisions about ministry? What types of conflicts in your congregation have been caused by differences in opinion about authority?’ Almost all of the participants in our study believe that conflicts over ministry and authority are sources of stress in the life of their congregation,” she said.
Conflict is especially likely, according to the report, when there are transitions—changes in size or in theology, as well as when there are changes in relationships and in a congregation’s financial situation.
Matriarchs and patriarchs can be powerfully helpful in congregational life but they can also undermine the authority of other leaders like the minister and the board, according to the report which quotes one minister saying “Before I was called to my congregation both interims shared that one woman in particular had been identified as the person who held the most power in the church. I kept her so close, making sure she and I had a fabulous relationship because she had the power to make or break my ministry.”
The report is available from the UUA Bookstore.
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Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.