Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

Professional Ministry: What’s the Use? — Guest blog post

Rev. Lucas Hergert

Minister, Unitarian Universalist Church in Livermore

Lucas is our guest speaker Sept. 25 for Association Sunday.


A young couple recently requested that I officiate a wedding. I asked details about their ceremony, and gathered that it was going to be a big hairy formal deal. Ten bridesmaids, expensive catering, the works.

Cool, I thought, and agreed to do it. About a week after our conversation, the husband-to-be called to tell me that he and his fiancé had chosen a different option. They had asked an inexperienced friend to officiate. So I pictured this huge traditional wedding with a completely untrained person leading the formalities. Something wasn’t right with that picture.

With instant online ordinations, more and more couples are taking this route. According to the Christian Century, a whopping one third of all weddings are performed by family friends. Clergy, please take your seats in the back.

Such trends beg the question: What’s the use of professional ministry, any way?

I want to go on record saying that I am not anxious to perform additional weddings. I enjoy it, but I do not rely on it for income or validation. And it doesn’t affect my vocation if people choose to go another route. I have a wonderful, growing congregation and plenty to do there.

That said, I offer my doubts that family friends and clergypersons are equivalent.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote that professionals need 10,000 hours to master a skill. It takes years for clergy to reach this threshold by preparing and performing services. When they do, there is a certain confidence and presence that accompanies them to worship leadership.

Your friend who just received her online ordination certificate may be able to read the lines. She may be able to dress the part. But any minister can see it’s just that. Dress up.

All weddings have smiles all around. Nonetheless, I will venture to say that even the family will notice the mispronounced name, skipped hymn, shallow or absent homily, and untested microphone. God save us from the untested microphone.

Public opinion has not shifted so quickly about other professions. Take medicine. I suppose if I really wanted, I could ask my friend to reset my dislocated arm and stitch my forehead. The instructions are online, right? And my friend—well, he’s smart and well intentioned.

And then there’s my other friend who’s a great debater. Perhaps I could use her to represent me in my hypothetical divorce proceedings. She will tell my wife’s attorney what’s what.

In truth I wouldn’t dream of doing either. The reason is because I have something to lose there. So why don’t people think they have something to lose when they ask an amateur to officiate the most important day of their lives? Most people wouldn’t risk amateur hour with a broken arm or court appearance. And yet one third of the American public would consider it in a heartbeat with weddings.

My advice for pastors is that we earn our keep. We have to be persistently, resiliently, uncompromisingly committed to ministerial excellence. This year, the Unitarian Universalist Association is having a special offering that will go in part to the continuing education of clergy. It’s called Association Sunday, and I’m supporting it generously. I believe we all will benefit from new and creative ways of bearing witness to the important moments in people’s lives.

My advice for everyone else is this: Consider your options.





1 Comment so far
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I agree with this and enjoy it. But it’s also a bit humbling, since I’ve thought of the time that I have slipped up while doing a wedding or a memorial service. Not in a big way. In general, I think the difference that a trained minister can make is in the listening presence and suggestions we can provide to a couple while planning their wedding or to a bereaved family coming together to talk about their loved one and the memorial service. Even when there is nothing overtly religious or spiritual in a service, the minister is trained to conduct the participants–whether celebrating or memorializing–through the planning and then from the beginning to the end of the ceremony. Along with my senior colleague, Doug, and members of our church’s Board of Trustees, I am supporting the Association Sunday donation appeal. You can too!

Comment by Pastor Cranky

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