Thursday, May 30, 2013

totems for ministry training in the Uniting Church

Totem – A natural object or animal believed by a particular society to have spiritual significance and adopted by it as an emblem.

The pathway to ordained ministry in the Uniting church is divided into four phrases.

First, an initial period of discernment. For at least a year a person has a mentor, some set ministry tasks, some study, which includes the range of ministry opportunities within the Uniting Church, and some intentional retreat experiences. These are designed to explore the question – what is God calling me to.

Second, the Core Phase. If the person believes they are called to ordained ministry, they apply to become a candidate. If accepted, they enter a period of around three years, in which they mix intentional study, ministry practice and formation. This includes being partnered with the Formation Panel, who work with them three times a year, discerning together the best pathway by which to nurture each person’s unique ministry charism.

Third, Phase 3. If deemed ready by the Church, they are ordained and enter a first placement. They are primarily in placement in ministry, but are surrounded by a stronger set of supports. These include a supervisor. They also remain with their formation panel and continue to study.

Fourth, lifelong learning, in which they continue in placement. They are blessed out of a Formation panel. They are encouraged to continue in supervision and in learning.

With that oveview, let me return to totems, in this case the objects by which a particular society places spiritual significance. At the start of Phase 2, the new candidate meets with the Principal. As part of this, the Principal gives them a number of gifts.

I reckon these are totems. Symbolically they speak of what is considered essential to Phase 2. In the case of Uniting College, historically they have included a worship resources (Uniting in Worship 2), a book about the regulations of the church, a book of essays on key polity decisions and a book on the history of ministry formation.

Here’s my question.

What five things would you give to a person about to start training for ministry within a denominational system?

(Note, I am focusing on Phase 2, training, not Phase 3, first placement. The Uniting church has another set of totems for that!).

Posted by steve at 09:12 AM


  1. Hi Steve.

    I really value your continued reflectiveness on the formation process.

    I believe that in formation, each person needs a tree. There is so much to take in and process that it is essential to have a tree to sit under (or sit in) and to give yourself quiet time to reflect on all that you are experiencing and learning, and all the things that might be challenging your preconceptions, as well as the continued discernment process of discovering what ordained ministry means for you. For me, there was so much to do during phase 2, that it was easy to get caught up in doing, without spending the time praying and reflecting.

    Not sure at this stage what the other 4 would be.


    Comment by Ivan — May 30, 2013 @ 6:49 pm

  2. Ivan

    You mean like a real tree? Potted to take with them? Planted in the grounds at their commencement – for all the community to help water?


    Comment by steve — May 30, 2013 @ 6:58 pm

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