Friday, August 10, 2012

Who Made MeThe Jell-O Sheriff?

On one of Bill Cosby's early records he said something that has become legendary among his fans, and thanks to his years as a Jell-O pitchman among others as well.  I first heard it, actually, from a dear friend during my summer camp days. 

It's a question, really.  The kind of question you ask when someone acts like they've got some kind of authority you don't agree they have (like, for instance, when your brother catches you stealing the last pudding in the 'fridge.) 

"Who made you the Jell-O Sheriff?"

I've been thinking about this lately in relationship to my role in the church I serve and, for that matter, when I think of the role people like me play in congregations all over the place.  Yes, I am an ordained minister who has attained final fellowship within my ministerial association.  I have fifteen years of experience in parish ministry.  And I was duly called (by a unanimous vote!) by the good people of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church - Unitarian Universalist

But who made me the Jell-O Sheriff?

During this past year a great deal of work by a really marvelous task force went into a series of recommendations for the staffing of our congregation. One piece of this rather exciting whole is a new position -- the Director of Administration and Finance.

It's been decided that the Director of Administration and Finance will not report to me, the Lead Minister.  Rather, she or he will report directly to the Board.  Some thought that the Lead Minister should be the supervisor of this new position, as the ordained clergy person in many, if not most, of our congregations functions something like a CEO.  What finally swayed the day was the argument that one reason for creating the Director of Administration and Finance was to take those sorts of things off the plate of the Lead Minister, and if I was the supervisor of this new staff person we would, essentially, be putting all of that stuff back on my plate again.

In terms of an organization chart, then, the Director of Administration and Finance and the Lead Minister are on the same level, each of us with our own particular area of focus -- one on the "administrative" side of the church and the other on the "program" or, as some people would like to put it, the "spiritual" side of things.  Co-equal.

It makes sense, does'nt it?  And yet when I talk about it with folks -- lay people, other clergy colleagues -- especially if I use that word "co-equal" a lot of people freak out a bit.  It seems that there is an underlying assumption that the ordained minister should be the person who is ultimately in charge.

But why?  Who made us the Jell-O sheriffs?  What part of my divinity school training prepared me to run a non-profit organization?  What part made me an expert in religious education, or finance, or even volunteer coordination?  Do you want to know something about Biblical exegesis or church history, then I'm your man.  (Although you'd better come quick because a lot of that stuff is fading fast!)  But if you want to know about these other things then I've got to admit that while I've picked up a lot over the years pretty much I'm winging it.

So why not have a Director of Administration and Finance at the same organizational level as a Lead Minister?  (We might even change the later title to Director of Ministries.)  After all, isn't the congregation the ultimate authority in a Unitarian Universalist congregation, with much of that authority delegated to the Board of Trustees?  And since we already have a Director of Lifespan Faith Development, why not bring that position in line with the other "directorships" while we're at it?  And then there's the Director of Music . . .

In the movie The Big Chill there's a scene in which William Hurt's character has just said something that really shocked and upset his friends.  He replies, in his defense, "I was just trying to keep the conversation lively."  Perhaps it was my recent experience at the Canadian Unitarian Council's Spiritual Leadership Symposium, at which I was engaged to be a provocateur, but that is really what this post is about, too . . . keeping the conversation lively.

And so . . . let the conversation commence!

In Gassho,

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1 comment:

David Glasgow said...

Very timely post, Rev. W. I just this week started reading through Dan Hotchkiss's Governance and Ministry, which proposes exactly this sort of distribution of responsibilities. I'm eager to hear how this plays out for you! :-)