Commissioned Ministry: FAQ

Is the idea of Lay Community Ministers a new one?

Community ministry, lay and ordained, has been around for centuries, whether it has been called community-based ministry, specialized ministry, public ministry, social ministry, ministers-at-large, the larger ministry or another name. From the first days of Unitarian and Universalist history in America there have been forms of ministry taking place outside congregations by laity and clergy.

Lay Community Ministers perform creative and inspirational community ministries beyond the walls of their individual UU congregations. These ministries tend to be in non-congregational settings like non-profits, community organizations, spiritual "start ups" or other settings.

Most lay community ministers have been working without any formal affiliation with their congregation. Many hold theological degrees or spiritual direction training or C.P.E and/or specialized professional credentials in human services, education, or community based work. Please refer to the Guidelines for Covenantal Relationships for Lay Community Ministers.

What does “Commissioned Community Ministry” mean?

The difference between a Lay Community Minister and a Commissioned Community Minister has to do with the level of connection with a congregation. A Lay Community Minister can perform their work independent of a relationship with the congregation.

Most Commissioned Community Ministers are Lay Community Ministers who have undergone a Commissioning Ceremony by a UU Congregation and is engaged in a ministry that the congregation considers themselves connected to.

Other Commissioned Community Ministers are clergy from other spiritual traditions but want a formal covenantal relationship with a UU congregation without switching national credentials.

How does commissioning of laity differ from the fellowshipping of clergy?

The UUA is the national association of UU congregations in the United States. The Association’s job is to serve and support the member congregations. In that capacity, the UUA has set certain standards for all UU fellowshipped clergy. The Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC) was established to create and enforce those standards by which ministers may be in fellowship (i.e., credentialed) with the UUA and to evaluate fellowshipped ministers to see that they meet and maintain those standards as clergy.

Covenanting with a Lay Community Minister to become a Commissioned Community Minister generally begins with a series of conversations at the local level not national. The Lay Community Minister will speak with their Parish Ministers first. If the Parish Minister is supportive, they should then talk to key congregational leaders, sounding out the lay community minister's potential to serve the congregation’s mission. The request for developing a covenantal relationship will then be presented to the board or governing body for further development and approval.

The main difference between fellowshipping and commissioning being the level of credentialing sought and the nature of the call to ministry, lay service or ordained clergy. Lay Clinical Chaplains in community institutions being the primary example of non-ordained professional ministry but a multitude of others exist.

Do other religions recognize Lay Ministers?


  • United Church of Christ Authorized Ministry
  • United Church of Canada Designated Lay Ministry
  • Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has a Rostered Lay Ministry in 3 segments: Associates in Ministry, Diaconal Ministers, and Deaconesses.
  • Religious Science has Practitioners
  • United Methodist Church Certified Lay Minister
  • Episcopal Church Licensed Lay Minister
  • Roman Catholic Church Lay Ecclesial Ministries
  • Buddhist Lay Ordination
  • Humanist Endorsement

How does one become a commissioned community minister?

  • You identify your community ministry.   

  • You work with your congregation’s parish minister(s) and lay leadership to create a covenant for your ministry.

  • The congregation commissions you in a formal ceremony, recognizing and solemnizing your Commissioned Community Ministry.

  • You maintain your covenantal relationship into the future. Please refer to the Guide to Best Practices for Community Ministry and the Code of Practice. 

 Who benefits from commissioning a community ministry?

  • The community you serve, you make a difference to others and to the larger community in which you live.

  • Your congregation will benefit by expanding its reach outside of its walls and making itself known in the larger community.

  • The Parish Ministers ministry can be expanded and shared.

  • You may find a deeper relationship to the UU faith and to those that you serve.

  • This ceremony might be recognized by the Board of Certified Chaplaincy, Inc. for professional certification.

The Unitarian Universalist Society for Community Ministries.

Please contact our administrator,

Rev. Inanna Arthen
325 Lakeview Dr.
Winchendon, MA 01475 

(978) 297-1730

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