The year was 2007 and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation Oxford had been present and thriving for 10 years. One of our staunchest members was Miguel Queyja, husband to Mary. He and Mary were at many events and although he was physically not a large person, his presence was very large. He was a member at both St. John the Evangelist Catholic church as well as the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Oxford, living the deepest truth of both traditions. When he passed way in 2007, Mary sought to honor his desire that his memorial service include both of his religious traditions, the Catholic church and UUCO. Mary asked me to help plan his memorial service. Although I worried about not knowing how to do it, it felt right. Although I didn't know it at the time, I was saying “yes!” to ministry.
When my wife Pat Miller and I were first part of the UU Congregation of Oxford, I was privileged to be a youth group leader. Later I served as President of the congregation and then as Sunday Service Trustee. During this time I felt a hunger for liberal religion here in north Mississippi. I have felt an urgency for this Unitarian Universalist faith tradition, this tradition that values all individuals, to have a solid presence here.
How to move into formal ministry? In 2010 I applied to Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago, one of the two Unitarian Universalist seminaries to start my Master’s of Divinity degree. It took me 5 years to complete the degree! Their program is a contextual program: academics are intertwined with continuous internships, and between 2011 and 2016, I did a year internship at Interfaith Compassion Ministry in Oxford, 6 months at the VA Hospital in Memphis and two years with the UU Church of Birmingham all while completing the 30 graduate hours necessary for the M.Div. Degree. My formal studies are now complete. I have been welcomed into Preliminary Fellowship with the Unitarian Universalist Association and my next step is to be ordained!
Ordination is the formal and public recognition of the call to ministry. In our tradition, ministers are called from within our congregations and it is the privilege of a congregation to recognize and affirm ministry through the process of ordination. A congregation can ordain anyone they choose, but the Unitarian Universalist Association strongly encourages congregations to honor the credentialing process. To be credentialed through the UUA, I needed to complete the following: my M. Div. degree, one unit of Clinical Pastoral Education, a thorough psychological assessment and submit a packet of material for and meet with the Ministerial Fellowship Committee in Boston. My credentialing process is now complete and UUCO has voted to ordain me!
Ordination both a ceremonial event, and an act that confers the title and authority of minister upon a person. The ordination worship service is the congregation’s public acknowledgement and recognition of religious leadership. For me this is a sacred event. The process of ordination will allow me to use the title “Reverend.” And, although other traditions have different paths to ordination, the title of Reverend is universally recognized. It has been a long path and I have not walked this alone. Pat has been with me every step of the way, and I could not have and would not have completed this work without her.
Indeed, it takes a village to create a minister, and I am honored that my village is the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Oxford! Although I will not be be the minister for UUCO, I look forward to being affiliated with the congregation while I explore community ministry in North Mississippi!