Commission on Appraisal continues study of ministry and authority

The Rev. Barbara Child, chair of the Commission on Appraisal, reported to the Sunday morning Plenary session for the Commission. “Unitarian Universalists far and wide have expressed excitement about our current study called, ‘Who’s in charge here?: The complex relationship between ministry and authority’.” She said the Commission has been engaging in a “focus group marathon” with Unitarian Universalists across the country to address this question.

“We have asked: By what authority do professional clergy do their ministry? What gives lay people the authority to make decisions that affect the ministry in their congregations?” Child said. “And we have asked for suggestions for improvement in this area of congregational life.”

Child said that their research is continuing. The Commission expects to present its findings to General Assembly in 2013.


After the Commission’s brief report to the delegates, I spoke with Megan Dowdell, a member of the Commission, to ask about their ongoing research. Dowdell is pursuing a Ph.D. degree in sociology, has five years of graduate work in theological ethics, and is in process to become a Unitarian Universalist minister. Dowdell and other members of the Commission have extensive experience in social research methodologies.

“We’ve upgraded the methodology that we’re using to do our research,” said Dowdell, speaking of the Commissions’ work. “So we’re going to produce a more rigorous and engaging process, we hope. And we’ll be using electronic resources, and involving more UUs who can participate in our study.

“We’re honoring the voices that we’re hearing from,” she said, “and we’re waiting until we can process the extensive amount of information we’re getting.

“We’re in the middle of something really cool, and we’re really glad that people are getting involved,” Dowdell said. “We’ve even been having focus groups while we’re at GA.”

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