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PNC has input on reshaping of Manual on Ministry

In her third two-year term on the Pacific Northwest UCC Conference Committee on Ministry, Lois Farnsworth-Whysong of the Congregational Church in Metaline Falls said she has gained “a good understanding of the Manual on Ministry.”

lois farnsworth-whysong

Lois Farnsworth-Whysong serves on the PNC Committee on Ministry.

She started serving on the committee shortly after retiring more than seven years ago after 32 years as a special education teacher in Metaline Falls.

Nominated by Conference Minister Mike Denton, she began serving on the national UCC Habakkuk Group, which is engaged in a three-year process of conversations on ministry.

The group formed in February and met in June and October in Cleveland.  It meets between meetings online to review documents and share research.

Their role is to re-imagine the Manual on Ministry, which is a primary resource for Conference Committees on Ministry regarding authorized ministry.

“Much of our work is in process and is confidential,” said Lois.

“We have started working small groups, looking at what other mainline denominations are doing on policies for authorization, researching what works, the theology behind what they do and why,” she said.

“Our goal is to write the Manual on Ministry in ways that address the changing culture around us.  Our group represents varied ages, ethnicities, genders, lay members, UCC ministers and chaplains,” said Lois, who is one of the two lay members.

“We have a mix of wisdom in the room,” she said.

Lois shared an overview by the Rev. Rachel Hackenberg, minister for Committee on Ministry Resources and Conference Support, Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization (MESA) Team, which is part of the national UCC Local Church Ministries.

Rachel said that the 17 participants “felt the presence of the Spirit” and tried to be responsive to being led by the Spirit through their discussions.

“The historic church is in the midst of enormous changes and this informed our conversations throughout our meeting,” she said. “We talked about the theological grounding in the UCC’s understanding of ministry—that of the whole people of God, as well as of that of commissioned, licensed and ordained ministers.

Discussions of the Habukkak Group are based on theology in the UCC’s Constitution and Bylaws, Statements of Faith and prior work on the theology of ministry, particularly in developing the Ministry Issues Pronouncement.

They acknowledged realities about current forms of authorized ministry, as well as the church being called to new ministry approaches and settings.

Rachel said that calls for careful re-evaluate of “how we are articulating this theological grounding for ministry and the extent to which it is consistent with practice.”

Participants acknowledged the tensions between the “functional and sacramental views of ordination” within the denomination, accepting that it is to be honored, not resolved.

They agreed that “our stated theology of ministry and how we are using our forms of authorized ministry in practice seems to be out of sync,” Rachel summarized.

Next, the Habakkuk Group will address how “these theological understandings might be re-expressed, how our forms of authorized ministry can better reflect them, and how this work can also make space for new ministry settings and approaches, to which God is calling the Church,” she said.

Along with acknowledging the theological heritage of the UCC tradition, they are also responsive to history and ecumenism, Lois said. 

Respecting how UCC forms of authorized ministry, which have shifted over time, have blessed the church and its ministries, they seek “to affirm ministries that will help us faithfully respond to God’s call now and in the future,” she said.

That includes honoring ecumenical commitments related to authorized ministry.

Between now and spring 2015, the group will clarify issues and themes, and discern possible new directions.

There are task teams established to explore four key areas: 1) the forms of authorization and their theological grounding; 2) the ministry of Committees on Ministry; 3) the Marks of Faithful and Effective Authorized Ministers, as well as their relation to ministerial codes of conduct; and 4) the culture of call within the UCC

Lois brings experience as part of the priesthood of all believers. After earning a teaching degree in 1977 at the University of Washington in Seattle, Lois who grew up in an American Baptist Church, Central Baptist, in Spokane, moved to Metaline Falls. 

Since she joined the Congregational Church in 1980, she has served as pianist, moderator, treasurer, trustee, deacon, Christian educator and women’s fellowship leader.

“In a small church, we rotate among the jobs,” said Lois.

The church now has about 20 members. 

“It’s a genuine community church,” Lois said.  “Our part-time pastor, Tara Leininger, does funerals for and gives support to families even if they are not in the church.”

“I have been learning about the importance of authorization in the context of the priesthood of all believers,” she said, pointing out that ministry in UCC churches in not about sitting back and listening.

Recently, on their 35th anniversary, her husband and she toured historic homes in Dayton and purchased one to be near their son and daughter living in Walla Walla.

For information, call 509-446-3831 or email


Pacific Northwest Conference United Church News Copyright © December 2014



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