Yes, I’m young

I’m 30. That’s not especially young by some standards, but for an aspiring UU minister, it’s positively boyish. We are not exactly overflowing with young clergy in this association, though I think there’s a trend in that direction. (Anyone have numbers that might bear this out? I’m going off my own, anecdotal evidence.) For some time, our ministry has been heavily populated by second-career ministers, who bring something valuable, but something different than those who enter the ministry at a younger age, I think. In fairness, I’m a bit of a tweener. I did work for five years in journalism before starting seminary.

I say all this because being young and a minister is not exactly an easy thing. I feel like I have managed to miss the worst of this, perhaps because I have a strong presence, perhaps because I am a straight, white man, identities that give me privilege that counters whatever age discrimination I might otherwise face. I see my colleagues who are even younger than I, or who are female, or queer, or not white, face a lot more of the sort of patronizing, aggravating comments and reactions that make ministry even more difficult.

Perhaps you know what I mean. The endless comments about one’s age, the repeated questions to ordained, fellowshipped ministers about whether they are the intern (or worse, speculation that they might be a member of the youth group), the compliments/criticisms of one’s hair being far more prevalent than thoughts about one’s ministry.

Sadly, when a victim of ageism (or sexism, racism, and other forms of oppression) points it out, it often serves only to highlight that part of one’s identity. The young minister who points out ageism is seen as a petulant child, that is, never mind the reality of what transpired.

I say this in the hope that you might think about what a minister brings to the table, regardless of their age (or what ministers of many different ages might bring to the table). Greatness doesn’t know an age, and the right match between church and minister has many facets.

And, perhaps it goes without saying, I say this in part because I will (God willing) be in search in the near future, and I hope some churches will take a look at me.

So here, my friends, are a few things to consider (I’m aware this list is a bit heavy on the white men. I welcome examples from other groups. Please.):

  • William Ellery Channing was called to Federal Street Church (now Arlington Street Church) in 1802. He was 22.
  • Hosea Ballou was an itinerant preacher at 20, and was ordained two years later. His greatest work, A Treatise on Atonement, was published when he was at the ripe old age of 34.
  • Edward Everett, later president of Harvard and a politician of some note, was called to the Brattle Street Church at the age of 20.
  • Olympia Brown, among the first women to be ordained, took a bit longer. She was 29 when she began her first ministry in 1864—mind you, she had been slowed by some efforts to get a seminary to accept her at all, given her gender.
  • Dana Greeley, later the first president of the UUA, was called to Arlington Street Church at the age of 27. He had already served for three years at other Unitarian churches by then.
  • Bill Schulz was 26 in his first ministry, and by 36 was president of the UUA.
  • And Jesus, it has been noted, completed his rather notable ministry by the age of 33.

My point, if it isn’t already obvious, is that great ministry can and does come from young people, even in their first settlement. What might some young minister have to offer your church?


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