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UUA offers credentials to church musicians

Unitarian Universalist Association is also revising religious educators' credentialing program.
By Donald E. Skinner
6.8.09

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Seven Unitarian Universalist music professionals will be honored this month at the Service of the Living Tradition at the Unitarian Universalist Association’s annual General Assembly, for completing a new credentialing program for UU music leaders.

In a related development, credentialing requirements were revised this spring for another group of UU professionals—religious educators—to create more ways of achieving credentialing.

With the addition of music leaders, the UUA now offers credentialing to three UU professional groups: ministers, religious educators, and musicians. Credentialing for religious educators and musicians is voluntary.

The Rev. Beth Williams, Religious Education and Music Leadership Credentialing director in the Ministry and Professional Leadership Staff Group of the UUA, said the credentialing program for music leaders will help music to become more of a ministry in churches. “Music leaders will be equipped to serve as resources for the congregation not only in music, but across a wider spectrum,” she said. “The course will also help music leaders understand their role in sustaining culturally and racially diverse congregations.”

“Musicians come to UU churches in many different ways,” said Keith Arnold, president of the UU Musicians Network and minister of music at Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, Colo. “Credentialing will help all of them. They will learn about UU history and values, leadership, song leading, even developing a budget. Credentialing will give them a uniform context in which to do music ministry.”

Credentialing for music leaders can be accomplished by taking coursework offered at three annual conferences of the UU Musicians Network. The cost is $350 annually, plus costs of traveling to and attending the conference. Some coursework may be waived if the candidate has extensive experience, said Williams. The program includes training in history, UU polity and theologies, and UU identity.

Candidates for music credentialing are required to be actively involved with a congregation and must be sponsored by that congregation. “Credentialing is a recognition of the level of professionalism they are bringing to their role,” said Williams. “We hope they will be compensated for that and seen as a leader, just as ministers are.”

Volunteer music leaders can also participate. “As long as the candidate is seen as a professional music leader, they can participate,” said Williams. “This is a valuable resource, especially for small congregations.”

In addition to the seven music leaders who will be recognized at General Assembly, 11 other music leaders are preparing for credentialing, she said.


The Religious Educators credentialing program was revised earlier this year to make it more accessible and to make it easier for working people to complete any of the program’s three levels—Associate Level, Credentialed Level, and Master Level—said Jan Devor, chair of the RE Credentialing Committee. Devor is a Master Level religious educator at First Unitarian Society in Minneapolis, Minn.

She said the revised credentialing requirements give people more ways to become credentialed. “Before, there was only one set of requirements for each level. Now, there are options. Candidates can receive credit for experience and they can pick from different ways to present their knowledge. This allows people to play to their strengths.”

Devor said the standards will remain high for the revised program although in some cases the amount of actual work has been reduced to better accommodate the lives of working religious educators.

All three levels of credentialing have been revised. For example, the top level now requires three graduate courses rather than five. At the middle level a candidate is required to address a core set of “competencies,” allowing them to choose those that are most relevant to their jobs.

The changes were partly in response to the declining number of candidates in the RE credentialing program. Thirty-nine religious educators have been credentialed in the program that began five years ago. An additional 15 were credentialed through transition from a previous credentialing program that operated as part of the Religious Education Landscape Options. Nine educators were credentialed in 2006 and five the following year. This year eight are being credentialed.

“The goal is to make this a viable profession for people entering RE,” said Devor. She noted that more and more congregations are seeking credentialed educators to replace those who leave.

Religious educators are credentialed by the Religious Education Credentialing Committee, which is named by the UUA Board of Trustees. The Music Leadership Credentialing Committee, formed in early May, is composed of members appointed by UUA President William G. Sinkford.

In January the UUA Board expressed concerns about the low number of religious educators who were choosing to become credentialed. Because that program was in the process of being reevaluated and revised by educators and UUA staff, the board chose not to adopt oversight of the credentialing program for music leaders. Instead, UUA staff will retain oversight of the program, which was originally created by the staff and UU Musicians Network.

The seven music leaders who will be recognized at General Assembly as the first to complete the music credentialing program, are Vicky Gordon, Binghamton, N.Y.; Phil Hildreth, San Rafael, Calif.; Connie Jahrmarkt, Paradise Valley, Ariz.; Catherine Massey, Las Cruces, N.Mex.; Emma Jean Moulton, Milton, Mass.; Beth Nakao, Costa Mesa, Calif.; and Ruben Piirainen, Brookfield, Wisc. They were awarded credentials by the Music Leadership Credentialing Committee on May 7.


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