Lay Chaplaincy Resources for Congregations

 The Canadian Unitarian Council’s lay chaplaincy program prepares and supports carefully chosen lay members of Unitarian Universalist congregations to create and perform rites of passage: weddings, funerals and memorial services, child dedications, and more. Services are offered to the general public and to Unitarian Universalists in congregations without a minister.

Lay chaplaincy is an important outreach program of the Canadian Unitarian Council and of the lay chaplain’s congregation. Lay chaplains represent Unitarian Universalism and their congregation in the wider community. They are expected to serve in a manner that celebrates and dignifies the special occasions they commemorate, adding spiritual depth to the lives of individuals and communities. They should always interact with the wider community in a professional manner, and be able to articulate and model Unitarian Universalist principles and practice.

It is therefore important for a congregation’s lay chaplains to be approved and affirmed by its board and members.

Guides for Congregations

  • Process for appointing a new lay chaplain
  • Approving and licensing new lay chaplains
  • Maintaining your lay chaplaincy program
  • Role of the congregation’s Lay Chaplaincy Committee 

Process for Appointing a New Lay Chaplain

It is the responsibility of the congregation’s Lay Chaplaincy Committee to search for, interview, and select candidates for lay chaplaincy.

Since congregations vary widely in size and in number of potential candidates, this process varies as well. Some congregations do not even have a lay chaplaincy committee, and leave its responsibilities to a member of the board, the minister, or a single lay chaplaincy liaison. Whatever your congregation’s procedure, the Canadian Unitarian Council recommends that you follow these steps: 

  • Begin early. Anticipating the need for a new lay chaplain allows a smoother transition and enables the incoming person to shadow and be mentored by the outgoing one. Begin your search in the fourth or fifth year of the previous lay chaplain’s six-year term.
  • Stay organized. Keep all your lay chaplaincy documents together, and appoint someone to make sure they are updated and handed on when new members join the committee.
  • Review the process with potential candidates. It’s important that they understand the application process and the expectations of the role.
  • Encourage training. The CUC offers a “Designing and Leading Rites of Passage” training workshop (often called “Basics”). Whenever possible, potential candidates should attend this workshop and shadow a practising lay chaplain. This will help both them and the committee judge if lay chaplaincy will be right for them.
  • Interview your potential candidates. This [[sample interview form]] can be adapted for your use.
  • Select a candidate. The Lay Chaplaincy Committee selects one or more successful applicants and recommends them to the congregation’s Board of Trustees. Once the Board has approved them, they can be appointed at the next suitable congregational meeting.

Approving and Licensing New Lay Chaplains

New lay chaplains (except for those in Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island) must apply to the CUC’s Lay Chaplaincy Program Steering Committee for final approval. The Steering Committee verifies that appropriate procedures have been followed and arranges for the provincial government to issue the new lay chaplain a licence to perform weddings. Other rites of passage—memorials, child dedications, and so on—have no legal status and do not require licensing.

In Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, congregations apply directly to the province to register lay chaplains and obtain their licences to perform weddings.

After your congregation’s Lay Chaplaincy Committee has selected a candidate, follow these steps to approve your new lay chaplain and have them licensed.

  • Obtain the congregation’s endorsement. Lay chaplains are representatives of their congregation, and as such they should be approved by the membership. The congregation should vote to endorse and appoint the candidate as a lay chaplain. This could happen at a meeting called for the purpose, or at the congregation’s regular annual general meeting.
  • Submit the application to the Lay Chaplaincy Program Steering Committee. The chair of the congregation’s Lay Chaplaincy Committee should submit the Lay Chaplain Endorsement Form by Congregations. The candidate should submit the Lay Chaplain Application for New Lay Chaplains. The Steering Committee will review all these to ensure that the necessary information has been submitted.
  • Sign a contract with the new lay chaplain. Every lay chaplain should sign a contract with their congregation, signifying that they represent their congregation and have been appointed and affirmed by it. It can be signed as soon as the Steering Committee has approved the candidate. The chair of the congregation’s Lay Chaplaincy Committee should send a copy of the signed contract to the CUC at lcc@cuc.ca.

Once the contract has been signed, the new lay chaplain can begin to perform memorial services, child dedications, and other rites of passage that do not have legal status. However, they cannot perform weddings until they have been licensed by the province to do so.

  • Apply for the licence to perform weddings. Once the Steering Committee has approved the candidate, in most cases the CUC will coordinate with the new lay chaplain the paperwork necessary to obtain their licence. In Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, however, the CUC is not involved in licensing, and the congregation must apply directly to the province.

Once the licence is received, the new lay chaplain can perform weddings. 

Maintaining Your Lay Chaplaincy Program

Once your new lay chaplain has begun serving in the role, continue with the following steps.

Ensure ongoing training and support. The new lay chaplain should email info@cuc.ca and ask to be added to the CUC’s lay chaplaincy email list. If the chair of the congregation’s Lay Chaplaincy Committee is not already on this list, they should do so too. Both lay chaplains and committee members should watch for training workshops and other lay chaplaincy events on the events calendar.

Maintain records. The congregational committee must keep track of the number of rites of passage performed by lay chaplains each year. If more requests are received than can be accommodated, that number should be tracked as well; your congregation may need another lay chaplain.

The committee must also arrange for lay chaplains to be reaffirmed in their position each year at a congregational meeting, and keep track of when each one’s term ends.

Remit the appropriate fees. Each congregation pays the CUC $15 per fee-generating ceremony performed by its lay chaplains each year. These funds are used exclusively to support the CUC’s Lay Chaplaincy Training Fund, which is crucial to helping lay chaplains across the country access training and support. Download the Lay Chaplain Training Fund Annual Fee Assessment for Rites of Passage.

Role of the Congregation’s Lay Chaplaincy Committee

The congregational lay chaplaincy committee is responsible for overseeing the congregation’s lay chaplaincy program. In doing so, it should always follow the guidelines, policies, and mandates found in the CUC’s Congregational Lay Chaplaincy Manual, many of which relate to the responsibilities listed here. It should meet regularly.

The committee is responsible for creating and maintaining policies covering

  • Right relations among lay chaplains, and between lay chaplains and the minister
  • How requests for rites of passage are allotted among officiants
  • Backup procedures when a scheduled officiant is unavailable
  • Fees for the different services offered
  • How evaluations of lay chaplains are conducted, and how any complaints are handled

The committee should support lay chaplains in their role by

  • Searching for and selecting candidates as described above
  • Encouraging both serving lay chaplains and potential candidates to attend training workshops
  • Listening to lay chaplains’ experiences and feedback, and what support they feel they need
  • Managing any congregational funds budgeted for the program, including by helping with the cost of training workshops when possible
  • Conducting regular evaluations of their performance, passing on praise received from clients, and investigating any complaints
  • Arranging induction and retirement ceremonies, in consultation with the minister and the Board

The committee should maintain records of

  • The numbers of rites of passage requested and performed, and the fees charged for them
  • Upcoming rites of passage, with client contact information, in case of emergency when the officiant is suddenly unavailable
  • Contact information for any lay chaplains at nearby congregations, in case of emergency
  • Each lay chaplain’s contract and the ending date of their term
  • All marriages performed, in accordance with provincial requirements

The committee is responsible for communicating about the lay chaplaincy program

  • With the CUC’s Lay Chaplaincy Program Steering Committee, including by submitting paperwork for new appointments, informing it of retirements, and remitting the appropriate fees each year
  • With congregational governance, including by ensuring that lay chaplaincy income and expenses are reflected in the budget, recommending potential candidates to the Board, and putting forward candidates to be affirmed, and serving lay chaplains to be reaffirmed, at congregational business meetings
  • With the congregation at large, such as by holding an annual worship service on the topic or publishing articles in the newsletter
  • With the general public, such as by promoting lay chaplaincy on the congregation’s website