The process for becoming a United Methodist minister should be difficult, but not confusing. The calling of the ordained is one that comes with great responsibility. We are all to familiar with the consequences of pastoral failures both morally and professionally, so the UMC needs to have a process that clarifies the calls of those who are called to ministry, and educates them and prepares them for the expectations of being a clergy. However, maybe we have moved from difficult to confusing. This is a problem. The process is so confusing that there are so few people who understand the proper steps to complete the journey. Here is my journey to commissioning: Talk with pastor, read red book, meet with District Committee (DCOM), get mentor, go through purple book, meet DCOM, get new mentor, go through blue book, meet with SPRC, Get approved by Charge Conference, go through Psychological test, meet DCOM again, graduate college, fill out disclosure form, take medical exam, meet DCOM again, get passed to Board of Ordained Ministry (BOM), complete 1/2 of seminary work including some specific requirements, preach sermon with manuscript and plan worship service, write Bible study, answer 20 questions in 32 pages, get forms filled out by DS, SPRC, Mentored Ministry, and Faculty advisor, and that’s where I am now. I started the process in 2001 and will be done with everything by 2011. Since my dad was on the DCOM, he was able to guide me through the process that I would have possibly been lost without his help. Many however are not so fortunate.
I have one friend from Indiana who like me is halfway through with Seminary. Before coming to Seminary, he was an intern associate at a UM Church in Indiana. During this process, he has made at least a dozen attempts to enter the candidacy process through conversations with his pastor or attempts to contact the D.S. Those conversations all led to the same place: frustration. Finally, he recently got a hold of the D.S., who told him what he needed to do next, and it was not step 1 that his D.S. told him to do, but step 6. He is back at square one. This young man is called to be a pastor, I hope the UMC gives him a chance.
Another friend of mine felt abandoned by his conference. He was at a school out of state, which he felt they looked down on him for, and so he wonders does the church want him. He made the decision to go to another conference (for multiple reasons), but you have to wonder if this conference doesn’t reach out to him, what will he decided to do. This young man is called to be a pastor, I hope the UMC gives him a chance.
Yet another friend of mine is up for commissioning like myself. Except this conference has instituted its own rules (which they can do) that state instead of halfway done with school to be commissioned as the Book of Discipline indicates, you must be completely done with seminary. Every single credit. He was gong to take a summer class after he walked in May to finish up his degree. It would have been a one week, 3 hour class in the summer. Would the let this 3 hours stop him from being commissioned? Of course, because someone who has only done 93/96 hours in 3 years, doesn’t have the commitment to be a Methodist minister. He decided to add an extra class to his fall semester so that he can go ahead and graduate and be commissioned, but I’m sure it makes him feel loved. This young man is called to be a pastor, the UMC should be thankful he is so committed to them.
Another friend of mine from Oklahoma is in his 6 semester of seminary. He works at a UM Church. He has been a local pastor and student pastor for the UMC. He knows D.S., folks on the DCOM, the BOM. He is a well-connected fellow. However, it wasn’t until this January that he knew who to talk to get a scholarship from the Oklahoma Conference for seminary. He had even called the conference office and nobody knew what he was talking about. He has gone 5 semesters of Seminary and probably would have received at least $6000 in scholarship money from them, but nobody told him what to do. This man is called to be a Pastor, and the UMC should be thankful he is so committed to them.
I hope you see one reason why the UMC does not have a lot of young clergy. What we have here is a failure to communicate. A failure to reach out and recruit. A failure to show a little flexibility and to give our resources. What do I suggest be done? Glad you asked. One, every conference needs to have a visit or at least call every seminary prospective student from their conference. Oklahoma does a great job at this. 2 weeks ago a clergy member from OK working on his doctoral work came out and took us Okie Methodist out to a fancy dinner. This was much appreciated. In 2 weeks, a D.S. and a young clergy friend will come and see us take us out to a fancy dinner and meet with us individually. This is tremendous, and all conferences should have this in place. Also, each conference needs to have at least one person who is the contact person for DCOM and BOM issues. It should be a well-known fact that _____ person is in charge of this and any questions can be directed to him or her. Oklahoma has a minister in charge of recruitment and nurture. Others should do likewise. This contact person should be an ambassador for those in candidacy. In other words, if the D.S. isn’t returning calls, then you contact the ambassador who will get the D.S.’s attention one way or another. This is not to take the personal responsibility of the candidate away, but a candidate only goes through the process once, while an ambassador can guide many through the process. More uniformity across conferences would be beneficial.
Finally, a little flexibility would not hurt. When I sent my package of 50+ papers in, there was bad weather in both Kentucky and Oklahoma. My package was scheduled to be delivered on Thursday, due by Sunday, so I had to have it delivered by Friday. It was delayed one day on the Kentucky end because of weather, so I called the BOM registrar just to check and see what I needed to do if the package was delayed again. He told me, “Aaron, you can relax. You have done a good job. Don’t worry.” This was music to my ears. The package arrived on Friday, and so I had no reason to be concerned, but it was good to hear those words. This journey has been long and tough, but it has been rewarding for me. I pray that this journey will be more valuable and less frustrating for others.
P.S. In the midst of writing this blog, I received a card and a letter from a Children’s Sunday School class from a church that I did not belong to saying that they were praying for me. This is what the UMC needs to do more. Thank you Children of the FUMC of Edmond!