GBHEM: Supporting journeys to professional ministry
Shortly after the birth of his son, Jacob Lynn realized his faith was "not as deep as I wanted it to be with a person who was going to learn from me." Seeking to "dig deeper," he accepted an invitation to attend lay-speaking school and later went on The Walk to Emmaus. "It was not until that retreat that I had given my full self to God," he says. "I sensed God wanted all of me, including my time and professional self."
Two days later, he met with his pastor. The Rev. David Jones, then pastor of Piney Grove United Methodist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas, affirmed Lynn's sense of calling. Jones said he had called the district superintendent the day before to tell him he thought Lynn might be considering ordained ministry. Later in 2008, the Piney Grove charge conference affirmed him as a candidate. A door opened, a journey began and a milestone was reached in June when the Rev. Jacob Lynn was ordained elder. He is now in his third year as associate pastor of Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas.
When the Rev. Kristin Helms went to seminary, she didn't know if God was calling her into ordained ministry. A preacher's kid, she had a good idea what church life was like, but she was unsure where God wanted to lead her. Helms' parents sent her information about ordination from the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. Looking over the description of the order of deacon, Helms found an exact description of herself and her call.
"That was the moment," she says, "I realized that I was called to ordination in The United Methodist Church." An early step in the process "involved going through a ‘big blue binder' with a pastor. While informative, what was really helpful was sitting down with the pastor regularly and sharing with him, in a more personal way, my sense of calling and hearing him share his story." A door opened and Helms found herself traveling a path toward ordination. Today, as a provisional deacon, she serves half time teaching at two seminaries, quarter time at Fellowship House in Camden, New Jersey, and quarter time at St. Paul's United Methodist Church in West Deptford, New Jersey.
Making his way through the break room at work, Stewart Orell overheard two men talking about forgiveness – something he had been desperately seeking. He stopped and asked the men to tell him more. One, a United Methodist, told Orell how Jesus' forgiveness and grace are available to everyone. This was good news to Orell. A few months later, he and his wife visited New Short Mountain United Methodist Church in Woodbury, Tennessee.
"The people," Orell says, "opened their hearts to my wife and me and they nurtured us." A door opened, and Orell found himself on a path to becoming a licensed local pastor. He now serves the Cumminsville-Lost Creek Charge in Tennessee.
In May 1998, Cindy Klick was at a church council meeting as a children's ministry volunteer. She heard the youth pastor ask the group to pray for the right replacement to succeed his administrator. "At the break," Klick says, "I literally chased him down the hall, because I felt a nudge from the Holy Spirit that the position he mentioned was meant for me." Shortly thereafter, Klick became the part-time coordinator of youth ministry at St. Andrew United Methodist Church in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. A door opened, and she found herself on the path to certification in youth ministry.
Four people, four doors, four paths. God calls people into ministry and faithful Christians help open the door.
The mission of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry is to lead and serve The United Methodist Church in the recruitment, preparation, nurture, education and support of Christian leaders — lay and clergy. The agency helps the people God calls — people like Lynn, Helms, Orell and Klick – become leaders who boldly commit to Jesus Christ, leaders characterized by intellectual excellence, moral and spiritual courage, and holiness of heart and life.
Support for annual conferences
Higher Education and Ministry counsels, guides and assists annual conference boards of ordained ministry. GBHEM's work this quadrennium has included developing guidelines for the residency in ministry that is now part of the preparation for ordination.
Describing the Arkansas residency program as "pretty zealous," Lynn says the retreats provided "good community," while regular meetings of a small group allowed participants to watch each other's sermons and share experiences. "It was like a small class meeting," he says. "We lifted each other up, encouraged each other and shared."
Helms says she "has grown to appreciate the thoughtfulness and care the church puts into the nurture and selection of future clergy." She goes on to say that anyone can profess that they've been called, but it is up to the church to discern whether they are ready, healthy, theologically grounded and able to interpret Scripture carefully and faithfully. Among her favorite parts of the process was the Greater New Jersey Conference's commissioning retreat in 2014. Here her conference Board of Ordained Ministry interviews candidates and reviews their work. She says that the atmosphere was "supportive and worshipful." Helms also says how important her clergy mentor has been to her spiritual growth.
According to the Rev. Meg Lassiat, director of candidacy, mentoring and conference relations for GBHEM, the mentor training and resourcing has had a positive effect on the tenor and quality of preparation for ordination. She says a new group approach to mentoring developed after the 2012 General Conference allows deployment of only the most gifted mentors. As contexts for ministry continue to evolve, Higher Education and Ministry stays attuned to the changes and recommends process improvements and resources so the church can respond more faithfully. As an example, Lassiat points to the agency's development of a new candidacy guidebook that will be available next spring.
Providing courses, financial support
Higher Education and Ministry prescribes a professional ministerial Course of Study for those becoming local pastors. Its loan and scholarship programs assist seminary students as well as students in undergraduate and graduate programs at other colleges and universities.
For six months, Orell had been praying and asking God if he was to preach. He did not tell anyone about it. A call from his district superintendent, asking him to take a charge, provided the affirmation. Orell knew he had to say "Yes." The moment he got off the phone, he said, "God, I can't do this. I need you."
To learn more
The first formal step into certified, licensed or ordained ministry is a conversation with your pastor. To learn more about the process, visit www.gbhem.org/candidacy.
Through the Course of Study curriculum and scholarships from the Tennessee Conference, Orell says he is learning, developing new skills and "gaining confidence in understanding his congregations and communicating God's message more meaningfully." The Course of Study has whetted his appetite to find new ways to be in mission and ministry. The fruit of Orell's ministry is blossoming as his churches find new ways to serve their local communities — bell ringing for the Cookeville rescue mission, singing in nursing homes, providing school supplies for Head Start, participating in the annual community-wide Lester Flatt celebration.
Certification for laity, clergy
As tasked by The Book of Discipline, GBHEM develops and maintains standards and procedures for certification in ministry specialties and for ordination. "People who receive special advanced training in their chosen area of ministry not only show their commitment to ministry, but also their commitment to maintaining and updating their skills and accountability to their churches," says the Rev. Victoria Rebeck, director of deacon ministry development and provisional membership.
Certification in an area of specialized ministry recognizes an individual's call, commitment to serve and fulfillment of requirements for academic training, experience and continuing education.
While certification is often the first step in a move into professional ministry, it allows lay volunteers to have a new undergirding and self-confidence for their specialized ministry. This is Klick's story.
As she moved from part-time to the full-time coordinator of youth ministry at St. Andrew, she enrolled in certification studies. Klick says, "Those courses gave me the opportunity to meet others in youth ministry from various seminary and conference settings. Working at St. Andrew, participating in classes, networking with other youth leaders, and learning from experts in the field confirmed for me my call to full-time, permanent ministry as a youth director."
A positive process
Some criticize the multi-year journey from certified candidacy to ordination or licensing as too long or cumbersome.
For Lynn the process was positive.
"It started from the beginning," he says, "having a pastor who saw something in me and encouraged me, and a church that saw something in me and affirmed me and encouraged me to move on was enormous. Having a congregation that accepted that responsibility and embraced it was gigantic.
"Every step along the way, I've always felt supported and encouraged. The district, the board, district superintendents, the bishop – they all had my best interests in mind. They wanted me to do well."
The Rev. Kathy Armistead, Ph.D., is a Nashville, Tennessee-based writer and a deacon in The United Methodist Church, www.kathyarmistead.com. The Rev. Kristin Helms is the daughter of Armistead and her husband, the Rev. Skip Armistead, a retired elder in the Tennessee Conference.