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Entangled in the Ordination Process

September 5, 2007

This seems to be the talk of the MethoBlogosphere these days.

In short,  here is the complaint:

  1. Young clergy (specifically ordained Elders) are the “endangered species” of the UMC (Lovett Weems)
  2. The process for becoming an ordained Elder is lengthy, complicated and inefficient.
  3. The bureaucratic nature of the process is preventing younger clergy from entering the process.

However, some folks express positives involved in the process:

  1. The two stage process (commissioning/probationary elder – full ordination) provides a great support system for new clergy.

Well, that ‘s one positive.  But it is a big one.

I am a second career pastor.  It took me a long time to discern a call to the ordained ministry.  It took me ten years of working as a mental health counselor to finally decide that mental health counseling wasn’t “where my great joy meets the world’s great need” (Buechner).  But that work did give me a ton of valuable experience.  I have counseled actively suicidal people and helped them get into hospitals; I have helped chronically mentally ill people deal with long-term psychiatric issues; I have helped children and teenagers control anger and depression; I have helped parents recognize and cope with their children’s Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder; I have helped people deal with grief, divorce, PTSD, job loss, alcoholism, drug addiction, Borderline Personality Disorder, and other problems.  (One ordained elder who sits on the BoOM for our conference has suggested that I should write a proposal for waiving my CPE requirement since I was the clinician for a good decade.)

All of that adds up to one simple fact: I was commissioned as a probationary Elder just a couple of months prior to my 39th birthday.  The irony is that while I was at the district picnic more than one person commented, “You’re a pastor?  You’re a young pastor!”

To quote Chris Rock, “Forty isn’t young.  Forty is only young if you die when you’re forty.”

If I’m thought of as a young pastor at 39, there’s a problem in the church.  I am a youthful 39, but I’m still 39.

To me, the big question is this: how can the church effectively streamline the process while continuing to provide a strong support system for new clergy?

The process seems designed for young people who are discerning a call to ministry.  There’s no question that I need support and help learning to navigate the paperwork-administrative aspects of running a church, and I’m really glad I went back to school to earn a seminary degree.  But when being ordained in my forties makes me one of the young ones, that’s a scary proposition!

Other problems are built in as well.  Parsonages, for example.  I’m currently in a three-bedroom parsonage that would be awesome for a young pastor with small children.  It’s adequate for my family with a teenager, a 12-year-old and an 8-year-old.  Thank goodness the younger two are of the same gender so they can share a room.  Someday I’ll be appointed to a larger parish with a bigger parsonage that would be great for a pastor with teenage children – once my daughter has moved out.  Don’t get me wrong here: I like the parsonage system much better than the housing allowance system.  It wouldn’t be feasible to rent where I am (there just aren’t places for rent!), and lots of houses sit for sale for long periods of time in this neck of the woods.   And I’m very grateful for the parsonage we have.

Our General Conference needs to address the reality at hand: we’re not going to attract and keep young clergy with the process that is in place.  I saw young United Methodists change denominations during seminary because of the whole ordination mess.  More second and third career pastors are emerging and entering this long, drawn-out process in their thirties, forties, fifties, and beyond!  The joke (which isn’t really a joke at all) is that “I’ll get ordained just in time to retire.”

And the process isn’t really weeding out ineffective (or worse) pastors.  In fact, one could hypothesize that the red tape involved can be an additional stressor that contributes to poor self-care, which contributes to clergy ineffectiveness (or worse).

The process is ripe for reformation.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. September 10, 2007 9:28 am

    Well put, Will. I’ve thought through many of those things myself. I would think, though, that the housing allowance would work out better for most pastors than the parsonage (Of course I have no experience with either, so…).

  2. arachnerd permalink
    September 11, 2007 6:47 am

    The ordination process has changed dramatically from the time that I started, so I don’t really know much about that. The element of United Methodism that I always questioned, and one that I would like to hear your opinion on sometime, is itinerancy. Is it out of date? Has our current culture made it even harder to continue? Does the fact that most pastors’ wives have to work just to make ends meet have an impact? I don’t know.

  3. September 11, 2007 7:58 pm

    Yeah, I get the sense that the cream of the crop opts out of the long and drawn out candidacy system for other denominations.

    I hear all this talk about there being a Elder shortage. Nonsense. All that would be necessary is to…well, not even loosen up the candidacy system. Just return phone calls, not ‘lose’ candidates’ paperwork three times, etc.

    Shoot, any conference that is facing a shortage can just come down to Florida and find all the Elders that they want or need.

  4. September 12, 2007 12:26 pm

    Oh, we’ve got lots of Elders. Just not young healthy ones.

  5. September 12, 2007 12:27 pm

    And John, I agree about the paperwork. The BoOM seems to be worse with paperwork than I am, and that takes serious effort.

  6. September 18, 2007 6:57 pm

    I must say, I have yet to experience the “great support system”. I have met Lutherans whose process I envy. OF course, some of them get stuck too. What I appreciate about their process is that candidates are said to be “in care”. That’s the attitude I wat from my church and am not getting. Instead, I am near mental breakdown just to get on “probation”. Is there any other time in life, any other scenario where “probation” is a good thing? The language reflects the attitude that I have received on sevearl conferences in my process. Still, I want to serve. Maybe I am crazy.

  7. Dennis B permalink
    May 5, 2008 9:57 am

    I too have yet to experience the “great support” of the process. I am a former ministry candidate. My mentor was fantastic, but that was about it.

    I entered the process indicating that I felt called to serve as a local pastor. I indicated the reasons as that I was older, had financial considerations, and the Local Pastor route with the emphasis on the local pastor studies was a good fit, would get me out into ministry quicker, and eventually lead me to ordained elder.

    I guess at 45 I am considered “young.” I made it to the certified candidate stage, and was told I was eligible to be appointed after a meeting with dCOMM in 2006. They strongly urged me to “go full time” and “just do it.” Again, I indicated that it was not finacially possible, my mentor was on board with this, and I would take some classes. They suggested that I do a CPE in “diversity” through my local seminary (I did not have the pre-requisites at the time and nobody had ever heard of such a CPE). Remember, seminary and CPE is not a requirement of the Local Pastor.

    I took two evening classes at the local seminary, remained involved in my church at many levels, filled in as pulpit supply, etc, and my pastor at my church gave me opportunities as I was a person that could be appointed.

    My district Superintendent in two seperate emails affirmed the local candidacy route, stated that the committee needed to be sensitive to my situation and that it was undestoood that it was not financially possible to do these things.

    My meeting with dCOMM in 2007 consisted of wondering why I wasn’t in school full time and why I didn’t do the CPE. I went over the info from the past year, and again told them that I could not financially cease working to do these things full time. My superintendent caved and I was given an ultimatum to find some kind of CPE to do and just “do it” and that I had not taken nearly enough education at the seminary. I reminded them that the Local Pastor appointment per the Discipline required none of these things. I was told that they could make whatever additional requirements that they wanted (true) and that they didn’t want me to waste my time going the other route. Also, they said that opting to be a local pastor was the “safe” thing to do, and then questioned my motivations as to whether I really knew what I wanted. I was told I could not be appointed as a Certified Candidate (amazingly, I showed up a year later with more education and more parish experience and I was considered less qualified than I was a year before with less experience).

    I met with my D.S. after about a month and was accused of being basically lazy and the person who stated that it was understood I could not do these things did a complete about face. I was told it was all my fault – and I felt attacked and manipulated. I was told that was my problem, that I was not being treated any differently than any other candidate, and that if I was told to do CPE I just needed to find one and “do it” regardless of what it was. I was told that all the pastors in our state had to do CPE which was not true as I identified pastors who were serving as local pastors who had not done CPE and one who told me that she had no plans to ever do it. It was obvious I was being lied to or my D.S. didn’t know.

    I did send a letter outlining my concerns and stupidly copied the Bishop. I recieved a two sentence letter back from my D.S. basically saying that they were sorry I had come to the conclusions I did about continuing my candidacy process and wished me well outside of the UMC.

    I had to drop out of the process, and am currently looking at options within the UCC church.

    I understand the idea of them being the gatekeepers, and I understand there are two sides to every story, but the process is inconsistent, changes from year to year, and has on the whole given an extremely negative impression our conference.

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  1. Great Thoughts on Young Clergy & the UMC « Catching Meddlers

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