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GEN-X RISING: The devil’s in the details with ordination process Andrew C. Thompson, Oct 3, 2007
Andrew C. Thompson
By Andrew C. Thompson Special Contributor
Rebekah Miles and Donald Haynes have written some helpful columns in the Reporter recently that outline the problems with our ordination process. Both agree that the overly complex candidacy process can discourage young adult United Methodists from pursuing ordination in our church. The rapid decline in the numbers of young adult clergy over the last 20 years stands as testament to that fact.
As one of those increasingly rare young adult clergy, I want to weigh in on this issue as well.
· There’s nothing wrong with rigor. In recent blogs and e-mails many young clergy have said they don’t have a problem with the ordination process being rigorous. In fact, they want rigor. They want to make sure candidates have engaged in real discernment and are spiritually prepared, and that the church has truly engaged in the process with them. They just don’t want the kind of rigor that comes through an impersonal, highly bureaucratic system.
· Fight bureaucracy. Forms, time periods and steps that can be justified as helpful parts of the theological journey—from exploration of vocation to ordination—are all good. Everything else needs to be thrown out with yesterday’s trash.
· Avoid needless repetition. Our candidacy process reflects the connectional structure of the church. Candidates must observe steps, time periods and guidelines associated with the local charge, district, annual conference and general church. Many of these steps, however, are needlessly repetitive.
· Engage the seminaries. Perhaps no Protestant denomination in this country has turned its seminaries loose more than the UMC. Some of this is related to our denomination’s formerly dominant position in the culture. Some of it is related to many of our seminaries’ location within larger universities. Some of it, frankly, is due to the church’s apathy. Yet the seminaries are of enormous importance, both in the theological education of our clergy and in shepherding them through the ordination process. The church should re-exert its control over them. The benefits for clergy formation are obvious.
· Humanize the process. Most frustrations experienced by candidates can be overcome with the right mentor, one who is a true advocate for the candidate. Regular meetings are essential, even when deadlines are not approaching. Frequent phone conversations are a must, especially if the candidate and the mentor don’t live close to one another. And the mentor should commit to praying for his candidate at least weekly, if not daily. Good mentors who serve as true spiritual guides are the best way we can humanize the overall process until General Conference figures out a better structure.
Let me close with a personal anecdote. I am a young adult pastor. And I am also a candidacy mentor for a current seminarian. Due to some aspects of the candidacy process that I had overlooked, my candidate and I recently had to scramble to get some forms filled out and submitted before an important upcoming meeting.
What amazed me about my error is that I completed my own candidacy just three years ago, and I have been through mentor training since then as well. So I thought I was current on the process! But even with recent experience, recent training and diligent adherence to the candidacy checklist, I managed to mess up.
We should think about how the devil may literally be in the details of our ordination process. How better can Satan sabotage the future of the United Methodist Church than by attacking the very process by which we ordain our future leaders?
We are doing ourselves no favors by adhering to a process that contains endless steps, mountains of forms and Pharisaic procedures simply because it makes the whole thing seem more professional.
We are the church, a community of Jesus’ friends gathered together to witness to his grace working in the world. Our ordination process should reflect that—by being more about people and less about paperwork.