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GC shortens candidacy process Vicki Brown, Jun 2, 2008
Bishop Will Willimon lays hands on an ordinand during the 2007 North Alabama Annual Conference. The path to ordination has been shortened by the 2008 General Conference.
By Vicki Brown Special Contributor
The candidacy process for ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church has been shortened, thanks to legislation approved during the 2008 General Conference. The legislation will go into effect in January 2009.
The Rev. Sharon Rubey, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s (GBHEM) director of candidacy and conference relations, said the changes will reduce the time from entry into candidacy to ordination by two years and will make the process more accessible to candidates.
Legislation allowing a candidate to begin the ordination process with a minimum one-year membership in a church, campus ministry or other United Methodist ministry setting was affirmed. The previous requirement was two years.
Other legislation made changes in the probationary membership, including reducing the requirement from a minimum of three years to a minimum of two. Delegates also changed the name to provisional instead of probationary membership, because some candidates had expressed negative connotations with a word that is associated with the criminal justice system.
Provisional members still must follow a residency curriculum of theological education, participation in covenant groups and mentoring with evaluation by their district superintendent and Board of Ordained Ministry.
The Rev. Anita Wood, GBHEM’s director of professional ministry development, said that will make the work more intense for the candidate and the annual conferences. Since the legislation required a minimum of two years, Ms. Wood said annual conferences will still have the option of a longer provisional period.
The Rev. Rodney Steele, a district superintendent in the North Central District of the Arkansas Conference, was among a group of delegates from the South Central Jurisdiction who drafted the legislation. He said the efforts to streamline and shorten the process without weakening it were in response to complaints from young adults who believed the process took too long.
“By the time people articulate that they are feeling called to ordained ministry, they’ve answered a lot of the questions that are part of the current process,” said Mr. Steele, who is a member of GBHEM’s elected directors. He said the addition of campus ministry and mission churches as fulfilling the membership requirement is particularly important.
“We are seeing college students who get involved in campus ministry and decide to seek ordination,” Mr. Steele said. “This legislation will let that time in campus ministry count as church membership.”
The petition on the candidacy process, related to Paragraph 311 in the Book of Discipline, also provided new language to be more accessible to other cultural, racial/ethnic, and non-English-speaking candidates. The petition was placed on a consent calendar which was passed by the whole body on a 796-24 vote.
Membership in a United Methodist faith community or mission church that is not yet an established church will also fulfill the one-year requirement.
The candidate, along with a mentor, will study resources determined by the conference Board of Ordained Ministry, based on the candidate’s statement of call, Wesley’s historic questions found in Paragraph 310 of the Discipline, and questions listed in Paragraph 311.3.b and c about formative experiences, the role of the church, Christian beliefs and personal gifts for ministry.
This means there is no prescribed Candidacy Guidebook. However, the petition states that candidates are “encouraged to use resources recommended by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.” Recommendations will be offered as this process is implemented in January 2009, Ms. Rubey said.
The completion and release of psychological assessment reports, criminal background and credit checks remain in the process; however, the new paragraph will state that district committees “shall seek ways to consider cultural and ethnic/racial realities in meeting these requirements.”
Following one year as a certified candidate, if half the educational requirements have been met, the candidate is eligible to be commissioned and become a “provisional” member (referred to as a probationary member in the current Discipline).
The language was changed to state that provisional members will be appointed by a bishop to serve a minimum of two years (reduced from three) following the completion of all educational requirements. Language was also added to make it clear that those in provisional membership “may be appointed to attend school, to extension ministry, or in appointments beyond the local church.”
Mr. Steele noted that this is permissive legislation, and added that some conferences, including his own, will keep the three-year provisional requirement.
“It’s working well for us,” he said, “so I think the shortening for us will come on the front end.”
Ms. Brown is associate editor and writer in GBHEM’s Office of Interpretation.