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Conference will challenge youth to explore ministry Vicki Brown, Mar 16, 2006
United Methodist News Service
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Rev. Telley Gadson says she will "come full circle" when she preaches at the opening worship service of "EXPLORATION 2006."
Although Ms. Gadson, now pastor of St. Mark United Methodist Church in Sumter, S.C., delivered her first sermon at age 14, she made her final commitment to full-time ministry at the 1994 EXPLORATION event.
"I wanted to be an attorney. I was comfortable with the call to preach, but I didn't want to do ministry full-time. I was negotiating with God," the 31-year-old elder recalls. But then she heard the late Rev. Cornelius Henderson, who preached a sermon about the story of Jonah at EXPLORATION 1994.
"Clearly, from that message, I knew God was calling me to Nineveh," Ms. Gadson said. "I went back to my hotel room, and I had a new Bible. I wrote my commitment to the call in that new Bible."
The Rev. Meg Lassiat, director of student ministries, vocation and enlistment at the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, says she's excited about the young people that the event will draw Nov. 17-19 at the Hyatt Regency in Jacksonville, Fla.
"Oftentimes, when young adults feel a call to ministry, they don't know other people who are considering the same thing. It's good for them to see that many people are exploring similar questions."
Cindy Heilman, a 20-year-old sophomore at the University of Kansas, agrees. She attended Exploration 2000 in Chicago.
"When I was first called, I was kind of confused," she said. "It helps you sort out what you are really called to do. Makes you feel you are not alone."
The three-day event is designed to help high school seniors to 24-year-olds respond to God's call to ministry, and to explore their gifts for ordained ministry as a deacon or elder in the United Methodist Church. It is sponsored by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
Participants pay travel expenses and a $150 registration fee, which includes two nights at the Hyatt Regency, meals and events. A limited number of registration scholarships are available from the Board of Higher Education and Ministry for eligible participants.
The event comes at a time when many in the United Methodist Church are concerned about the small percentage of ordained clergy who are younger than 35 years old. According to the Pastoral Leadership Search Effort, less than 13 percent of United Methodist clergy in the United States are under age 40, while half are over age 50.
"We've got some younger speakers, we've got deacons and elders, we've got people like Phil Amerson (the president of Claremont School of Theology), who has a lot of experience and passion about engaging young people in leadership. We have two bishops coming," Ms. Lassiat says.
In addition to Ms. Gadson and Dr. Amerson, speakers include the Rev. Susan Wilhauck, assistant professor of Christian formation at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington; the Rev. John Miyahara, director of religious life and community services at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa.; and Bishops Michael Watson of the South Georgia Area and Minerva Carcaño of the Phoenix Area. Workshops will address such topics as discerning God's call, the steps into ministry and how to balance family life with ministry. Young people will also participate in small group discussions.
Workshops will give participants an opportunity for discernment, not only about entering the ministry, but about the ministerial path they will choose, Ms. Lassiat said.
"It's not just a matter of asking the big questions of, 'Are you called to ministry?' It's the question of, 'In this time, in this society, in this culture, what gifts do I bring to ministry? In what capacity am I called?'"