Tuesday, April 24, 2012

General Conference 2012: Ministry Study Commission: Part 2- The Path to Ordination

As the United Methodist Church listened to those who had come through ordination process the past few years, several things became clear.

The Concerns

1- the Path to Ordination takes a long time
2- seminary takes a long time
3- the whole process is confusing

So in response to these concerns, and other concerns, one idea has come forth.

The Idea

Ordain clergy directly following graduation from seminary, then two years later vote them into full connection.

My Journey to Ordination
I was in the first class to be commissioned in the Missouri West Annual Conference in 2000.  I came into the process in 1994.  In 1998 I was given a license and became a student pastor.  During the process I was asked if I would like go under the 1996 Discipline and the NEW process.  I thought, sure, why not?  I don't mind being a guinea pig.  So I chose to move toward ordination on the new path.  I graduated from seminary in 2000, was Commissioned, then after 3 years under probation was ordained in 2003.

The Confusion
As I moved through the process I had several very distinct feelings and experiences.

1- No one understood the new process
2- No one could clearly explain why the change had been made
3- The Board of Ordained Ministry and the Bishop were not sure what to make of a Commissioning Service vs. the old way of Ordaining Deacon, then Elder.
4- Lots of my peers liked to gripe about the process and ministry
5- Whether it was this process or the other, no one had a well thought out program post seminary.

Looking Back
As I look back now I see the wisdom of Commissioning and then ordination.  Much of the process should be used to help prepare the candidate for Ordination.  To be completely honest here, seminary did not prepare me for ministry, it prepared me to a be a Theological Thinker.  My mentor Rev. Bob Farr did more to prepare me to lead the church than seminary.  I deeply appreciate all my professors and classes, but the point of seminary in my opinion was NOT to train clergy leaders.   If so, I missed those classes.

Seminary and the Length of the Process
With all due respect to the Commission, it is my feeling that they may have missed the mark on this one.  It's not that the process needs to be shortened.  The process is waaaaay tooooo complicated.  Check out our Steps into Ordained Ministry Chart.  If you look at the chart we show candidates, it's a confusing nightmare.  Maybe it's time to simplify, not radically change again.

Arguments For, As I've Heard Them
Commissioning has no theological, Biblical or historical connection to the church or our traditions.
The Process is too long to ordination.
Other denominations don't understand our process or non-ordained serving the sacraments.
These changes are all coming anyway, we should just accept them now.

I'm not kidding, those are the arguments as I heard them.

In response to all of this, and in talking with several groups of people, here is my humble offering.

My Proposal
A. Move the MDiv from 90 hours to 72 hours
     60 hours of classroom education
     12 hours of practical internship in the local church
B. Continue the Process of Commissioning after Graduation
C. Three Year Residency
D. During those three years, two years of "training" clergy to a specific set of leadership proficiencies, determined by the BOOM, Cabinet and Bishop.

I deeply respect the work that everyone has done on discerning our future path toward ordination.  I thank them for their hard work.  It is not easy dealing with all of these possible changes and views.  We've been living into this version since 1996.  Sixteen years is a lot of ordinations under the present system, and my guess is that very few of us were asked our opinion about this topic.  We had few seats at the table.
So whatever happens the next two weeks, I pray and hope that we make the changes that need to be made and not make changes for the sake of making changes.  This one issue might be better served if we address the real struggles which are-

Cost of Seminary
Length of Seminary
An Ordination Process that does not train, it just interviews

Grace and peace to all our delegates.
Go in peace and go with God.

And go check out our Bishop's blog.


David Livingston said...
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Rob Allen said...
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Cynthia said...
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Jeremy V. said...
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