If you have been around me lately you are probably pretty tired of hearing me talk about being in the (hopefully) final stages of the United Methodist ordination process. Just in case you’ve missed it, I am writing a detailed blog post all about the process. I know you are excited!
This journey probably unconsciously began for me back in high school. I say unconsciously because one summer, when I was a youth delegate to the California Nevada Annual Conference, I had the opportunity to serve communion with a pastor during one of the worship services. I remember that being an extremely spiritual experience and I knew God was speaking to me in that moment but I had no idea what God was trying to say. My call most clearly came a few years later when I was in college and a representative to the United Methodist Student Forum in Washington, DC. Once again, God spoke to me through communion. I attended a small worship service of the Methodist Students For an All Inclusive Church where one of the campus ministers served communion. Afterwards, those who attended the service took time to share their experience with the UMC. Many of these students were gay, lesbian, and bisexual students who had recently come out to their friends and families and churches and in many cases had been hurt or rejected by the church for being honest about who they were. The most heart wrenching stories came from students who felt a clear call to ministry in the UMC but felt they could not pursue ordination because they could not fully be the persons God had created them to be. They would have to lie or hide who they were in order to be ordained. During this time of sharing I felt the overwhelming presence of God calling me to stand up for these students and to fight for equal rights in the church. God had more to say, though. I was also being called to ordained ministry.
I kept this quiet for a couple of years until my senior year of college and I finally told my friends and family that I would be going to seminary. And this was the official first step in the ordination process. After accepting my call I talked to my campus minister at Long Beach State and some other friends to confirm that this was what I was supposed to do. I began looking into seminaries and I also went through a book called Christian as Minister, that gave a brief overview of what it meant to be a UM pastor. Eventually, I wrote to my District Superintendent and officially declared my candidacy for ministry. I also informed my local congregation that I intended to pursue ordination. At this point I was now moving towards being a “certified candidate.” This meant I was working with a mentor pastor going through a more intense workbook that helped me explore and confirm my call. I also had to take a number of psychological tests and had to undergo an evaluation with a psychologist.
I eventually met with the staff parish relations committee at my church and then had to go before the entire congregation so they could vote on sponsoring me during the process. After I was approved by the congregation I had to meet with the District Committee on Ordained Ministry where they asked about my call and my basic beliefs. This committee ultimately approved me as a “certified candidate” and I continued on in seminary and met with them annually. Before I began my last year of seminary the committee approved me to apply for “commissioning” to the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry. This meant I got to answer about sixteen or so theological questions set forth in the Book of Discipline, preach and record a sermon, and create an original study on a book of the Bible. This was difficult work and took about six months to complete amongst all of my other seminary class work.
I finally turned my papers in and was given a date and time to meet with the Board. The interview was made up of two parts, about thirty minutes talking to a group of board members about my call to ministry. The second part was an hour talking with another group of board members about my theology. Part one went great and I left the room feeling really good about the interview process so far. Then I walked into the next room to talk about theology. I was nervous beyond nervous and don’t really remember the first questions I was asked or answers I gave. As the questions kept coming I eventually realized the answers I was giving were getting me in some pretty hot water. I kept talking a lot about what I didn’t believe and that was not sitting well with many of the members of the board. After a hour or so the interview ended and I left the room feeling pretty worried about what was going to happen next. After about another hour I was called in to meet with the full board and things did not get much better. After yet another hour of conversation I was finally told that I would not be commissioned and I would need to resubmit some of my paperwork and interview again in a year.
Being “continued” was a pretty crushing blow. You could say that I went through all the stages of grief until I finally accepted what had happened and began to regroup for a second chance. I spent that next year working as a full-time youth director at Grace UMC in Mesa and replaying that interview in my head over and over again. I sought a lot of advice during that year, especially around how I talked about what I believed and how to give a good interview. I wouldn’t say that my beliefs changed much at all during that year, however, I learned how to talk about them in a clear and meaningful way that made sense when I shared my faith with others.
Finally, the day of redemption came. I met with the Board again, much more confident about what I was doing and I hit a personal home run. A couple of months later I was commissioned as a minister in the Desert Southwest Annual conference.
Since then I have been part of a group of other provisional members that meets multiple times during the year for additional training and education. This has been a great time of learning wisdom from veteran pastors as well as a time to learn from and build relationships with other provisional members.
During your third year of provisional membership you can apply for full ordination, which I did in the fall of 2009. I turned in some more paperwork then once again, wrote papers in response to a number of theological and practice of ministry questions. I also turned in another sermon, teaching plan, and a pastoral care exam. Last week a member of the Board visited our Wesley worship service to see me in action. He also met with a group of students to talk about our ministry. The last thing I am waiting for is a day and time to be interviewed by the entire Board sometime March 8-10. If I get an opportunity to interview and pass this interview I will be fully ordained as an elder in the United Methodist Church at Annual Conference in June. This would mark the end of my United Methodist ordination journey, but will also mark the beginning of the next leg in what God has called me to do.
When I look back on this post I can’t believe what I have gone through to become a pastor. The process has also changed for those who began the process after I did. The process length has been shortened a couple of years and instead of being called “probationary” members, those have been commissioned are now “provisional” members. It’s a very long and very brutal process at times. I have often doubted my call and begged God to ask someone else to do this. Another pastor that I really respect asked me one time why I wanted to do this and not just work for non-profit or other organization that does good things for people. My answer was that I could not imagine doing anything else. If I wasn’t a pastor I don’t know what I would do. She said, “Exactly, we do this because we are called.” Although I have had some bad days in ministry and some days I am fed-up with our denomination and all of its politics and power plays, I still feel called just as strongly as ever. I made it through these past eight years not because it was fun all the time or that I could win some glory in the end. I did it because I am called and will keep doing this as long as God asks me to. Even in the worst times, I have had an immense feeling of fulfillment in knowing that what I am doing is what I am supposed to do with my life. My hope and prayer is that we all may realize our calling in life and be bold enough to wade through all the hoops and difficult times to live out that call. The reward is well worth it in the end. Well, at least until we see what happens the second week of March…