The call to ministry is something that every Christian feels. Sometimes that involves volunteering for an existing ministry at our home church, other times helping to develop a new ministry opportunity as the Spirit leads us. For some, the call to ministry leads them to licensed or ordained ministry. There is no right age or background for going into these ministries. Some feel and pursue their call before they graduate high school and some after decades in another career. All are valid and sacred in the work of the Church. Several members of our conference who are pursuing licensed or ordained ministry shared how God has used our Connection to sustain them in that journey.
The first step in pursuing ministry comes when God reaches out to us. This calling can come at any time and take many forms. “I’m realizing now that God has been calling and preparing me for pastoral ministry since I was a teenager,” says Dean Cole, a Licensed Local Pastor (LLP) serving St. John UMC. Cole worked in Guatemala for several years when a return to the States saw him taking on a charge and discerning a call to parish ministry. “I began the candidacy process, which has thus far included: discernment & mentoring, licensing school, and for me, seminary (some folks choose Course of Study). It has not necessarily been an easy process, but I have had lots of help along the way, and it has been (and continues to be) oh so fulfilling!”
A candidate who wishes to pursue ordination has two options in the United Methodist Church. At one time, age determined the training a candidate would pursue, but now the context of the individual and the ministry they wish to pursue are considered in deciding their path. The Course of Study program and Seminary degrees both allow candidates to grow their gifts for ministry. Alongside this study, they will submit to District Committees of Ordained Ministry (DCOM) and Board of Ordained Ministry (BoOM) oversight and guidance.
In Seminary and Course of Study, the truth of scripture, church, and life all collide into an exciting, sometimes chaotic, and always rewarding mishmash. Caitlin Ware, a candidate for ministry and student at Duke Divinity School, speaks to how Seminary builds off the connections we have in our conference. “While a student at Duke Divinity School, I’ve been able to connect with dozens of UM leaders and theologians (lay and clergy) from far beyond my hometown, thanks to the connections of our conference.” Ware was encouraged to pursue ministry by her campus minister at West Virginia Wesleyan, Rev. Chris Scott. He connected her to women in ministry who could speak to her experience as a woman pursuing a calling. “I was given chances to explore this call through district connections with local churches.”
Whether through Course of Study or Seminary, connection remains a constant source of support for ministry candidates. It would be impossible to list all the people and churches who have supported those pursuing ministry. From the home church PPRC to the conference teams and staff, the stories candidates tell always swirl with how mutual support has sustained the calling of each candidate. Rick Crawford, LLP at Perry Memorial UMC, puts it best when he says, “All the people I have named, and so very many more, are always available to help anyone who would need it.”
If you read this and are feeling a tug toward ministry (whether part time or full time, and whether licensed or ordained), the West Virginia Conference is ready to connect and support that call. First, seek discernment within your congregation by speaking to your minister and other members. If the idea of taking a step into this process feels daunting, do not be afraid, there is a great cloud of witnesses to support the journey. Ministerial Education Funds, subsidies for expenses along the way, and, most importantly, listening ears, are always just a phone call away.
If you would like to know more about ministry, whether in your current context or in full time ministry, consider contacting Rev. Dr. Bonnie MacDonald, Director of Leadership Formation and Co-Director of Connectional Ministries. If you would like to support those pursuing calls to ministry, Rev. Dr. MacDonald is also a good resource for understanding how connectional giving (apportionments) are distributed. The best support, however, comes from seeking those around us with a call and supporting them as they discern, learn, and grow in the ministry God has called them to.
John Langenstein is a Licensed Local Pastor at North View United Methodist Church, Clarksburg, and a member of the Conference Communication Team.