A few days ago, the Board of Ordained Ministry of the Southwest Texas Conference voted to approve me for ordination. I cried. I was so happy. And there was still some sadness lingering. It has been a long and difficult journey. And not just for me.
A few months ago, I was having lunch with a new friend from an area Baptist church. I was saying how I really needed some more time for this project I was working on because I had a lot of upcoming meetings for ordination. I think I sighed and said, “I will be SO glad when this is all over. It just takes so long.” She said, “I know! It’s going to take me 9-12 months!” I didn’t know how to tell her that our process usually takes 9-12 YEARS.
I’ve been “officially” in it since 2001 when I wrote a letter to my District Superintendent requesting a candidacy guide. Granted, some of those years involved finishing college and my Masters in Divinity. I also took a “time-out” from the process when it became clear that I could not be in school far away and continue on–it was just not working for me and my conference. I know Skype has really changed that for the folks coming into my conference now. After school, I took some time away from the process to discern if I even wanted to be part of my conference. I’d grown pretty detached after the earlier difficulties and my time away. And my conference did not make a lot of efforts to keep me around (thankfully, this has also changed!). When I did return to my conference, I was wary, having been hurt before. I fully committed in August 2007 (2 years after graduating from seminary) and after one deferment, I made it! I will be 32 a couple weeks after my ordination. The youngest in our class will be 27. There are 3 of us under 35 (out of 14).
I am grateful for our process. It has given me some incredible mentors and friendships. And, I am grateful that I am not the only one to have had problems making it through to the end. I am part of a group of people from Candler School of Theology that meets once a year. This group let me see how many people left the process along the way. It also showed me how many of us are still in process, nearly 7 years after graduation. Of my group of 15 that meets every year, 7 of us are United Methodists. 5 of us were in the ordination process. 2 decided they could do their work without going through process. 1 was ordained 4 years after graduation from seminary and 2 of us will be ordained this year. 1 could not get an appointment–that left her frustrated and she withdrew. Another had a really difficult time but finally received an appointment and is still moving forward but has a year to go (if all goes well). At least one of my friends had trouble being appointed because of her gender. All of us had problems with the system or deferments along the way. When we get together and discuss our other friends from seminary, we learned many of them switched denominations (UCC or DOC) and are ordained. Several of them decided they could do their current ministry without going through our process for ordination. Many of my friends were scholarship recipients and some of the best in their fields. I often wondered why they let me in the group! Yet, even such good candidates had trouble making it through.
I love our process. I love that we call for a practice of submission to the faithful and prayerful decisions of those called to this difficult task of discerning who is ready for ministry. And, when I look at a handful of friends who have had such a difficult time, I wonder what is the problem? Potentially it is me and my group. Maybe we did need those extra years. But, I also know we are not alone. Many young clergy have experienced the same problems.
As we once again move into another General Conference, I hope that people are thinking of young people. Not because we are a culture obsessed with youth and not because they are the saviors of our church. But because they are a minority group that is most affected by any changes made. Every new agenda, new add-on, new mission, and even a huge restructure affects the lives of young people greatly. Those changes have affected my career as an incoming clergy person but the changes of general conferences past have created ripples that affect young people all over. Some rallying cries gave us new hearts for mission and evangelism, while arguments within cause some to feel increasingly disconnected from the Church. Some general conference initiatives energized churches to reach people in new neighborhoods. Others caused churches to grasp for the money and energy of the young people in their midst–pushing them further away. Some policies have helped to start vibrant ministries among young people in the Central Conferences, growing new leaders in some of the most difficult areas for life to occur. Other priority decisions told the world we need young, innovative voices and young people rise up to this challenge–often finding there isn’t actually a place at the table. There will not be many young people at the tables at General Conference. How can we hear their voices?
And, if you are still reading–what was YOUR experience with ordination? I would love to gather more stories!