God's Call: Opening
|The Rev. Eric Helms serves communion during beach worship in Somers Point, N.J. Photo by Skip Armistead|
Young Hearts and Minds
By Tom Gillem
call to ordained ministry for young people can come just about any
time, any place and in so many ways. Some people discern it for
themselves right away. For others, their potential for the ministry is
recognized first by people around them. Still others take years to
discover just where the Holy Spirit is leading them.
problem facing The United Methodist Church is that too few young people
are hearing and heeding the call at the same time the number of
ordained ministers under 35 years old hovers just above 5 percent of
the denomination's total aging clergy.
Rev. Lovett H. Weems Jr., a researcher and executive director of the
Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary, says
a primary issue creating the dearth of under-35 ordained elders and
deacons is the decline of youth ministry and youth participation in the
research, which included a survey of all the under-35 clergy in The
United Methodist Church, shows that most of these young clergy made
their decision before going to college, that what they had most in
common was they were active in church as children and as youth," Weems
says. "Their local congregation was the most important shaping factor
for them, and their pastor was their key mentor."
... when you see the consistent decline of children and youth
participation in the church, it's easy to see why there might be fewer
young people entering ordained ministry."
church participation is a concern for United Methodists. Many annual
conferences and churches are working to help clergy and laity better
understand their formative roles in the lives of children and youth.
youth and young adults, it is so important they get feedback from
people they respect," says the Rev. Meg Lassiat, director of Student
Ministries, Vocation and Enlistment for the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
"When someone who is farther along in ministry, or even an adult church
leader or someone besides their parents, can identify gifts and grace
for ministry in that person and encourage them that is so important."
The Rev. Nicole Conard, who was ordained as an elder earlier this year and is pastor of caring ministries at United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in
Leawood, Kan., was barely a teenager when she told her parents she was
going to be a minister. She was always active as a youth at her home
church, Clemmons (N.C.) United Methodist Church.
it weren't for the people who were part of the congregation and their
receptivity and their love and care, I think I would be a very
different person," says Conard, 28, who believes nurturing is "just a
part of the congregation's DNA" at Clemmons.
think people saw the gifts within me that God has given me, and they
wanted me to be able to use them however that might be," she says.
Pastors, youth counselors and special people in the church she calls
her "mentors" were always supporting her.
Not all young people are so fortunate.
Rev. Eric Helms' call developed slowly and methodically over the years
of his youth. He credits two college professors -- one a United
Methodist elder -- with helping him follow that call. There had
been signs of his calling since his confirmation, but Helms says he
received little nurturing from pastors at his childhood churches in
seems like somebody who knew me growing up -- a pastor, who would
have known at least some of the things I was involved in and maybe
more -- that I would have had a conversation with a pastor about
this at a younger age," Helms says. "That did not happen until I
decided I was going to pursue the ordination route. I feel like that
was something that I totally missed out on."
Helms, 30, a provisional elder, serves as pastor of Somers Point (N.J.) United Methodist Church. He will apply for ordination in 2010.
The Rev. Lara Byrd, associate pastor at Carteret Street United Methodist Church
in Beaufort, S.C., says summer work with other youth at a
church-sponsored service to improve the homes of people with limited
resources made her first consider her call.
|The Rev. Lara Byrd. Courtesy photo|
I first told the minister who became my mentor, he said that he had
seen evidence of the Spirit working in me to call me into ministry,"
says Byrd, 30, who was ordained as an elder in 2008.
Rev. Rebekah Jordan Gienapp's deep concerns about justice for the poor
guided her into a life not as an elder in a church pulpit, but as a
deacon on the streets in her hometown of Memphis, Tenn.
"When I learned
that deacons were supposed to help connect the church and the world and
help people in congregations meet the needs of the world through
ministries of love, justice and service, I thought, 'That's exactly
what I want to do,'" says Gienapp, 32, a community organizer and
executive director of Workers Interfaith Network in Memphis.
Rev. Rebekah Jordan Gienapp (right), Jonathan Cole and Tanya Brown pray
during a vigil in Memphis, Tenn., for workers facing potential job
losses. Courtesy photo|
was ordained as a deacon in 2005, three years after she and several
other clergy founded the organization that helps workers improve wages
and working conditions.
says workshops about other ways to be in ministry besides serving in a
local church are a regular part of events like Exploration, a
semi-annual gathering for young people, high-school seniors through age
24, who are considering ordained ministry in The United Methodist
reason why we see such a high percentage of young adults in the deacon
ministries is that young adults today are looking for new and creative
ways to make faith real for people," Lassiat says. "So you can be a
deacon, and you can be a community organizer where you have a
relationship with a local church, and you can reach out to people in
that community in a much different way than we've seen in the past."
Wesley Foundation and other campus ministries also have a profound
effect on many college students who are deciding whether to answer the
call to ordained ministry, Lassiat says.
of the unique things about campus ministries is you have the
opportunity to practice your leadership skills there and to get some
good feedback, both from your peers and from your campus minister in
ways that don't happen until you're in that developmental stage of your
life," she says.
Josh Kouri, 27, a master of divinity student at Perkins School of Theology and youth director at Axe Memorial United Methodist Church in Garland, Texas, says his Wesley Foundation director
at New Mexico State University was one of the two people who nurtured
him the most. The other person was his church youth director.
I recognized any sort of leadership potential in myself, or certainly
any church ministry potential, I think both of them recognized it in me
and really nurtured me toward that," says the recipient of a fellowship
from the Fund for Theological Education (FTE). "Every time there was an Exploration event, they were always making sure I went."
Rev. Jay Williams, another FTE fellow, began preparing for a medical
career when he entered Harvard University. The two-time General
Conference delegate then found himself in a financially seductive
career on Wall Street by the time he graduated magna cum laude.
Rev. Jay Williams addresses 1,200 annual conference leaders at the
"Living the United Methodist Way: Turning Worlds Upside Down"
quadrennial training event in January. UMNS photo by Erik Alsgaard|
the spiritual seeds planted in his heart as a 4-year-old boy who asked
to attend church with his great-grandmother now rule Williams' life.
the members of the church would just tell me, 'Well, you're going to be
a pastor,'" he says. "They were kind of shepherding me in a particular
direction. So in a way, I withdrew from it -- or didn't embrace
it -- even though it was kind of written all over me."
his freshman year at Harvard, Williams became active in an off-campus
antislavery group concerned with the plight of millions of people who
were living as slaves in the world. Before starting his sophomore year,
he traveled to the Sudan to learn about its civil war and modern day
slavery. While there, his group helped to liberate Sudanese slaves.
graduation, Williams worked for three years in New York City at
Merrill-Lynch, where he was an assistant vice president in the private
banking division. However, he felt unfulfilled and decided to enter
Union Theological Seminary.
don't think I was running from a call because I honestly just had not
fully discerned it yet," he says. "... It took some time to discern and
to hear the still, small voice of God that had been speaking over the
years to me through all these people who had been around me."
Williams, 28, was commissioned as a provisional elder in June and started his first appointment on July 1 as pastor at Glendale United Methodist Church in Everett, Mass. He is also a Ph.D. candidate in the study of religion at Harvard's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
--Tom Gillem is a freelance writer and photographer in Franklin, Tenn.
To help young people discern God's call...
will be the theme of Exploration 2009, Nov. 13-15 in Dallas. The
gathering is for young people considering ordained ministry. Learn more
at www.gbhem.org/exploration. Other opportunities The United Methodist Church provides to help young people discern their call include:
Student Forum of the United Methodist Student Movement: Annual spiritual development and leadership training conference for college students
Young Adult Seminarians Network: United Methodist seminarians ages 35 and under and those concerned with their issues
www.ExploreCalling.org: Information about ordained ministry, United Methodist-related seminaries and loans and scholarships
Printed resources: Including Beyond the Burning Bush: Hearing and Answering God's Call (GBHEM), which will be published this fall
Including "Ordained Ministry in The United Methodist Church"
[Cokesbury, (800) 672-1789, not available online], a new DVD featuring
elders, deacons, chaplains and pastoral counselors saying what it means
to be called to ordained ministry