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Event helps young people sort out God's plan

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Photo by Vicki Brown, Board of Higher Education and Ministry

Clergy offer prayers of support as young people place commitment cards on the table.
Nov. 30, 2006

By Vicki Brown*

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (UMNS) -- Participants attending an event to discern God's call for their lives said the experience affirmed that God was calling them to ordained ministry, while others came away with more questions.

Some students simply enjoyed the chance to get answers to nuts-and-bolts questions, such as how to balance seminary with family life. The participants attended the Nov. 17-19 EXPLORATION 2006 to sort out God's plan for their lives.

"I just loved the workshop on how to recognize and hear God's call," said Ani Gaytan of Edinburg, Texas. "I'm just starting to consider ministry, I'm very confused ... not sure if I want lay ministry or ordained ministry."

Gaytan, a student at the University of Texas-Pan American and a member of El Buen United Methodist Church, is studying nursing and wonders if that is her ministry.

The Rev. F. Cole Fowler, chairman of the design team that planned the event, said such gatherings make a difference for the denomination.

"To hear the questions coming from these young men and women, their excitement, their desire to build bridges between generations and ethnicity and culture, trying to make us a global family of God, really gives me a great hope for the future," said Fowler, pastor at St. Paul United Methodist Church, Omaha, Neb.

EXPLORATION is a starting point for the United Methodist Church, said the Rev. Meg Lassiat, director of student ministries, vocation and enlistment at the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, which sponsors the event.

"Annual conferences, campus ministries, local churches and the denomination need to continue to follow up with the young people who attended this event. One event can be very important in helping someone to make a decision. However, the ongoing support a person receives from her or his local community will also make a huge difference in how someone continues to answer the call to ministry -- whether lay or ordained," she said.

Sorting it out in church

Pat Silvola of Ormond Beach, Fla., a student at Florida State University, started thinking about ordained ministry in seventh grade.

"I started to listen more and pray, trying to decide if God wanted me to do that. I knew you had to be called, not just become a minister because you wanted to. This weekend totally reaffirmed my call, and I can't wait to take the next step," Silvola said. He is researching seminaries for next year.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Photo by Vicki Brown, Board of Higher Education and Ministry

The Rev. Phil Amerson addresses young adults attending EXPLORATION 2006 in Jacksonville, Fla.
The Rev. Phil Amerson, president of United Methodist-related Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, Ill., told participants that the church is where God's plan for their life is sorted out. He recalled his own determination to be a doctor, not a minister like his father.

Then, while working at a summer program, he met a 13-year-old girl, Elaine Paul, who came to know Christ. Amerson was sure she was going to be off doing wonderful things. But the next summer, she had leukemia.

During one of his visits to her sickbed, he could think of nothing to say. Then she reached out and asked, "Could I pray for you?"

"That was the day that purpose and passion intersected in my life," Amerson said. He suggested that the church is a little like the sorting hat in the Harry Potter books, the hat that tells the student wizards and witches what their skills are and which house they should study in.

"It's in the church that we sort out who we are. God's plan for you is sorted out in church," Amerson said.

Chloe McCraw, though, found reassurance that uncertainty was fine.

"Last night (during the commitment service), I was almost numb. It was really depressing because everyone around me was hearing the call. I want to do something, but I'm not sure what it is," said McCraw, a member of Sango United Methodist Church in Clarksville, Tenn., and a senior at Austin Peay State University.

"This past weekend has given me reassurance and peace that it's OK, I'm young, I don't have to know today what I'm going to do tomorrow," she said. She thinks her call may be youth work or missions, not ordination, she added.

Practical details

Participants who attended a workshop about what to expect in seminary were seeking practical information about how to choose a seminary, what classes to take, how to pay for seminary. They heard suggestions from young seminarians about those questions and others.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Photo by Vicki Brown, Board of Higher Education and Ministry

During the commitment service, young people come forward to pray with clergy.
Christopher Carter from Battle Creek, Mich., asked Angela Harris, a seminarian at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, what effect seminary had on family life and how to better juggle those conflicts.

She told him to live on campus and to realize that sometimes he might have to make a B instead of an A in order to balance those conflicts.

Wesley Sanders, a high school senior from Freeville, N.Y., where he attends Freeville United Methodist Church, said he has been hearing God's call for a year.

"This solidified it. I feel like God is calling me as an elder," Sanders said. He told of first hearing God's call while at a summer camp in Georgia, where a deacon asked him if he had considered ordination. "I went home and talked to my pastor and started with The Christian as Minister. This weekend has helped me to see that God has spoken to me in a lot of ways."

Mary Jane Hartmeyer said she was 13 years old when she heard God's call to ministry, as she realized how praying and being active in church made her happy.

"But I love chemistry and I'm really good at it. My first semester I've been really struggling with why did God give me two loves? This weekend I've struggled with that, and I talked it through and realized the excitement I felt and talent I have, I feel God wants me to put that talent toward ordained ministry," she said.

"I've decided I'm going to be a scientist as long as I can, but eventually I want to be a minister," said the 18-year-old, who attends First United Methodist Church of Orlando, Fla.

*Brown is an associate editor and writer in the Office of Interpretation, United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or

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Exploration 2006

Explore Calling

Board of Higher Education and Ministry