The Rev. Forbes Matonga and Bishop Jim Dorff serve Holy Communion at GBHEM’s spring Board meeting. Photo by Vicki Brown.

By Vicki Brown*

Forming partnerships, sharing best practices, and creating or supporting pilot programs to test what works are all being discussed for the $7 million Young Clergy Initiative, members of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s Board of Directors learned during a presentation at their March 13-15 meeting in Nashville, Tenn.

The Board also affirmed strategic goals and priorities, voted to hold their spring 2014 meeting at Africa University, and approved a motion calling for making every effort to raise $10 million for the Karen Layman Gift of Hope Scholarship Fund by the end of the quadrennium.

Since the Young Clergy Summit in August 2012, GBHEM staff have been gathering information about young clergy and recruitment programs, as well as working on short-term strategies which Board members and staff discussed and worked on during the March meeting.

“In our conversations together, it became clear that trying to create a single program to address young clergy vocational discernment wasn’t the best use of time and money or the most effective solution,” said the Rev. James “Trip” Lowery, GBHEM’s director of Young Adult Ministry and Discernment.

“One idea being considered is the identification of bright spots where communities are already successfully engaging young clergy vocational discernment and sharing those best practices with other communities. We don’t want to create programs to copy because what works in New England may not work in North Texas,” Lowery said. He stressed there is no firm plan yet and staff were seeking input from Board members.

Board members cautioned that young clergy are needed as part of the whole body of Christ, not as saviors who can fix everything that is wrong with the UMC.

“Young clergy shouldn’t be idealized,” said the Rev. Amy Gearhart, senior pastor of Missouri United Methodist Church in Columbia.

The Rev. Kim Ingram, director of Ministerial Services and Conference Secretary for the Western North Carolina Conference, said the work of the church is “really about all of us working together.”

Staff talked about what they have learned so far about the young clergy in the UMC and the roadblocks they face:

  • Eighteen percent of all UM candidates for ordained ministry are under 30 years old, but only 13.5 percent of those are racial-ethnic candidates.
  • Undergraduate and seminary debt continues to be a major problem.
  • There are no young clergy recruitment programs in 49 percent of United Methodist annual conference.
  • Short term strategies under discussion include: assessing current resources, forming partnerships, collecting and sharing best practices, creating pilot programs, and assessing the need for new legislation.

Some staff and members of the new Ministry Study Commission said the group mentoring process and a vocational discernment coordinator in each annual conferences are already addressing some of the problems young clergy candidates have faced.

The Board spent a significant amount of time considering where The United Methodist Church is today and GBHEM’s place in the church, including affirming goals and priorities for the work of the agency.

“I think that we are continuing a process of taking the mandates from General Conference and integrating those into the ongoing work of GBHEM. In addition, we are working diligently to address the specific needs of the church for leadership in our day,” said Bishop Jim Dorff, Board president.

Dorff, resident bishop of the Southwest Texas and Rio Grande Annual Conferences, said it is clear to the Board and staff that addressing the need for effective new leadership in the church must be a priority.

The priorities affirmed include:

  • Education: In the U.S., raise awareness in the UMC of the mission, ministry, and value of UM-related educational institutions.
  • Theological education: Achieve greater awareness of the importance of the clergy vocation; realize outstanding recruitment, training, and lifelong development processes for clergy, especially young clergy.
  • Global education: Promote the connection of Methodist higher education and theological education through international networks.
  • Young adults: Extend UM ministries to a broader range of young adults in their colleges and communities and increase the number of young adult who are members or involved in UM activities.
  • Effective ministry performance: Partner with annual conference leaders responsible for enlistment, training, education, mentoring, and nurturing candidates for ordained and licensed ministry to develop and implement programs and processes that result in discernible growth and increased effectiveness.
  • Ministry: Assist annual conference leaders in strengthening systems of support and accountability.
  • Telling Our Story: Coordinate and enhance GBHEM’s use of social media, constituent databases, and the Web to communicate, inform, and influence the church and the wider national / international communities about GBHEM’s mission and programs.
  • Young Clergy: Identify and address the challenges facing young clergy and map a strategy for meeting the church’s future need for young clergy.

*Brown is associate editor and writer, Office of Interpretation, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

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