On Monday, February 25, I met with members of the Board of Ordained Ministry of the United Methodist Church for a morning of interviews. In preparation for this time, I had written a definitive statement of my systematic theology, a defense of the sacraments, my understanding of an inclusive church and ministry, and my willingness to enter into a life of itinerant ministry, serving wherever the Bishop and Cabinet deem appropriate at any given time.
I turned in two recorded sermons and the manuscripts of those sermons. I wrote an original Bible study. All this was accompanied by an evaluation from a church committee called the Lay Evaluation Committee who had the responsibility to carefully observe my ministry and offer helpful feedback and correction, a report from a group of other clergy who paid a site visit to the church and met with some of the people serving in leadership roles, another evaluation by a mentor pastor with whom I have met monthly for three years, a report from the convener of a Covenant Group with whom I had also met with monthly for three years, the results of a psychological exam, a medical exam and a background check, and a letter of recommendation by my District Superintendent.
Those doing the interviews had carefully read this paperwork and listened to the sermons. They had prepared a list of questions for me to answer, but I did not know what those questions would be until actually entering the rooms where three teams did the interviews. The questions were probing and thoughtful. They asked for clarity on several areas where I had not expressed myself clearly. Without a doubt, they wanted me to succeed and gave help where they could.
And then we waited. There were three of us being interviewed that morning. We sat in a beautiful, sunny room at the Prothro Center at Lake Texoma, supported by colleagues and sustained by refreshments. We talked of anything we could think of, except how long it was taking the committee to make the decisions. Nearly two hours later, each of us was fetched by a host who walked us in silence to the building where the interviews had been held. We were ushered into separate rooms and there, for the three of us, each team stood and clapped for us, and then offered individual words of encouragement and affirmation followed by prayer and hugs all around. Such relief—and yes, tears filled my eyes.Not all of us made it. I have just finished the final three years of a nearly ten year journey. These last three years were a probationary process called the “residency program.” Fourteen entered it together, having been commissioned in June, 2005. Three dropped quickly for personal and heartbreaking reasons. Two were told earlier that they would have to repeat the residency and were not eligible for interviews, and another was delayed for educational reasons. Two more didn’t get past the interviews—they were “continued” and will be given instructions for necessary correction and growth and another opportunity next year. And so we are now seven. Seven happy people, yet our happiness is tinged with sadness and concern for our colleagues.
Clearly, this is a complex process. For good reasons, the United Methodist Church wants to make sure that their clergy are people of both character and competence. Clergy orders should be free of sexual scandals, and there have been too many of them exposed in the last few years. Pastoring churches takes special gifts, a lot of endurance, much faith, and multiple skills. Not to mention a willingness to spend years getting credentials and not seeing much financial reward for all those years of education. Yet to those of us who are called to this life, there is no other life that will do. This is it, and we know it. In that knowing, there is much, much joy.
Thank you for walking through this with me. I’m truly grateful and full of resurrection hope. Thanks be to God.