Why is the candidacy process toward ordination in the United Methodist Church so long and involved?
Because ordained ministry is hard work, and you need a good set of tools in your belt in order to do it.
Why is seminary so hard?
Because ordained ministry requires a depth of theological understanding that ninety hours of master’s degree work can give you.
This is my personal testimony. All I can do is share from my own perspective, and say what my experience has been. I hope that, if your testimony about any of this is different, you will respectfully offer it in the comment section, or post something on your own blog. (For example, read what Brad has to say about his experience.)
I wouldn’t be who I am, nor could I do what I do without having been formed in the crucible of seminary and journeyed the candidacy process together with a group of other Residents in Ministry whom I still count as beloved sisters and brothers. I’m not good enough, smart enough, strong enough to serve Christ as I am called in the church without having had the formation, growth, and learning I was given in the candidacy process and in seminary.
I had a fantastic mentor; I had a covenant group with whom I could share my innermost self; I had relationships with professors, superintendents, and bishops that were collegial and supportive; I had peers who pushed me to excel and who encouraged me when I was sucking rocks; I had Sandy Ward at the Conference Office letting us know exactly what forms we needed to turn in and by when; I had family members and friends keeping me grounded and keeping my priorities straight.
I went into the process as a response to my calling, not in order to figure it out. The candidacy process is not the place to discern your calling; it is where you go in response to it. If you are not called to ministry and certain of that call, wait. Like my Dad said, “If there is anything else that you could do, do it.” And if you are called into a ministry that can be done without candidacy/seminary/ordination, for heaven’s sake don’t put yourself through it!
I dug more deeply into my seminary studies than I had at any other level – high school, undergrad, or master’s – I worked my ass off in seminary. It is a Master’s Degree and it is supposed to be hard; the Church of Jesus Christ/the United Methodist denomination/the souls of God’s children are at stake here, you better believe that I wanted to work hard – for their sake. If I had discerned that I could realize my calling without seminary, there is NO WAY I would have put myself and my family through it! (Although I found that walking the baby in the middle of the night is a great time to study your Greek verb paradigms.)
Instead of worrying about what “the system” required of me, I just did what I thought I needed to do in order to be equipped for my calling. Turned out, it was pretty much the same thing. For example, I found a mentor and was in a covenant group before I learned that those things are required. So I called my DS and told her, and she said “Great! If you found something that works for you, run with it.” My calling is to ordained ministry, and the things I figured I would need to accomplish my calling were there to be found in the candidacy process and in seminary. What a deal!
I am so very proud of the eight years of my life between 1999 when I realized my call into ordained ministry and 2007 when I was ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. And I’ve gotta say, it was fracking hard! Of course it was. It was work, it was struggle, it was formation. I’ve heard people complain about that length of time, but I don’t. I’m grateful to have had that time to prepare.
I’m not saying Deacons and Elders are better than anyone else. This is not an either/or deal here. I’m not saying “licensed/commissioned/ordained” implies “smarter” “stronger” “bigger” or “better” or anything like that. It is just a particular role in the ministry of Christ accomplished through his body, the church. It is a role to which God called me, and I am fulfilled in it, and (I have to confess) proud of the journey I took in order to get here.
And I’m also not saying that after my eight years of candidacy/seminary work, I have finally “arrived” and there’s no more work to be done. Far from it; one of the most astonishing things about going through the process is realizing just how much I don’t know and still need to learn.
And another thing I’m not saying is “Don’t change the process.” I think the process toward ordination can and should be transformed - always reforming, if you will. I am saying don’t make it easier and don’t make it shorter just for the sake of convenience. I don’t want my doctor to have gone through a process that was quick and easy, just so that she could become a doctor sooner and at a younger age; nor would I want my pastor to.
If the process needs to be transformed, let’s get real about doing it. But if all we’re going to do is complain about how long and difficult it is, count me out.
Cross posted here.