Today, the United Methodist Church General Board of Higher Education and Ministry is emphasizing “Exploration 2013” and has asked all UMC bloggers to write about the person or people that influenced us in our decision to enter ministry.
For me it was a number of people over a 25 year period. God is patient and kept moving me into ministry over that quarter century. My first call to ministry came as I was about to graduate high school in Mountain Home, ID. My father was stationed at Mountain Home Air Force Base and I was active in the Protestant Youth Group sponsored by the Chapel on the base. The youth pastor was an Episcopalian Chaplain whose name I no longer remember. About a month before graduation, in 1975, he stopped me after the youth group meeting and told me that he thought I had the gifts and graces to be a parish minister. He asked me to consider going to seminary after I completed college. I thanked him but said that I was going into music and would probably be a music teacher after college. That is how my college education and early career turned out. (The college I graduated from was St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN.)
My first job after college was teaching all levels of music in a small (pop. 300) rural town in central Minnesota. When I moved to Deer Creek I wanted to attend a local church. Deer Creek had two, a United Methodist and a Missouri Synod Lutheran. I started attending the Methodist church and became close friends with the pastor, Rev. Dick Jackson, and his wife, Nancy. Dick Jackson encouraged me to be a local lay speaker and I was occasionally allowed to preach at the three churches he served.
Years later I was living in Eagle Bend, MN and working as a bookkeeper/accountant for a meat packing company in Long Prairie. You can see how well being a music teacher worked out for me. During those years I had married, my wife gave birth to three beautiful children, and I had gone to Tech School to learn my new trade. We were now members of the Eagle Bend United Methodist Church. EBUMC was one church in a three point parish which joined, in 1997, with four other churches to form Communities of Faith Larger Parish. The pastors serving the larger parish, Rev. Rory Swenson and Rev. Fayetta Clark, convinced me to take a larger role as lay speaker for the parish. Each Sunday they would lead worship at three churches each and a lay speaker would lead at the seventh. I lead services one to two times a month.
In 1999 my work took me to South St. Paul during the week but I continued to live in Eagle Bend and lead worship on the weekends. Another change led to the breakup of the parish and I was ready to leave my work. I sent District Superintendent David Bard a message that I he needed someone I would be willing to work as a part time pastor in a four point parish. He sent me an email asking if I would consider being a full time pastor and after discussing it with my wife I agreed. That was in May of 2000 and at the end of June I was the pastor of the new four point Communities of Faith.
Notice that I did not go through seminary becoming a provisional elder which then would have led to being fully ordained in the United Methodist Church. The UMC allows an alternate route to being a pastor for people over 35 who cannot go to seminary. This alternate path to ministry is called “Local Licensed Pastor”. There are several steps in the process of becoming a LLP including attending licensing school, receiving an appointment, and then attending Course of Study in the summer at a UMC seminary.
This alternate route is ideal for 2nd or 3rd career people who feel a call to serve in the United Methodist Church. The UMC is actively seeking young people who feel the call but there is still a place in the church for older, sometimes retired, people. Young or old, if you are feeling called to serve in the UMC, or are perhaps curious about serving, contact your local pastor and let her or him know of your interest. You should also check out ExploreCalling.org. There is a lot of information that will be useful in your discernment.