North Alabama representatives participate in Best Practices of young clergy recruitment meeting

November 10, 2007

On October 28-30, North Alabama Director of Residency in Ministry Rev. Amelia Sims and Anniston First UMC Associate Pastor Rev. Brandon Harris took part in the Best Practices for Annual Conferences meeting hosted by The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM).  Thirteen Annual Conferences who were already engaged in some of the best practices for reaching young people whom God is calling to ministry were invited to participate in the meeting held in Dallas, Texas.

According to Rev. Meg Lassiat, Director of Student Ministries, Vocation and Enlistment with GBHEM, the overall purpose of the meeting was to “start the process for producing resources and tools for annual conferences throughout the connection as they develop young adult clergy leaders.” Rev. Lassiat asked each Conference to send a description of what their annual conference does for the intentional development of young people and young adult clergy prior to our meeting. All the information was then compiled into a complete document. Everyone was asked to “think about how we invite, train and retain youth and young adults at all points along the discernment and candidacy process.”

This is a serious issue in the United Methodist church. According to a study in 2005 produced by the Lewis Center for church Leadership under Dr. Lovett Weems, there are only 850 United Methodist ordained elders under the age of 35 out of a total of 18,141elders in the United States. The North Alabama Conference’s own young clergy study of ordained elders in 2006 revealed that the Conference only has 16 ordained elders under the age of 35 and even fewer probationary elders under 35. Our average age for fully ordained elders in the Conference is just over 50 years of age and 51% of all North Alabama ordained elders will be eligible to retire within 13 years.

One of the goals for the Best Practices meeting was to “find the best way we can resource the denomination in its objective to increase the number and percentage of young adult clergy.”  The contributions of each of the thirteen annual conferences were needed as the conversation was started. 

Participants were asked to process a lot of information in just two days. Working in various small groups, representatives talked about identifying and creating ways to resource and encourage one another and other annual conferences to be more intentional and successful in helping young adults and youth hear and respond to God’s call to ordained ministry.

Rev. Sims explains that two of the most helpful questions that were asked were:
What does our own experience teach us about what enables a person to hear and respond to God’s call to ordained ministry?
2) Why should young adults seeking ordination come to the United Methodist Church, specifically to the North Alabama Conference?

“As pastors, we often get so focused on our everyday ministry, where we are serving and what is coming up next, that we lose the ability to see in a wider context who God may be calling to serve in Christian vocations,” she says. “For ordained clergy and those in the ordination process, it is helpful to look again at our own call to ministry stories. Many of us can see not only the hand of God in our call but the work of the Holy Spirit through other persons – clergy and laity alike.”

“We also see all the advantages of serving here in North Alabama. Many of us are from this area and this place is where our hearts are. However, God may be calling some highly effective clergy to serve here who would otherwise not consider North Alabama. It is up to us to really think about and be able to articulate why younger adults would be able to grow and flourish in their ministry in this annual conference. We need to be extending the invitation rather than waiting for them to just show up,” Rev. Sims adds.

Extending the invitation is what Rev. Sims has been focusing on since coming on board in this new residency and recruitment position for North Alabama.  As a first step in creating a best practices template for the annual conference, a recruitment team was organized this fall. This group of clergy and laity has begun to look at the best ways of recruiting young effective seminarians at five local theological schools. By the end of the year, there will be a pool of some of the Conference’s own effective young clergy to be available to recruit in seminaries as a first contact approach to building relationships with potential clergy.

In addition, Rev. Brandon Harris is contacting members of the cabinet to help identify local churches both who have done an exceptional job in producing high quality candidates for ministry and who have great potential for this task. 

Rev. Harris says, “We stand a better chance at success in helping people hear God’s call if we are intentional about fostering environments in our communities of faith that make the possibility of hearing God’s call more plausible.  We have churches in North Alabama that are doing remarkably well at this, and Amelia and I want to bring them together so that we can hear what is working.  Ultimately, we want to equip all of our local churches, especially those churches with a high potential to produce candidates for ministry, to embrace some of these practices and approach the task of helping people hear God’s call less haphazardly.”

Besides North Alabama, representatives from Baltimore-Washington, Central Pennsylvania, Central Texas, Florida, Holston, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas and Western North Carolina participated in the event. Also present was a representative from the Fund for Theological Education, or FTE, as well as a facilitator for the event and Rev. Lassiat.

“One of the questions Meg asked each participant in our closing session was ‘What one thing am I going to do in my annual conference?’” says Rev. Sims. “We each had fourteen witnesses that are going to make sure we all follow through! And next time we meet, we all plan to invite one person from another annual conference to join us.”

What can you do? Whether clergy or laity, you are encouraged to be open to the Spirit’s action in the lives of young persons in your church. The first step begins with what we do as individuals. Don’t be afraid of walking up to one of them and saying, “I think you have the gifts for full–time ministry. Have you ever considered that God may be calling you to the ordained ministry?”

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