“I am where I am in ministry because of persons who have taken an interest in me – helping me and mentoring me and providing a way for me to be the best pastor I can be,” Rev. Walter Cash reflects. “Because so many have helped me, I have always had a desire to mentor others and help them become all they can be.”
Equipping, educating and helping local pastors be the best they can be in ministry is close to Cash’s heart. He helped start the Alabama Course of Study School in the mid-1990s and has served as the Director of the program for 24 years. In June 2019, he will retire from this role.
“I am proud to be part of a denomination that takes the education of its pastors seriously,” Cash says.
The Alabama Course of Study School (ALCOS), an Extension of the Emory Course of Study School, educates and trains local pastors in The United Methodist Church. ALCOS is sponsored jointly by the Alabama-West Florida and North Alabama Annual Conferences with campuses at Birmingham-Southern and Huntingdon Colleges.
While he cannot give the exact number of students to come through the Alabama Course of Study over the last 24 years, he notes, “We’ve had quarters with as many as 100 students in a term. The lowest number of students we ever had was 35. Most quarters we have 60 to 75 students.”
In 1992, Cash was serving on the North Alabama Conference Board of Ordained Ministry as the Chair of the Local Pastors section. As part of that role, he traveled to Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta to attend the graduation of the Course of Study School. A colleague from the Alabama-West Florida Conference, Dr. Larry Bryars, was also there. The two heard about a new opportunity called Course of Study by Extension. This allowed a Course of Study to be offered in areas away from the seminary, but with Emory serving as the supervising agency. An extension had already begun in Mississippi and one was starting in the Memphis area. Cash and Bryars decided they wanted to work to bring this opportunity to Alabama.
Working together for three years, they secured permission to use facilities at both Birmingham-Southern and Huntingdon and also put together a board of managers. In September 1995 ALCOS offered its first classes and Cash became the Director.
Cash says, “Neither Conference worked on their own. We worked together and are still doing that today.”
Course of Study is the educational process for those seeking to become local pastors, but who have not attended seminary. A local pastor first completes Licensing School and then the Five-Year Basic Course of Study.
Course of Study is prescribed by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry – Division of Ordained Ministry which is responsible for developing curriculum, purpose and learning goals; providing resources; establishing, maintaining, and evaluating schools; keeping central records on all students; and reporting on student progress to each Conference Board of Ordained Ministry every year.
It is made up of 20 required courses including courses in Bible, Theology, Church History, Preaching, Pastoral Care, Christian Education and Ethics. Participants, who are part-time students, can complete the Basic Course of Study in five years. Cash says many participants take eight to 12 years to complete these educational requirements.
Each year ALCOS offers two sessions at Birmingham-Southern College and two sessions at Huntingdon College. Cash says the schedule is designed so ALCOS offers all 20 required courses over any two-year period.
Cash explains that while Emory University is the supervising agency and must approve faculty and curriculum vitae, ALCOS has its own financial setup and board of directors that includes District Superintendents, local pastors, institutional representatives, students, alumni and members at large from both annual conferences. They also choose their own professors who become adjunct faculty of Emory and must meet certain educational requirements.
Although the ALCOS is jointly sponsored by the Alabama-West Florida and North Alabama Conferences, Cash says there have been students from 15 different Annual Conferences.
Over the last 24 years Cash has served as the Director of ALCOS and as a faculty member in Alabama and other extension programs. He says that the student participants are not the only ones who learn and grow thanks to the school.
As a result of teaching courses in preaching, worship and sacraments Cash says, “I have had to struggle with my own sacramental theology and struggled to keep my own preaching fresh. The way I teach has evolved.”
He adds, “I have had my own sense of call affirmed, through the sense of call I have experienced in the lives of others. I have had my belief in the system of education of the UMC enforced. I have, along with my students, struggled with issues in the life of the church, even as we are all struggling this year. I think my faith in the church has grown stronger as I have seen the church go forward for Christ.”
Cash explains that students are invited to offer reflections on their ALCOS experience during graduation exercises. Some admit they did not want to come to Course of Study, but once they have completed the courses, they say it has been one of the best things to happen in their ministry.
He says it is meaningful “seeing students in appreciation of the process and what the education means to their lives and ministries.”
The students he has worked with and the professors with whom he has worked and taught alongside have been Cash’s favorite part of the experience.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed my years participating in this significant point of ministry,” he says.
As he counts down the months to retiring from the role of Director of ALCOS, Cash says he wants to thank both the Alabama-West Florida Conference and the North Alabama Conference for their support of ALCOS. He also wants to thank both conferences for their support of their local pastors and the congregations served by those pastors.
He additionally thanks the North Alabama Conference Office of Communication for hosting the ALCOS website and North Alabama Conference Treasurer Scott Selman and Controller Johnny Frazier for handling the ALCOS fiscal responsibilities.
Looking back, Cash says he is grateful for the opportunity to be an advocate for and a helper with local pastors.
He notes, “One of the great geniuses of the Methodist Church has been our local pastors. Our history shows that – both in England and America when the movement crossed the waters.
“Local pastors have filled pulpits and inspired our people. Without local pastors, many local churches would not have pastoral leadership. Because of local pastors and the process which they go through, we are offering these churches pastors who have learned and are learning and growing within themselves to be able to pastor. I know the shape of the church would be different without local pastors – many of whom are bi-vocational.
“I think the need for local pastors will be as great going forward as it is now.”