During the week of July 27-31 2015, Riverchase UMC offered nine high school juniors, seniors and college freshmen discerning a call to pastoral ministry an opportunity to explore that calling further. They dubbed this day camp experience “Camp Clergy.”
Riverchase UMC Associate Pastor Tyler Christiansen explains how the idea was formed. “After a few students at Riverchase UMC told me they had felt a call from God to explore a vocation in ministry, I prayed about it, talked with some folks at church and asked some of those same students to talk with me about if further. I ended up with about 10 youth in my office last winter to toss around some ideas about a day camp experience.”
“Camp Clergy has been a place for these students to explore their call further, ask questions and discuss a life of ministry with a cohort of their peers,” he adds.
The format of Camp Clergy was the group met Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. to allow students an opportunity to work around summer job schedules.The time together each day began with a devotion. Then a member of the Riverchase UMC staff shared their call story and about their current ministry area in the church. The group then took a field trip to other ministry settings throughout the Birmingham area. At each location, ministry staff shared her/his call story, a bit about ministry in that specific context and how that ministry is a way they are serving and fulfilling God’s call on their life.
On Monday they visited the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission, SEJ office and met with Executive Director Paulette West and the UMVIM staff. On Tuesday the group visited the United Methodist Center and participated in the weekly chapel service with Conference staff. They then met with South Central District Superintendent Dr. Bill Morgan and Executive Director of Ordained Ministry Rev. Ron Schultz. On Wednesday they visited Birmingham First UMC and met with Rev. Stephanie Arnold and youth director Jonathan Goss. On Thursday they spent time at Church Without Walls and met with Rev. R.G. Lyons and Rev. Caitlyn Harper. On Friday they visited Lacey’s Springs UMC and Rev. Stephen Benefield.
Rev. Christiansen explains, “My hope was that the students would get a wide sample of different ministries that clergy and laypeople are doing in our conference from rural to urban, suburban to abroad.”
Additionally, the students had opportunities to learn about various seminaries. (Each United Methodist-related seminary sent information packets for the students.) Some students also went on pastoral care calls to hospitals and learned about the United Methodist candidacy process. The group even had the opportunity to work on writing a sermon.
Trevor Smith, a junior at Helena High School notes, "Every pastor we've met this week has said that they wish they would have had this experience when they were our age."
“Part of the church's responsibility is to help raise up the next generation of pastoral leaders,” Christiansen says. “One of the ways we can encourage our youth to consider a vocation in ministry is by pulling back the curtain and exposing them to the everyday blessings and realities of pastoral servanthood.”
After meeting with the Camp Clergy group, Dr. Bill Morgan says, “The nine youth from Riverchase give great hope as upcoming leaders of our church - intelligent faith and servant hearts. Great appreciation for youth director Seth Moon and pastor Tyler Christiansen!”
The students give positive reviews to their Camp Clergy experience.
Wesley Holley, an incoming freshman at Birmingham-Southern College, says, "This experience at Camp Clergy has been eye-opening. You're finding that your heart hurts for different things, but then you learn the avenues that you can go down to help and follow your calling.”
Matt Purvis, a senior at Thompson High School, notes the week aided in his discernment process. "Before this week I was certain I knew my calling, but this summer and this week in particular made me realize what I'm not called to do, but also more open to ways that God may be leading me.”
Anna May, a senior at Spain Park High School, agrees saying, "Even at a young age I liked helping people, but this year, it has been put on my heart to serve children and older people (seniors).”
The mission of the North Alabama Conference is “Discover, Develop and Deploy Spiritual Leaders to make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World. “
Christiansen adds, “Churches need to be encouraging those who have expressed a calling and identifying those with gifts for ministry. Every pastor I know was once encouraged and challenged by someone else, like a mentor or pastor, who affirmed their gifts and calling.”