Exploration 2011: You've been buzzed


A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*

Sept. 28, 2011 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

(From left) Jessica Branch, Mary D’Amico and Caitlyn Butler, students from North Central College, Naperville, Ill., discuss their faith journey before opening worship of the 2009 Exploration event. A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert.

On a day in September, thousands of young adults were thinking, talking and praying about the same thing — that moment when they recognized God’s voice calling them into ministry.

Stories about what happened to them after they answered the call and what could happen to someone who thinks he or she is hearing a calling populated Facebook, Twitter, Google+ beta test users and blogs on Sept. 6.

The point was to generate a “social media buzz” about Exploration 2011, a national event sponsored by the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry for young people, ages 18-26, to help them respond to their call into ordained ministry.

“In just one day, we all got to see a glimpse of just how powerful and moving it is when we channel our prayers, thoughts and dreams in a concert of worshipful sharing,” said the Rev. DJ del Rosario, director of young adult ministry, discernment and enlistment at the general agency.

The buzz

The Rev. Melissa Meyers, associate pastor at Faith United Methodist Church, Orland Park, Ill., wrote about attending Exploration 2000 in Dallas.

“What I remember was looking around the room and not feeling alone. … I remember sitting in my small group and not feeling crazy. … I remember being a part of worship and feeling the presence of God in new ways. … I remember talking to people at the seminary tables and feeling slightly overwhelmed, but very excited. … I remember leaving thinking that I actually could answer the call that God had whispered.” Read more of this blog.

The Rev. Ashlee Alley, campus minister at Southwestern College, Winfield, Kan., went to Exploration 1996 with “a sense of uncertainty about whether or not I was called into ministry.

“God has shown me that when we do keep our ear open to the call of the Holy Spirit to ministry, God is going to use us in ways that are beyond our imagination. I love Frederick Buechner’s quote about vocation: ‘Vocation is where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.’ I’m sure happy that God cares about my gladness! It has truly been a joy to serve God by serving youth and college students over these last 13 years! For me, the world’s deep need is that young people are often sent mixed messages from their peers, their family or the world, about who they are. My gladness has been building relationships with young people and helping them see who God is calling them to be.” Read more of this blog.

Creating community

Since 1990, the denomination’s Board of Higher Education and Ministry has held periodic Exploration events where young people can consider the possibility of entering professional ministry. The next event, now held every other year, is scheduled for Nov. 11-13 in St. Louis.

The Exploration events are about creating community, said the Rev. Juan C. Huertas, St. John’s United Methodist Church, Baton Rouge, La.

“Discernment takes time; it needs a community and should help us connect with our inner longings to live out our God-given passions,” he said.

“I am thankful for the community that Exploration builds,” Huertas added. “It provides the space to struggle with and discern what God might be up to in our lives. We gather from different places; we come with our dreams, visions and hopes for the future. We come wondering what God could do through us. So many possibilities. …” Read more of this blog.

Out of the box

Anastasia Kidd, director of admissions at Boston University School of Theology, suggests a scientific approach for someone pondering ordained ministry.

“I’d wager anything I own (except my cat) that most folks who are ordained ministers now didn’t grow up thinking they would be ordained ministers.

The Exploration 2011 event, sponsored by the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, aims to help people ages 18-26 discern whether God is calling them to ordained ministry. A web-only photo courtesy of the Exploration 2009 website.

“Experiment with ministries, theological study, readings or conversations with those you trust. Experiment by pushing your own boundaries toward the unknown. Do so with the excitement of a scientist who might discover some new truth, because you might very well discover the truth of your own calling into ordained ministry. And if you do these things, you may find yourself looking back one day, as I do now, with 20/20 hindsight illuminating the traces of your calling to ordained ministry through the meanderings of your past.”

The Rev. Daniel K. Dawson, a military chaplain currently assigned to Japan, said hearing God’s call doesn’t automatically mean you will end up behind a pulpit in a local church.

“You can be a pastor; you can be ordained to Word, Sacrament and Order and not pastor a local congregation. I do it every day. And I am happier than happy nine days out of 10. The other day I'm just happy! My word to you today is simply this: If you are exploring a call, or listening to what God might be saying to you, remember that you aren't required to accept that a box even exists.”Read more of this blog.

Registration for the November event ends Oct. 3. For more information, or to register for Exploration 2011, please visit www.gbhem.org/exploration  or www.explorecalling.org .

As Kidd said, “The chance to take God’s call seriously with others who are doing the same makes Exploration more than just fun — it can be meaningful and important.

“That’s why I will be there.”

*Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for the young adult content team at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn. Vicki Brown, associate editor and writer, Office of Interpretation, United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, contributed to this story.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org .