General Conference trims length of clergy candidacy


By Vicki Brown
United Methodist News Service

The candidacy process for ordained ministry in The United Methodist Church will be shortened by two years beginning in January, under legislation approved by the 2008 General Conference.

"Steps were taken to shorten and expedite the process and make it more accessible," said the Rev. Sharon Rubey, director of Candidacy and Conference Relations at the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

"The effect of these changes reduces the possible years from entry into candidacy to ordination by two years, plus makes the process less prescriptive, therefore making it more accessible to more possible candidates."

General Conference, meeting this spring in Fort Worth, Texas, affirmed legislation allowing a candidate to begin the ordination process with a minimum one-year membership in a church, campus ministry or other United Methodist ministry setting. The previous requirement was two years.

Other legislation made changes in probationary membership, including reducing the requirement from a minimum of three years to a minimum of two and changing the name to “provisional” instead of “probationary” membership.

Provisional members still will be required to follow a residency curriculum of theological education, take part in covenant groups and undergo mentoring with evaluation by their district superintendent and Board of Ordained Ministry.

The result will be more intense work for the candidates and the annual conferences, said the Rev. Anita Wood, the board's director of professional ministry development.

However, since the legislation requires a minimum of two years, Wood said annual conferences still have the option of a longer provisional period.

Complaints from young adults
Efforts to streamline and shorten the process without weakening it were in response to complaints from young adults that the process takes too long, said the Rev. Rodney Steele. He was part of a group of delegates from the South Central Jurisdiction who drafted the legislation out of concern that the process is discouraging young ministry candidates.
"By the time people articulate that they are feeling called to ordained ministry, they've answered a lot of the questions that are part of the current process," said Steele, a member of board's elected directors.
The addition of campus ministry and mission churches as fulfilling that two-year membership requirement is particularly important, he said.
"We are seeing college students who get involved in campus ministry and decide to seek ordination. This legislation will let that time in campus ministry count as church membership," he said.
Approved legislation also provides new language to be more accessible to other cultural, racial/ethnic and non-English-speaking candidates. The petition passed by a sizeable majority in the legislative committee, and was approved by the entire assembly on the consent calendar.
In addition to campus ministry, membership in a United Methodist faith community or mission church that is not yet an established church will fulfill the one-year requirement.
The candidate, along with a candidacy mentor, will study resources determined by the conference Board of Ordained Ministry based on the candidate's statement of call, Wesley's historic questions found in Paragraph 310 of The Book of Discipline, and questions about formative experiences, the role of the church, Christian beliefs and personal gifts for ministry, which are listed in Paragraph 311.3.b and c.
This means there is no prescribed Candidacy Guidebook. However, the petition states that candidates are "encouraged to use resources recommended by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry." Rubey said recommendations will be offered as the process is implemented in January 2009.
Cultural and racial-ethnic realities
The required completion and release of psychological assessment reports, criminal background and credit checks remain in the process. However, the new paragraph states that district committees "shall seek ways to consider cultural and ethnic/racial realities in meeting these requirements."
Following one year as a certified candidate, if half the educational requirements have been met, the candidate is eligible to be commissioned and become a provisional member. Petition Nos. 80310, 80313, and 81450 also were approved on the consent calendar.
The language was changed to state that provisional members will be appointed by a bishop to serve a minimum of two years (reduced from three) following the completion of all educational requirements. Language also was added to make it clear that those in provisional membership "may be appointed to attend school, to extension ministry, or in appointments beyond the local church."
Steele noted that this is permissive legislation and believes some conferences, including his own, will keep the three-year provisional requirement. "It's working well for us, so I think the shortening for us will come on the front end," said Steele, a district superintendent in the Arkansas Annual Conference.