Today I met with the Board of Ordained Ministry of the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church. I was recommended as a Provisional Elder with the conference. This is the point to which I have been working toward since beginning the process to ordination with the United Methodist Church in 2008. This is a big step. But, I know that many are not very familiar with how the process of becoming a pastor works in the UMC.
The first step, when someone feels calls to ministry, meets with their pastor. The pastor hears there call, and also directs them to meet with their district superintendent. For us in Orlando, Dr. Wayne Wiatt (best D.S. ever) helps to start the process of candidacy. The candidacy process is formatted to help someone better understand their call through reflection and conversation with others. For my process, I meet with a candidacy mentor (Randy Strickland – Conway UMC) for about a year to discern and understand the details of calling and ordained ministry. This process involves reading, writing, psychological and personality tests, and even a session with a licensed counselor. All of this is designed to help the individual feel confident in their call.
After meeting with my mentor for about a year, I applied to the District Committee on Ordained Ministry. This group is tasked with confirming the call of the individual. It is made up of local lay and clergy reps. I was blessed to have some great people on my DCOM, like Emily Ann Zimmerman. She is the wife of Gene Zimmerman, a retired clergy member from Florida, and former pastor (and current member) of First UMC Orlando. Emily Ann serves a lay member of the board. I think it is great that we have members of our local churches helping to make new pastors for our church. I became a certified candidate through his committee. This stage recognizes that God is calling me to ordained ministry. They DCOM gives “contingencies” to candidates as ways for growth. These can include reading, meeting in a directed study, counseling, retreats, etc. One of my contingencies was a semester as a Chaplain, working in the hospital.
Seminary is only one part, though a big part, of the overall process. As I came to the end of seminary, I had to write my “paperwork” to present to the DCOM. This involves expanding on topics such as leadership, theology, personal growth, and proclamation/preaching. My paperwork came to about 100 pages. It is like a Master’s thesis. From this paperwork, I interviewed with the DCOM. They are looking to see if I am reading to apply to the state level conference for ordination. They want to see I can articulate my call, and my understanding of God, and that these fit within the UM theology and practice. At my DCOM meeting in September, I was recommend to apply to the Board of Ordained Ministry, or BOOM, for short.
The BOOM is made up of clergy and lay people from across the conference. Ages range from young adult to retirees, and demographics vary as a way to allow the diversity of the conference to be represented. My senior pastor, Tom McCloskey serves on the board. Though, he cannot sit in during my interview, to ensure there is no bias. A key part of this group’s responsibility is interviewing candidates (like myself) who are pursuing ordained ministry.
The BOOM reads all the same paperwork, and then has the choice to set up an interview. This brings us back to today. I meet with a small group, about 8-10 people, who ask follow up questions to the paperwork submitted. This lasted about an hour. Then, the full BOOM, about 50 members, meets and has a chance to ask me questions. They can ask about theology, personal growth, preaching, and leadership. I leave the room, and the group discusses and takes a vote. The best way I have heard it described, is the BOOM is looking for ways to pass the candidate. They want to see the church grow, not keep people out. The BOOM has the option of three responses; a recommend which is what I received, a continuation which says everything is in order but more experience is needed, or a discontinue, which means they person may not be called to the UMC. They recommended that the conference make me a Provisional Elder, which receives a final vote at the upcoming annual conference this summer.
Over the next three years, I will continue to grow in my gifts and talents in ministry. I will then have a chance to apply to the BOOM again to become a Full Elder. I explain it to people like this. Professors are hired at schools, but on a probationary basis (Provisional Elder). After several years, and demonstration of the long-terms gifts, receive tenure (Full Elder).
I found the process, over the past few years to be quite long and often challenging. There were times when I thought it would be easier to find a different denomination to do ministry in. But, I sensed God was calling me to the UMC. This call was constantly re-affirmed in my meetings with my mentor, the district committee, and finally, the BOOM. The process we have in place is challenging. I literally gave blood, sweat, and tears. We have to do a health physical, so there was a blood test. But, this ensures that the churches of the UMC, and especially the Florida Conference, are sent the well trained, called, and thoroughly prepared ministers who know they are in the place God would have them be.
I hope this helps to explain how pastors come to be in the UMC. I am grateful to God for his presence with me through it. I am thankful to the family, friends, and countless church members who committed to praying for me today. I felt God’s peace and presence with me during the interview, and I could ask for no more than that.