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Clarity of Call in the Probationary Process For United Methodists Clergy in Virginia

Dan Garrett
2 hours of scholarship/practice

Project Summary: Project anticipated reviewing elements of call to ordained ministry by persons in the Probationary Process of the Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church. The original “hunch” was that persons might be more naturally able to describe their call in terms of personal sense of God’s calling, and descriptions of their gifts and graces for ministry; but less able to articulate how that call would be lived out in accordance with the descriptions of ordained ministry. The study hoped to test the following description of call by H. Richard Niebuhr against the perceptions of calling among candidates:

Call according to H. Richard Niebuhr, The Purpose of the Church and It’s Ministry

the call to be a Christian, which is variously described as the call to discipleship of Jesus Christ, to hearing and doing the Word of God, to repentance and faith, et cetera; (2) the secret call, namely, that inner persuasion or experience whereby a person feels himself [sic] directly summoned or invited by God to take up the work of the ministry; (3 ) the providential call, which is that invitation and command to assume the work of the ministry which comes through the equipment of a person with the talents necessary for the exercise of the office and through the divine guidance of his [sic] life by all its circumstances; (4) the ecclesiastical call, that is, the summons and invitation extended to a man [sic] by some community or institution of the Church to engage in the work of the ministry.

The original anticipated outcome was that the ecclesiastical call would not be prominent in call stories and would be an area that candidates might have trouble articulating.

Status of Project : Completed

Summary of Outcome :

The percentage of candidates at the Probationary Stage of interviews with difficulty in call articulation was minimal. In the Board of Ordained ministry interviews in call the following outcomes were discovered:

Year Number Interviewed Number Passed Number Continued
2006 30 28 2
2007 38 37 1

In accounting for these results, a survey of the interview process in the United Methodist Church for candidates of ministry was reviewed at each stage. The following stages constitute steps into ordained ministry:

At each stage, the process in the UMC is governed by recognition of both an inner call and an outer call:

At virtually every stage of the examination and articulation of calling, candidates work with a mentor in mutually sharing about their call, and in the process, address each of the aspects of call described by H. Richard Niebuhr. This study confirmed a holistic view of call to ordained ministry that guides candidates at every stage. Theoretically, there should not be any difficulties at call articulation at the Probationary Membership level, since call articulation is reviewed at each earlier stage. In the rare cases where call difficulties are encountered at the Probationary stage, they seem to relate to deficiencies in other areas of examination, i.e., theology, practice of ministry, personal growth and development, as well as call. In the year 2006 Board interviews, one candidate was continued in call, and the other was continued in call as well as theology and personal growth. In the 2007 Board interviews, the only candidate continued in call was also continued in theology. In talking with two of the candidates who were continued, there was a consistent concern by the interview committees that the candidate be able to articulate the differences between the role of the Elder and role of Deacon in the UMC. Other personal factors were reported that may have influenced the interview process beyond the specific questions of call.

Project Sharing: This project will be shared with the Virginia Conference UMC Office of Ministerial Services and the Board of Ordained Ministry. It will also be incorporated into the teaching of United Methodist Polity at the seminary level, as students prepare for examination of their call at the various stages.

SP Category : Practice