UMC Candidacy Questions: My Calling

As a part of the candidacy process for ordination in the United Methodist Church one is required to type up and submit answers to a number of different questions and prompts. As I approach my meeting with the District Committee on Ordained Ministry on Thursday, February 23, I will be posting a few of my responses here. The second of these responses follows, below. 

¶ 311.2.a.ii & ¶ 311.2.a.v: Describe God’s call to licensed or ordained ministry and the role of the church in your call. Describe your present understanding of your call to ministry as elder, deacon, or licensed ministry.

My calling is to be a servant of Christ’s church -— to nurture the church and to call it to live more fully into its mission as God’s embassy in word and deed to a broken and hurting world.

My whole life I’ve imagined that one day I would become either some kind of pastor or some kind of scientist. As a kid, most of that imagining took place with Klein United Methodist Church as my primary spiritual point of reference. Sunday School and worship, Weekday Ministries and VBS, Klein is the main community through which God began to work in my life. I learned about the Bible, how to pray the Lord’s Prayer, and I learned the Apostle’s Creed, the Gloria Patri and the Doxology. We took communion together, celebrated baptisms together, and for the most part we loved each other, with Jesus at the center of it all. I went through Confirmation and MYF and flesh was put on some of these things that I’d done for years without full understanding. I was taken by the beauty of it all, the fantastic drama of God’s love for us and his invitation for us to join him in the sharing of that love.

While growing up in that environment, I waffled wildly about what I thought I’d do when I “grew up.” Most of those occupations were scientific, but ministry was in the back of my mind from a very early age. Even as I went to college to study physics the thought of some kind of vocational ministry steadily grew and grew, until I was unable to imagine studying anything other than theology. After a brief post-graduate stint in corporate America as a software consultant I did the only thing that seemed good and right and holy and sane. I went to seminary.

After a season of prayer and discernment God called me to a small seminary in Seattle, Washington. But the longer I was up there, the more I longed to come back to my old spiritual family in the Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church. I fell under the influence of some of Wesley’s influences on the topic of sanctification (Anabaptism and Eastern Orthodoxy), rediscovered Paul through the writings of a few Methodist New Testament scholars (Richard Hays and Michael Gorman), and fell in love with high-church liturgy. I met several times with an associate pastor from FUMC Seattle to discuss what the ordination process looks like in the UMC. She was kind and encouraging. So, after another season of prayer and discernment, God called me to come back down to Houston and follow him by serving his church among the people called Methodists.

And so again, my calling is to be a servant of Christ’s church -— to nurture the church and to call it to live more fully into its mission as God’s embassy in word and deed to a broken and hurting world.

I would be greatly humbled at the opportunity to live that out as an elder in the United Methodist Church. But given the complications primarily involving my education** I’m not entirely sure how all of this is going to play out. For some time I’ve been in conversation with my pastor and others about tweaking my current job in a few ways and turning it into a Licensed Local Pastor position. The thought of that is exciting for several reasons, but more recently as I’ve struggled with where I’m at, where the UMC says that I need to be at, and what God’s will might have to say about all that, I have come to the decision that I probably need to take a year to discern. So at present my understanding is that I’m called to seek certified candidacy while I seek God’s will, hopefully in continued holy conversation with our District Committee on Ordained Ministry and other trusted mentors, colleagues and friends. I’m not sure what God has for me in the medium to long-range future. But I am hopeful that God will see me through, and regardless of what happens my prayer is that God would bless the United Methodist Church and form it more and more into a body oriented toward the worship of and the witness to Jesus Christ our Lord.

**The United Methodist Church requires that Candidates receive a Masters of Divinity degree from a seminary approved by the University Senate of the UMC, or its equivalent. My seminary is not on the University Senate's list, and in spite of the phenomenal amount of assistance I've received we have not been able to find someone willing and able to determine what "or equivalent" means. One can also take an alternative route involving what's called "course of study", but this route has a built in age requirement: 40 years old. This 28 year old tends to think that's a bit of a reach. This difficult dynamic made the last paragraph of this response by far the most difficult to write. Nonetheless I remain hopeful, albeit a bit discouraged of late.

Make good use of it / everyday life

Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote to a recent recipient of a doctorate of philosophy: "May you make good use of it! By that I mean: may you not cheat either yourself or your students. Because, unless I'm very much mistaken, that's what will be expected from you." Seems to me that with only slight changes in terminology this exhortation would apply quite nicely to a recent recipient of a masters in divinity. He also wrote, in a letter to a friend, "What is the use of studying philosophy, if all that it does for you is to enable you to talk with some plausibility about some abstruse questions of logic, etc. and if it does not improve your thinking about the important questions of everyday life?" Once again this could easily apply, mutatis mutandis, to the study of theology in many quarters. On this point I always appreciated my New Testament professor, Jo-Ann Badley, as she tried to push us to ask the question, "How does it preach?"

Both quotes are from Anthony Kenny's Wittgenstein, pp. 10.

Rabbit, Run

I got this from Shedden:

Do you think this is your job, to meddle in these people's lives? I know what they teach you at seminary now: this psychology and that. But I don't agree with it. You think now your job is to be an unpaid doctor, to run around and plug up holes and make everything smooth. I don't think that. I don't think that's your job…. I say you don't know what your role is or you'd be home locked in prayer…. In running back and forth you run away from the duty given you by God, to make your faith powerful…. When on Sunday morning, then, when you go out before their faces, we must walk up not worn out with misery but full of Christ, hot with Christ, on fire: burn them with the force of our belief. This is why they come; why else would they pay us? Anything else we can do and say anyone can do and say. They have doctors and lawyers for that…. Make no mistake. Now I'm serious. Make no mistake. There is nothing but Christ for us. All the rest, all this decency and busyness, is nothing. It is Devil's work.

- John Updike, Rabbit, Run