Why I Left the Ordination Process

Jason Micheli —  July 17, 2014 — 27 Comments

10152516_10203475660394402_4518280596461113629_nThis is from my friend Teer Hardy. You’d be a fool not to check out his blog here

May 6, 2014

To Whom it May Concern:

 

I am formally withdrawing from the ordination candidacy process of the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church.  Although I feel called to ordained ministry, at this point in my life I am unable to enter into an itinerant system.  My wife is a college professor and her work requires her to be in a specific geographical area.  In addition, with the addition of a child to our family and the desire to adopt a child, the reduction in salary would place additional financial hardships on my family.

 

I do not take my call to ministry lightly, nor was this decision made overnight.  This is something that I have been discerning over the past nine months, and I pray that God will honor this decision.

 

I want to thank the committee, district, and conference for the support given to me over the past three years.  I will continue my studies at Wesley Theological Seminary and eagerly await the next opportunity for ministry.

 

Peace and Blessings,

 

Teer Hardy

 

From high school through today I have felt a call to ministry.  Although I ignored the call for quite some time, it is a call that I take seriously.  When I finally acknowledged and responded to my calling I enrolled at Wesley Theological Seminary and eventually began working fulltime in a local church.  This all began three years ago as I sat at my pastor’s kitchen table and talked about callings and ministry over longneck PBR’s.

 

Three years ago I entered into the United Methodist ordination process and three months ago I withdrew myself from the process.   Three years ago I had ambitions to become an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, and while I still want to be ordained, it will not happen within the UMC.  I had serious questions about whether or not I wanted to jump on this crazy train after General Conference 2012, and those questions began to grow into larger more complex questions as I learned more about the Christian experience within my own denomination as well as learned what was outside the friendly confines of the UMC.  But I still continued onward, thinking that I could change the system from within and be the change I wanted to see in the world.

 

My time at seminary showed me that the system I was pledging being vetted to join was larger than any government bureaucracy I had experienced.   From a governing body that only meets every four years to an ordination process that would possibly have me ordained after the next presidential administration, I began to realize that this was a far cry from the ministry I wanted to be engaged in.  When I am meeting with someone over coffee or on a bike ride they don’t care that I have a piece of paper saying that I am certified by the UMC to be a pastor. When I am serving the poor in DC or leading a youth retreat they do not care that I took exactly 9 hours of UMC history, polity, and doctrine in seminary.  What they do care about is that I love them just and Christ loves me.  What they do care about is that I listen to them, and help them come to know the God who has loved me and continues to be a source of strength for me.  What the do care about is that I all of this authentically because I love them and not because it’s my “job”.

 

The letter above is what I sent to the local committee on ordination.  I am not happy with with what I sent them because it wasn’t the whole truth.  Yes, at this time my family is not in a position for me to take another pay cut while paying back loans for a Masters Degree required for ordination.  But even if that were not the case, I don’t think I would have continued with the process because of the fact that I had to write that letter.  At no point throughout this process did anyone take the time or give a damn about really wanting to know how I was equipped for ministry.  My appointed clergy mentor taught me that once you’re in the system you’re in, and the most important thing once you are in is to not be late for meetings.  WOW, I thought ministry was suppose to be sharing in the work of Christ, boy was I wrong!

 

Instead of wanting to talk about my concerns or connecting me with a clergy member who might have had the same concerns the response I received from the committee was a request for a letter.  A letter that “would go into my file”.  The letter that was requested of me is ultimately the reason I decided to leave the ordination process.

 

Ordination and our Christian vocation is not something that can be boiled down to a checklist, 4 hour psychological exam, or open-ended questions with only 1 acceptable response. Our Christian vocation is one that enables us to serve others in the name of Christ regardless of titles we give ourselves or the office in which we hold.  It took me 3 years to figure this out.

Jason Micheli

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27 responses to Why I Left the Ordination Process

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Teer. While I’m bummed to see you go, I’d be lying if I said I might not be far behind you on the road out.

    • Josh, I have so many colleagues at Wesley that feel the same way but continue with the process. I am hopeful that they will be able to change the process from the inside but the cynic in me (which is why Jason and I get along so well) believes that change will be slow, painful, and not happen soon enough. My biggest question to my colleagues is if you are so frustrated with the process, to the point that you are emotionally beaten up, why continue with it? Why not bow out and seek out ministry else where?

      • I completely agree about officially of the process.

        The sacraments keep me in the game, and I don’t know where else I would go. Anglican/Episcopal would be next step for me, but probably about as much work hoop wise. I’ve seriously considered the Catholics Come Home thing, but can’t quite get there (I could ordain myself a super lay person or something, pretty much what happened with my licensing).

        What about you? Any ideas where you’ll land?

        • “Difficulty,” not “officially”

          • My plan is to finish my MTS in the spring and then hopefully in the process develop my writing. If end up being a well-educated lay person that would be cool too! I don’t need a stole around my neck or a framed certificate in my office to actively participate in what God is doing.

  2. Teer, sorry to hear that the experience was not what you were hoping for. I won’t say we’ll miss your presence as a ‘pastor’ because I agree with your note above in that you will be pastoring even without the “certificate.” You are a great person and I hope to continue to be able to join with you in things like the Guatemala experience.

    On a less serious note, please tell me that “longneck PBRs” is not Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. I expect more of you……………………….:)

    • Those longnecks were provided by Jason. Since our first sit down, I have opened his eyes and broadened his beer experience.

      Ministry can occur anywhere and usually in the places you least experience it. I have been amazed at the people who have approached me over the past few months to tell me that they consider me to be their pastor. It is something that blows my mind, but at the same time reminds me that one’s ability to mister to others is not given to them by a piece of paper or district committee, but rather by a God who calls ALL of us to serve and minister to one another.

  3. Wow! This is disturbing. I hope Teer finds his calling elsewhere.

    • I am called to serve others and help to find the Divine in day-to-day lives. Whether that is in the office, at a bar, or while working out in the gym I am open to wherever God will call me.

  4. So very sorry to hear this, Teer. You are a good man, and we can really use your influence and contribution to the ministry. I can actually relate to how you feel as it applies to serving as a public school teacher. I also left other more lucrative professional endeavors behind to “change a life” and after seven years, currently question my ability to impact change in the bureaucracy that I have discovered, versus simply stepping away.

  5. As someone who has gone through a complex ordination process in the mainline tradition I can entirely sympathize w/ Teer. There is a paradox about doing ministry in our time that is three fold. First, ministry is now a profession and professionalism (not necessarily a positive term) demands education, certification and other things like “boards”. Here ministry has made the typical misstep of being the world instead of The Church. We have ceded our standards to secularity. It is then a short step to operating according to “principles”, an idolatry with vast consequences. Second, and closely followed on the first, is that then ministers are professionals and seek some sort of compensation that follows in that theme. So, you get a salary (usually very low) and also housing, health insurance, retirement, 401k, etc. This further muddies the water because now ministry itself is tied, heteronomously, to wealth and economic security issues like retirement, etc. Third, the place ministry supposedly happens is within the context of “church” or The Church. This is the institutionalization of the professional ministry. It has vast financial and organization concerns which devolve into the governance of a professional institution. This is the superstructure where someone like me (or Teer or Jason) is then placed into and asked to do the ministry to which we are called. You see what’s missing quite immediately: Jesus, The Gospel, and an Other-orientation required to fulfill the vocation of ministry. That pastor, placed in this circumstance, has to somehow discern how to follow Jesus Christ out into the world as a witness to the Gospel while at the same time fulfill the institutional requirements that are rather never-ending and unusually in stark contrast (or direct contradiction) with The Gospel and with Christ w/ us. It’s a very discouraging situation. There are so many horrific extrapolations from this scenario which are so voluminous and obvious that I’ll not list them out. You can do that for yourselves. I once read a study that showed, empirically, that seminary students were, by and large, at their lowest point psychologically and spiritually at the end of their ordination process…. which is supposed to be the beginning of a vocation in concert with Jesus and a world so in need of real ministry. Teer likely dodged a bullet here, one that I did not, though I wish I would have. So for all who are tempted to critique your pastor, realize that they are in a rather schizophrenic situation, one that eats many of victims alive. In PCUSA about 50% of those that begin in ordained ministry are not there 5 years hence. This situation is even more maddening because the institution itself has developed a double-speak sort of nomenclature about “care” that leaves people, like pastors who need real care, in a dissonant situation where they are told that are cared for but simply are not. The term “abuse” comes to mind immediately… again, Teer likely saved himself great heartache and harm. I believe there are solutions to this situation but that would be a longer email.

  6. I know of few ordination mentors who are particularly effective, which is unfortunate. A good one might have steered you towards the local pastor route (which doesn’t require the master’s degree and crazy amounts of loans). I do think that the itinerancy piece is important; my wife is also a professional and i will likely need to move to accommodate her career – a situation that our current church frowns upon at best. Nevertheless, I hope you do find an avenue for your call to ministry and I appreciate your reflections here. I have shared my own thoughts on the process here, which I wrote shortly before I interviewed for and passed full connection. A year out from my ordination, I am still convinced the process should not be easy by any means.

    http://pastormack.wordpress.com/2013/05/06/cumbersome-by-design-thoughts-on-the-process/

    • Thank you for the kind words Drew. I think the bi-vocation is the path I will take. I also think it is the longterm solution for churches where clergy cannot afford to live in the the communities they serve as well as the needs of their families.

  7. This is a real eye opener to a lay person like me. So disturbing. You know what you are doing and it sounds like an intelligent, well thought through decision. It certainly does sound like they were/are a heartless group! I would have hoped they would have been more caring & offered counseling or at least someone to talk to. You are an inspiration and admired by many at Aldersgate. Keep up the good work wherever it takes you.

  8. I was very successful in a healthcare career, owned my own multi-office private practice and enjoyed much success. Then I met and married a professional man who could not find work in his career in that geographical area. So I sold my practice and we moved so my husband could pursue his career ambitions. Never regretted it.

    Five years later I started seminary and am in my last 12 hours of an MDiv, am a licensed local and certified candidate in the UMC. I have served in 2 districts in 2 conferences and not been appointed in a third district as we have moved to advance his career. There are those who have tried to dissuade me, suggested that I should consider how my husbands profession might impact itinerancy etc but the very first DS I had was so supportive and wise, his advice still encourages me. He shared with me of a particular elder whose husband was an established physician so she stayed in 1 appointment for over 25 years with obvious support from the powers that be. He shared with me stories of working to appoint people and offering consideration for all sorts of matters including but not limited to spousal careers and I was encouraged by his kind word.

    Now I know his does not reflect the position of all those in leadership, I am not that naive, but when I encounter those who challenge me I just tell them that I do not believe God has called me to this only to keep me from it with some cumbersome process or the traditions and practices of some people. I totally understand how you could make this decision for yourself and your family and respect and support your right to prayerfully do so. I truly believe God calls us and equips us so that he can turn something we encounter, perhaps everything and everyone we encounter, Into an opportunity to use us! God will use you. You will find new and different ways.

    Some of us may be around in this system long enough to impact some positive changes! We can hope! May you know blessings in all that you do!

  9. Thank you for putting your thoughts out there so candidly and succinctly….And there is a great deal of meat in the comments that follow.

    I too chose to leave the formal ordination process early in my ministry for some of the same challenges you mention above. Over time I have learned that many of us within the United Methodist Church are still ministering in bi-vocational and licensed settings and are flourishing as we do so. Although there are some areas of the ministry of the LLP or AM in the UMC that are hazy, and a clear overriding theology of ministry needs to be developed across the denomination for these models of ministry, I am thankful that there exists this expression of call within our church. It has allowed me – and many like me – to address some of the concerns that I too stumbled with during the early phases of my ministry.

    As a denomination, sometimes we struggle to realize that ministry is a multi-fingered glove in the UMC. To be authentic, relevant and effective the church needs to realize that we need to be creative in our approach to appointment. Although the traditional itinerant pastor with guaranteed appointment, has a role to play within the contemporary church,there are other approaches that may serve unique local ministries more effectively. When I refer to the multi-fingered glove I point to those settings where the deacon, the bi-vocational LLP, Servant Ministers, or the Laity might work more effectively. We cannot be afraid to shake up our understanding of how we pastor, minister, and mission.

    A recent colleague was asked the simple question during her ordination process; “Why do you need to be ordained”. Failing to find the answer in her heart, she left the process and currently serves as an LLP, and currently believes this is how she will live out her calling as career. As of today, I find myself working through that same question as I move towards an educational resume which allows for ordination. How I eventually answer that question will answer the question as to whether I stay in this setting or jump tracks…

    Anyways, the point of this comment was to offer prayers for your journey and to remind you there are options in the UMC, that allow many to serve without ordination.

    Thanks again, S. Masters
    http://neallpams.com/

    • It was my experience, and my not have been that of others, that the powers at be did not want me to the authentic or use relevant experiences I had as part of my ordination training or equipping for ministry. Showing up for pointless meetings or writing responses to questions that I didn’t actually believe seemed to be more important.

  10. Teer, thank you for sharing your experience. Your writing, and many of the comments that have been shared, all point to some critical realities about what this whole “ministry” thing is.

    First, though, I am sorry to hear that you encountered a process that did not involve exploring the ways in which you are equipped for ministry. That should be a central theme (THE central theme, really) of the ordination process, since it reflects the nature of your call, as well as your own discernment of that call. I am part of that process in my Annual Conference (registrar of a pretty active DCOM), and I hope that we are doing a better job than you describe.

    In your post, you state that “when I am meeting with someone over coffee or on a bike ride they don’t care that I have a piece of paper saying that I am certified by the UMC to be a pastor.” That, of course, is precisely right. The kind of incarnational ministry that you write about is a ministry that all should be doing, not just those “called to ministry.” Indeed, that concept (“called to ministry”) is central to a growing issue that I see on a regular basis: people sense a “call to ministry” and then enroll in seminary, and send off a letter to their DS to get into the ordination process, The problem is that a “call to ministry” is not necessarily the same as a “call to ordained ministry” (or even a call to licensed or certified ministry), although that seems to be a constant assumption. The Christian life is supposed to be a life of ministry, whether one is laity or clergy – we are all supposed to be doing ministry.

    In early Methodism, it appears that this “ministry of all believers” really was more of a reality. The emphasis on clergy leadership increased over the years, and, by the time we started appointing clergy to “station churches,” a kind of false hierarchy was clearly visible. Clergy “do ministry” – and, often, they do it on behalf of the laity (and, for many laity, the fact that the clergy are doing it means that the laity don’t need to – it has become professionalized).

    Over the past few years, I have had many conversations with leaders (read: laity and clergy) who are participating in congregational ministries that are flourishing. Ministry tasks are shared. The clergy, because of their additional training which helps them to both think about things theologically and offer servant leadership in other ways, serve more as resources (perhaps better understood as resourcers) than managers. These congregations show vibrance which is too often missing from our UM churches today, but they have also deconstructed the false hierarchies that arose as churches became more clergy-centered. In the vast majority of these congregations, vision was not dictated, but was organically discerned, and ministry really is shared across fairly flat leadership models.

    Coming back around to the ordination issues, there are many important points made above. Yes, Elders are expected to itinerate (I am an Elder, as is my wife, and we both just moved due to an appointment change for her – those moves can be tough, but it is part of what we covenanted to do). But, of course, Elder isn’t the only path available. Deacons are understood to have more specific roles (which often creates more space for innovation, although the systems that we have in place often have trouble dealing with innovative calls). Licensed Local Pastors are somewhat more restricted in terms of where they minister, but have full sacramental authority within the scope of their appointment, and many are bivocational. I know that some see these roles existing within a hierarchical structure, and I am always bothered by that – they are really all distinct expressions of individual calls to set-apart ministries of servant leadership (equipping, resourcing).

    And, of course, there are the frustrations around the candidacy process. When new candidates come into the process in my district, they get a welcoming letter which spells out the requirements. We try to keep them moving, with the hope that they can be certified within no more than 12 months of starting, although the candidate really controls the pacing as they complete (or fail to complete) the various requirements. Some of those requirements seem impersonal, of course (medical exam, psych assessment, background check), but all have been added along the way based upon issues that have arisen (and I can only begin to imagine the results of failing to assess on those areas). We also ask them to reflect on their call, and to share how they understand themselves serving in ministry, and, as they progress, to begin to think about things from theological standpoints. Some candidates fly through the process (from start to certification in 9 months or less), and others struggle the whole way. Sometimes, the struggle results in discernment that, perhaps, the ordained/licensed ministry path isn’t for them. If that is the case, though, ministry is still their call – as it is the call for all of us…

    Thank you again for your sharing, and for giving space for this conversation.

    • Thank you for your kind words Tom! My biggest frustration and issue is with the overall process. It seemed to me that the district committee had specific answers they wanted to questions that were open ended. I was told multiple times “that’s great, just don’t say it to DCOM”, and that was from elders who had over 20 years of ministry experience. I’ve discovered what my strengths are as well as my weaknesses, I am hoping that I can take what I did learn and apply that to whatever form my ministry takes.

    • Tom, I think your comment is spot on. I agree whole heartedly. Thank you for stating it so well.

  11. Karen Workman July 18, 2014 at 5:01 PM

    An interesting blog. I think that sometimes a system can become broken. Unfortunately it is sad to watch a broken system break those whom God has called. And maybe broken is too strong. But I think we can agree that it is not as healthy as it needs to be. I know plenty in each level of ministry that I would have no problem designating them as elder. On the other hand there are plenty that I wonder how they got where they are. Because there are so many example of both extremes, it tells me something needs fixing.

    Scott Masters, It is interesting the question that was asked a colleague, “Why do you need to be ordained.” It is interesting because it is one I pose to each DS appointed to my district and none can give me a reason. I am ordained in the Baptist Church and trying to get a foot in the door. I suppose I do, as I am in my 8th year of serving 3 churches. I have an Mdiv (Baptist) and a Dmin (Wesley) and that doesn’t seem to be good enough. I don’t think I am the one who needs fixing so I am bowing out of the process also. God called me to ministry not jumping through hoops that make no sense to me.

    • When colleagues of mine comment that they “survived” the process I just scratch my head. Surviving is not a verb that should be used when referring to ministry. Many of the elders in full connection that I have spoken with admit that the system is broken, which makes me wonder, why nothing has changed if so many acknowledge that change is needed?

  12. Teer, I am sorry, and I have been there. I am now ordained (Episcopal) and in parish ministry, but I served seven years as a lay chaplain in psychiatric hospitals before the crazy ordination process opened up for me. That happened when I moved from a very traditional and professionalized Diocese (Virginia) to an innovating and open Diocese (Wyoming). I didn’t make the move in order to be ordained, nor did I have a clue that the Wyoming Dio would be so much more welcoming. (I moved to take a chaplain job at the state hospital there.) Now, and isn’t this like God, I am back in Virginia as the vicar of a small parish

    But what I really wanted to say is: There was so much freedom in my lay ministry, infinitely more than in my ordained role. The freedom to minister as you are, much less encumbered by an official church role. The freedom to be oneself, warts and all, and still convey the grace and love of God.

    Now I believe I am called to greater constraint for the sake of my own spiritual formation as well as for God’s purposes in the church. I am very blessed to be at my parish, which is mission-oriented and improvisational, even entrepreneurial, in the time of mainline church decline. But I do feel hemmed in by the role in many ways. At the same time, I have been given such a love for the church (local and universal) that I find myself willing to be hemmed in, for the first time in my life (and I’m 59).

    Maybe there is a time and a season for you as well — a time now to flourish as a lay minister (a role whose power is seldom fully exploited or supported), and perhaps at another time as an ordained minister. From the sound of your post, I am very sure your gifts will not go to waste.

  13. I am so glad I saw this. You aren’t alone.

    I am about to do the same thing. Same conference, even. (!)

    Talk about Divine Providence. I too have been in the machine for a while, and was wondering if I was doing the right thing. Except I am (was) a deacon candidate. For all the heartache you’ve experienced, which I cannot begin to imagine, remember it could have been worse: You could have been a deacon candidate. Every time I went before the powers that be, I felt like I was speaking a different language, and my attempts to articulate my call kept getting lost in translation.

    God is the One Who gave us our call, and it is He who empowers us to fulfill it in the ways He sees fit, for His glory. God bless you and know that once again, you are not alone!!! I wish I could give you a big hug!

    • Deacon Blues,

      I’m glad this article helped you in some way or another, Over the past 6 months or so I have found so much freedom in lay ministry. I can utilize the skills I have while not having to conform to the box that higher ups (DCOM) wanted me to. I don’t have to say the right thing to one group while really believing something completely different. I am no longer trying to just get through the process, rather I am enjoying developing my own ministry and loving every minute of it.

      I pray that you find peace in your decision as well as continue to work serving God as God has called you.

  14. Thank you, I needed to read this today. Very frustrating Dcom expereince…

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