ALCOA, Tenn. (Jan. 13, 2016) -- Who will be your next pastor?
Will it be the 22-year-old student at Vanderbilt Divinity School? Or the 50-year-old current dean of students at Radford University?
Will it be the 25-year-old with a personal recovery testimony from Hillsville, Va.? Or the 35-year-old son of a Presbyterian pastor from Knoxville, Tenn.?
It could be one of the 13 people attending Holston Conference’s “Candidacy Summit” Jan. 8-9 at Alcoa Conference Center. However, several more decisions and steps are required before most of these candidates will see his or her name on a church sign.
The annual gathering of new candidates for credentialed ministry was led by the Rev. David Woody, vocational discernment coordinator.
“The group process has proven to be very fruitful,” said Woody, senior pastor at First United Methodist Church of Marion, Va. Holston Conference has organized group mentoring of new candidates for ministry – instead of one-to-one mentoring -- since General Conference 2012 officially encouraged annual conferences to do so, he said.
The 13 candidates spent two days in Alcoa learning about the candidacy process, spiritual disciplines and Wesleyan theology; sharing stories about their own calls to ministry; and meeting with their mentors.
The mentors included the Rev. Rodney Lawson, the Rev. Ronnie Collins, the Rev. Ken Sauer, the Rev. Sarah Varnell, the Rev. Tim Jones, the Rev. Kim Goddard, and the Rev. Keith Knight.
The candidates, recommended by their home congregations and district boards of ministry, represented seven of 12 Holston districts: Tazewell (2), Wythville (2), Chattanooga (1), Kingsport (1), Knoxville (3), Maryville (2), and Oak Ridge (2).
“I enjoy the experience of meeting new brothers and sisters in Christ,” one candidate said. “This fellowship prepares us in a small sense for what heaven is going to be like.”
The participants varied in age and background. Matt Hall, 25, a leader at Out of the Box United Methodist Church, has participated in Divine Rhythm, Annual Conference, Leadership Holston, and Defining Moments.
Hall recognized a call to ministry while attending Holston’s Evangelism Conference in 2014: “I had been running from it for a while.”
Irvin Clark, 50, a former Florida A&M football player with a doctorate, is currently on staff at Radford University. He couldn’t find an A.M.E. Zion church in the New River Valley area, so he began to visit United Methodist churches.
“Every one of them encouraged me to do more,” Clark said.
Merry-Reid Sheffer, 22, a member of Church Street United Methodist Church, was the sole seminary student in the group. A graduate of the University of Tennessee, Sheffer is in her first year at Vanderbilt Divinity School.
“Others recognized the call before I did,” said Sheffer, explaining when she first sensed a call to credentialed ministry. She was on a mission trip to Summerville, S.C., in a young-adult group led by her soon-to-be mentor, Sarah Varnell.
Of the ministry tracks presented by Woody, Sheffer said she was most interested in becoming a Deacon. “I like the aspect of compassion.”
The candidates will undergo psychological assessment and continue meeting with their mentors before seeking certification, Woody said. Some may advance to Local Pastor Licensing School this year, but most will likely attend in 2017.
Woody encouraged the candidates to “trust the process,” with its numerous steps and long-term educational requirements. “One of the things I value as a United Methodist is that you are never finished with learning.”
“The empowerment of the United Methodist Church – that’s why I’m here,” said Dan Young, 62, a member of Pikeville United Methodist Church in Chattanooga District.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.