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Monday, May 14, 2007

SWF, 26, Seeks UM Ordination

The following essay was sent to me by Rev'd Karen G. Puckett, M.D., in response to my essay on Young Vocations. It was first published in The Relay, August 2006, which is the monthly newsletter of the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference of the UMC, as a reflection upon the June 2006 gathering of the annual conference, and is reprinted here with the author's permission.

SWF, 26, Seeks UM Ordination

Enjoys silence, long labyrinth walks, images in worship, and as many candles as the altar can hold. Desires life-long relationship with denomination.


When all members of the Annual Conference under thirty to were invited to stand, I leapt to my feet. I wanted very much to be seen in this group and wearing a clergy-colored name tag dot! In addition to the youth delegates, I should have had four clergy colleagues standing with me. Perhaps my cursory count overlooked these four. Or maybe they have crossed the big 3-0 since the statistics were gathered...

Later, when the conference celebrated those with fifty years of ministry, I sat in awe of the perseverance and wisdom that is undeniably present in these golden anniversary clergy. I wondered to myself what it will be like when I am in that group or if God will call me to something else between 2006 and 2055. I wondered if I will be alone. With so few young people entering ordained ministry or becoming local pastors, who will be able to continue for fifty years?

Like the delightful speech we heard on behalf of the retirees at Annual Conference, “this was not my idea!” Were it up to me, I would have chosen something much easier—or at the very least I would have waited fifteen years or so until such a time as I would fit in better among my clergy colleagues. (It is difficult to be 26 in this group. Factor in my “S” and “F,” and it is lonelier still.)

I am delighted and honored to be a green and growing clergywoman among so many wise, seasoned pastors in this conference, though I sometimes find myself explaining apologetically that I went straight through school from pre-school to seminary. (As I understand it, this is the old fashioned way.) I will gladly reflect or debate theologically with anyone, but when it comes to a more personal level of relating, conversation grows more challenging.

I have never been married, divorced, abused, addicted, homeless, or destitute. I cannot reminisce about Carter’s presidency, the days before “U” was added to “MYF,” or a time when polio was a threat to children in this country. Contrary to popular belief, I do not need others to remind me of these obvious truths. I grew up with color TV, barely remember the Reagan years, and started using a computer at age four. Even so, I still have a story. Just because my story is only 26 years long does not make it any smaller than 62 or 97 year stories.

There is a subtle, “What can you possibly offer beyond that textbook knowledge you’re so proud of?” floating in the air. Is this how we approach all young adults in the church? We as a denomination have not found a good place for these persons in their graduate or post-college years who still define “family” as family of origin.

I consistently feel welcomed in the church. Congregations seem to enjoy the novelty of a young woman titled Reverend. (I am one of 93 female local pastors under the age of thirty in the world.) I have found people to be pleased to give me a place in the pulpit (whether or not I have any authority is another matter entirely). From my perch in the chancel I note the lack of twenty- or thirty-somethings in the pews. If young adults are not welcomed, what is to keep them from seeking extra-church agencies when answering God’s call to ministry?

Formal statistics and casual observation alike tell us that the old guard is in need of some new life—not replacements, but additions. We are long overdue in making space and time for young adult voices and stories. Perhaps we will find that the only drastic change needed is a spirit of openness. (Our doors seem open, but I am unprepared to call our hearts and minds open yet.) If we are open to ideas and perspectives, we might even find that incorporating some of them brings a breath of new life and leads the body of Christ closer to wholeness.

(Source of statistics cited here and more staggering stats available from the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at www.churchleadership.com, “United Methodist Clergy Age Trends.” For more opinions on young adults in the church/leadership, review the March/April 2006 issue of Circuit Rider.)

By Rev. Karen G. Puckett, M.Div., local pastor and certified candidate (karengpuckett@yahoo.com)

1 comment:

Share Cropper said...

Yea!!! for Karen! Keep the faith, kid, you know some things we don't, and you can handle those sound bytes better than we can. We can learn a lot from you about faith, love, God, love, perseverance, faith - oh, I'm repeating myself, aren't I?