Young Clergy Initiative bears fruit

"As a twenty-something and a millennial, I think one of the best things the church can do is create chances for young potential clergy to see what ministry looks like up close, to ask questions and to experience it firsthand."

These are the words of Lorin Leake, who wants to be a college chaplain. Maybe. She is not quite sure. She has questions and doubts, but, most importantly, she has a desire to know if vocational ministry is right for her. With trends indicating a potential shortage of trained ordained clergy in The United Methodist Church to serve local congregations by the year 2032, Leake is just what the church is looking for.  

General Conference 2012 created a created a $7 million Young Clergy Initiative (YCI) Fund designed to "increase the number of young clergy among the jurisdictional conferences." With resources allocated to allow the church to focus on attracting clergy, the question then became how to tackle the issue.

Tasked with administering the Young Clergy Initiative Fund, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM)  assembled a 12-member Advisory Team to determine about how best to increase the number of young clergy via the newly established fund. The board unanimously approved a plan to disburse funds from the Young Clergy Initiative to innovative projects of all sizes that could attract young people to ordained ministry in The United Methodist Church.

Kari Louwagie (right) experienced providing care during her ELI project internship. Courtesy Katie Matson Daley.
 

More than 160 Young Clergy Initiative grant applications resulted in 78 grants totaling $5.5 million, with projects funded across every jurisdiction in 2015.

Among the grant recipients was the Minnesota Conference's Exploring Leadership Internship (ELI) Project for college students interested in exploring vocational ministry.

Leake entered the program with an interest in chaplaincy and social work. "There are countless opportunities to serve The United Methodist Church professionally," she said. "It can be a daunting task to sift through them all and discover if one fits." Leake had candid conversations with her mentor to address deeply personal questions and concerns.

"Being able to speak honestly was crucial," Leake said. "I could speak very frankly and very directly about my concerns and have my questions answered. My church site and mentor worked with me to ensure my summer experience was relevant to my call. … They did a fantastic job, and my experience was invaluable."

After participating in the Exploring Leadership Initiative, Leake said, "My call to serve as a chaplain and in social work has been affirmed." Leake has since applied to seminaries.

"Churches as we understand them are changing, so it's really exciting to see these kids exploring that call," said Rev. Trip Lowery, director of Young Adult Ministry Discernment and Enlistment for the board. With that in mind, the Board of Higher Education and Ministry created Spark, an initiative aimed at supporting faith-based projects outside the traditional model. Spark gives small grants to realistic, supportable initiatives that serve God in communities.

Spark connects projects with people and organizations that assist them with necessities requiring skill sets they may not yet have, such as business modeling, social media and marketing, and outreach strategies.

As the world and the church continue to grow and change, young people may find their calling looks different from that of their predecessors. They may hear God calling them to serve their community, counsel or do other ministry outside the typical pastoral vocation. The goal of the Young Clergy Initiative and Spark is to nurture that discovery process.

Tyrus B. Sturgis, former senior communications specialist at the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. Hayley Graham is a freelance writer from Hixson, Tennessee.

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