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Project gauges ‘pulse’ of young adults interested in ministry

 


Project gauges ‘pulse’ of young adults interested in ministry

April 27, 2005

By Terri Hiers*

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)—An initiative aimed at keeping the fingers of the United Methodist Church on the "pulse" of the millennial generation has been unveiled to church leaders responsible for helping young people make vocational decisions.

Staff of the Pastoral Leadership Search Effort, or PLSE (pronounced "pulse"), debuted resources designed to help congregations and campus ministries identify gifted young people and encourage them to explore a call to the ministry. The presentation was made to 100 church leaders from across the country April 18-19. Research by the now-defunct United Methodist Council on Ministries indicates that fewer than 3 percent of United Methodist clergy are between the ages of 25 and 30.

The United Methodist Church is among four denominations in the cooperative venture, launched by the Atlanta-based Fund for Theological Education Inc., and funded in part by a $2 million grant from the Lilly Endowment. The church, through the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, is contributing to the project as part of its efforts to cultivate a new generation of leaders for the denomination, reconnect young people with the church, and rebuild the educational pipeline.

In addition to the United Methodist Church, other partners in the initiative are the Presbyterian Church USA, the Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ. Each denomination has a Fund for Theological Education coordinator and is conducting PLSE programs in its congregations.

The conference was "the first national event for United Methodist leaders responsible for enlistment within annual conferences," said the Rev. David Fuquay, the fund’s United Methodist coordinator. Participants, including representatives from boards of ordained ministry, pastors, campus ministers and annual conference staff, received training on how to use PLSE resources and introduce them to groups in their areas.

"We have a tremendous opportunity to cultivate leadership in this generation of young people," Fuquay told the group. His statement echoed opening remarks by retired United Methodist Bishop Dan Solomon, chairman of the United Methodist PLSE Advisory Board.

Solomon had referred to Jesus’ words, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few," saying that the quotation offers a "theology of opportunity, not a theology of scarcity. We must focus on ‘the harvest is plentiful.’ ... If you begin out of that conviction, the harvest is waiting to be claimed."

The Rev. Mary Ann Moman, who leads the United Methodist Division of Ordained Ministry, said she expects the initiative to launch a grass-roots movement in congregations to "look at God’s call to all people and how we can talk about it." Moman was among the gathering’s organizers.

"It is important to keep encouraging young people as leaders, and to foster a culture of the call," said participant Jack Terrell-Wilkes, coordinator of ministerial recruitment and nurture for the denomination’s Oklahoma Annual (regional) Conference. "We must develop arenas where ministry is seen as a viable vocational option." Terrell-Wilkes said his conference has been doing similar work for the past five years.

In a keynote address on the "Culture of the Call," the Rev. David McAlister-Wilson, president of United Methodist-related Wesley Theological Seminary, invited participants to connect with United Methodist seminaries in a cooperative effort to form students as dynamic church leaders. He also urged participants to allow young people to teach them how to transform the church’s bureaucracy back into a movement for mission and ministry. "I have seen the future, and it is Wesleyan," he said.

Fuquay distributed limited-edition versions of a resource package, which included videos for church leaders and young people, accompanying leaders’ guides, a PowerPoint presentation and text presentations. The resources, designed to target those ages 16-25, will be widely available in May.

Along with links to resources and other information, PLSE’s Web site offers interactive access to young people to conduct online chats with their peers. Fuquay emphasized that the site is monitored for appropriateness, is accessible only through a protected password, and includes a database for names of young leaders nominated by their congregations to participate in the PLSE project.

More information on PLSE is available at the organization’s Web site, www.theplse.org, or from Fuquay at dfuquay@thefund.org or (404) 727-1416. Additional information about the Fund for Theological Education, which provides fellowships and develops programs for theological and ministerial support, is available at www.thefund.org.

*Hiers is the executive director for the Office of Interpretation for the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry in Nashville, Tenn.

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