Exploration 2011 - Is God calling you?
When Tiffany Tadlock first heard about attending Exploration 2011, she didn’t want to go. She said after attending Annual Conference and seeing the election process, she was in a mindset where she didn’t want to do ministry. “There was a lot of talk about getting younger generations involved… I felt like people were telling us to do it, but no one was wanting us to. Then I went [to Exploration] and it was amazing. There were so many young people interested in ministry.” She said it opened her eyes to see so many of her peers “who have a passion for ministry and love doing it.”
Tadlock, a student at Lamar University in Beaumont, was among a group of 23 who traveled from Texas to St. Louis Missouri to attend Exploration - a biennial event for young adults who want the chance to explore God’s call to ordained ministry through worship, prayer, workshops, networking, and small groups.
“It was not like camps and things I’ve been to,” she continued. “Everyone was friendly and trying to get to know everyone else. The theology schools were not at all like at organizational fairs I’d been to. They remembered your face and would talk to you about theology for an hour. That’s something I wasn’t expecting.”
Tadlock said attending Exploration “drastically changed” how she views ordained ministry. “I once was closed off to the idea and now I’m completely open to it.”
Sadie Brink, a senior at UT Austin said she wasn’t sure what to expect. “I just kind of went in hoping to meet others my age wanting to do what I did. Since I already have a pretty great picture of where God is calling me – to be an elder and campus minister – I got a lot out of talking to different seminaries.” She said learning about different ways to fund her theological education was really helpful.
“It was an amazing experience; it was great because I got to leave the everyday world on a weekend and it got me really pumped up to actually work for God. I really liked the speakers…they held my attention for a ridiculously long time. I really could apply what they were saying to my life. It really resonated with me. I would definitely recommend it to others. Everyone should go if they are feeling at all called to ministry.”
At the event, Lon Morris College student and life-long United Methodist Roxanne Deal had a lot of questions answered about the ordination process and steps to take. “I was considering going into ministry but didn’t know where I was going to fit. They explained deacons vs. elders, and I decided I was leaning more toward the elder route. The speakers were moving and worship was great – especially Adam Hamilton. I heard a lot of new information. I had no idea what types of degrees you needed to get through ordination or what options were available. It moved me to consider being an elder.”
Kendal Carnley, a student in the church careers program at Lon Morris College had previously attended Exploration in 2009 in Dallas and said he went again expecting spiritual renewal. “I knew I wanted to do ministry and had fallen off that path... I mainly went to reaffirm my path.”
His favorite part was hearing Adam Hamilton speak. “He spoke for over an hour and kept my attention the whole time. I’ve never seen a speaker keep college age students’ attention for that long.”
Carnley added that he appreciated the focus on navigating through ordination. “There were just a lot of really good ideas and helpful information on seminary and ordination. A lot of people don’t know about the ordination process. They think they should wait till they’re halfway through seminary, but it’s helpful to understand the process.”
Ashley Hamel, a social work major at the University of North Texas, said she went to Exploration because of an opportunity to help out with the youth ministry at her home church that she really enjoyed over the summer.
Hamel said she went hoping for clarity but instead found many more paths into ministry that she could choose from. “I found out there are endless ways to be able to work in the church,” she said, adding, “I got way more than I expected out of the weekend and was able to network and broaden ideas of what I wanted to do after I graduate. I’m still exploring the specific route God is leading me to… The whole weekend was really awesome. We had different bishops and pastors talk with us and ask discernment questions about where we were called. There were different workshops based on specific calls to ministry – youth ministry, college ministry, multicultural missions…”
She was also excited about the opportunity to meet others from her home conference. “I was there from support of my Wesley Foundation in a different conference than the Texas conference, but being able to network and have relationships with others from my conference was a big blessing to me.”
“The best part,” she continued, “was being split into small groups and being able to have intimate spiritual discussions with people from different outlooks on life… What surprised me the most was I felt in such community even though I’d met maybe 20 people. The common ground we were all in: We knew God was going to use us, but how?”
Austin Woods from Lon Morris College said his story is different from others who went. Attending for the second time, he said he basically had everything figured out. “The services were awesome in 2009 and I was like – there’s no way I’m going to pass up another chance to go!”
Woods ended up going to reaffirm that what he was trying to do was right. “It was absolutely amazing - just being in the environment… all these young people interested in learning if ministry is right for them. In a college, you know one or two of us. There were 600 of us there. The worship and workshops were really energetic – really passionate. Each speaker brought their own feeling, their own passion to the table. They gave me hope that one day that’s what we could be like – very passionate, very faithful.”
He noted that “God is present at these events. Both times I’ve attended, I’ve really experienced God. When you gather with people your age who are all interested in the same things, it’s nice to know I’m not as weird as I thought I was. I tell people about Exploration all the time. Even if you don’t think ministry is right for you I think it’s still a great event to go to. You can be deacon or elder or lay minister – you don’t have to be ordained. Everybody can see what is out there – what you can do.”
Rev. Taylor Meador Fuerst, Associate Director for the Texas Annual Conference Center for Clergy Excellence, said several students attended the event with little or no cost to themselves. “We know that college students and young people in their early 20s are at a critical time of exploring their vocation—who God is calling them to be in the world. We were looking for young people who, in the midst of that discernment and exploration, feel God tugging them toward professional ministry. We wanted to send young people whose pastors or campus ministers have noticed that they have gifts for ministry. We tried to find young people who are serious about exploring that call further.”
Rev. Becky Love, Pastor at Diboll UMC, worked with the team that helped plan and organize the trip and assist students who wanted to attend. She said it was a wonderful sight to see so many young adults in one place worshipping God with such passion. “There was a time of commitment, communion, and awesome music led by Mark Miller. There was energy in the room that continued after worship.”
“The young adults had a wide variety of workshops from which to choose and all 13 of the United Methodist seminaries were present to talk to interested students,” Love continued. “I would certainly recommend it to any young adult who is discerning a call from God to some kind of ministry. But I don’t believe it is my recommendation that holds much weight. I believe if one were to talk to any of the young adults who attended, they would recommend Exploration 2013 because it will be an inspiring and worthwhile event.”
Fuerst noted that some who attended were sponsored by their local church and that The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry offers to reimburse the registration fee for anyone age 18-26 who is coming to the event for the first time. “If you apply for the scholarship, they reimburse you after you actually attend the event. We provided a free flight to those who applied to travel with us (they had to complete an application and have a recommendation letter from their pastor.) We are so grateful to local churches that identify and seize the opportunity to invest in a future church leader!”