Virtual Ordination Licensing Helps New Pastors Stay Safe
By Lindsay Peyton
Summer is a time of transition for many officially going into the ministry – local pastors are becoming licensed later this month and others will mark the culmination of their journey with ordination. This will be the first class of ordinands who were interviewed via Zoom and will have their official ceremony changed to comply with social distancing guidelines. This is also be the first time that the licensing school pivoted to all online. Regardless of the changes and challenges, these ordinands and incoming pastors continue to build community and forming connections digitally – and are eager to serve.
Rev. Karyn Richards-Kuan, associate pastor of worship and faith formation at St. Paul’s UMC, Houston has been looking forward to the upcoming ordination ceremony for a while. “This particular service is really near and dear to my heart,” she said.
In fact, Richards-Kuan was watching an ordination ceremony as a teenager, when she first articulated her calling to ministry. At the time, she was in the Pacific Northwest Conference of the UMC and volunteered to help with the annual conference. “I just fell in love with the kind of work, the conversations we were having,” she said.
When the ordination service began, she was completely mesmerized. At the end, a call to action was issued: “If there’s anyone who’s even had an inkling of a calling, we would love to pray with you.”
Richards-Kuan was sitting with other youth volunteers – at the edge of her seat. She indeed had felt a calling before. “All of these people were watching me totally transfixed by this invitation,” she said.
The other youth volunteers practically pushed her onto the stage. “We bowed our heads and began to pray,” Richards-Kuan said. “It was such a powerful experience.”
She was surrounded by pastors and members of her congregation. “There were people who knew me my whole life, and people I’d just met,” she said.
The ordination ceremony cemented her desire. “I really do love that service,” Richards-Kuan said. “I want other people to witness it and feel that power of invitation. We’re all called to ministry of some sort.”
For Richards-Kuan, the ceremony at Annual Conference will the culmination of her 10-year journey to become ordained. She is grateful that the service will continue – even if it looks a little different this year.
“Even in these craziest of times, we are still able to come together, answer this call and celebrate each other, even from afar,” she said.
Rev. Marquice Hobbs, associate pastor of Faith UMC in Richmond, feels the same way. “I’m happy that I could have this sacred act performed,” he said. “Even in the midst of COVID-19, they’re still allowing for the laying on of hands, which is very symbolic for the transference of the Holy Spirit. It’s a very sacred act in the life of the church.”
Hobbs first felt called to ministry at 15-years old. Now, 12 years later, he will be officially ordained. “I’ve been looking forward to this, and I’ve been working for it for so long,” he said.
Both Hobbs and Richards-Kuan have helped their churches pivot to online services and gatherings during the past couple of months. “We had to think outside the box and be innovative,” Hobbs said.
They both know the difficulties involved in pushing the ordination vote online – and in making the ceremony limited and safe. “We knew pretty early on that it would be a different process,” Richards-Kuan said. “But they figured out how to transform the system and to do so as faithfully as possible.”
Dr. Jeff McDonald, senior pastor at St. Paul’s UMC in Houston, serves as chair of the TAC’s Board of Ordained Ministry, the committee that recruits candidates for ordained ministry and guides them through the process of education and ordination.
He explained that the ordination ceremony is the culmination of years of preparation. “It’s that thing that makes all the work worth it,” he said.
At first, McDonald said that the board hoped to postpone the interview process until they could meet in person. “As we got closer to April, we realized that wasn’t going to happen,” he said.
Instead, the interviews were conducted on Zoom. “It was different, because a Hilton Americas ballroom was now gathered on one screen,” Hobbs said. “It was different, because I was at home, on my couch, in front of the screen – but it still felt really good.”
Richards-Kuan explained that usually the board makes a final vote in one day. “It’s typically immediate, but with this, it couldn’t be,” Richards-Kuan said. “After our interviews, the board reported back the next day.”
As chair, McDonald was able to call all of the ordinands personally and share the good news.
The next step will be the official ceremony during the Annual Conference, now a two-day, online event scheduled for Friday, Aug. 14 and Saturday, Aug. 15.
A small ordination ceremony will be held in The Woodlands UMC that individuals may virtually attend. “We’re working hard to make sure that it is safe and have limited the amount of people,” McDonald said.
That means that each ordinand can only invite only limited guests to the ceremony, and that Bishop Scott Jones will be the only one to lay hands on the pastors.
Originally, Richards-Kuan hoped out-of-state mentors to fly in for the ordination ceremony – and now that cannot happen. Hobbs also wanted to invite a number of his past mentors to the service.
“I did envision that I would be there with other mentors, who would lay hands on me and pray with me,” Hobbs said. “I’m a little sad that I won’t have that.”
Still, he is looking forward to the tradition – and is excited to start wearing a stole soon.
Ultimately, McDonald anticipates this summer’s ceremony will have a more intimate feel, because of its limited size. “This is an important event, and we want to maintain tradition and make it as safe as we can,” he said.
Individuals may also become licensed, local pastors, instead of being ordained. The licensing school also moved online, Rev. Mike Lindstrom, executive pastor at FUMC Conroe, explained. He serves as co-dean along with Dr. Jerome Brimmage.
Typically, the licensing school is in-person at Lakeview Conference Center in mid-June, Lindstrom said. “It goes from morning until night, but it’s great,” he added. “We get to see each other and build community.”
This summer, everything switched to Zoom, with sessions on every aspect of being a pastor — from how to plan a sermon to how to present the sacraments.
The volunteers who served as instructors jumped on board and made video presentations and held Q and A sessions for students. “I so applaud all that they’ve done to make this possible,” Lindstrom said. “I’m so grateful for their time and effort. Everyone wants these pastors to be ready, to have the tools they need to serve the churches.”
At the same time, the students were able to make the transition to online seamless. “The students have been on time for Zoom, and they’re enthusiastic,” Lindstrom said. “It’s just been a joy, even at this uncertain time.”
Dr. Brimmage even put care packages together for all 21 students while they studied at home and met on Zoom. “We want them to know that we love them, and we want them to enjoy the experience of licensing school,” Lindstrom said. “We want them to know how much it means to us that they want to step up and make disciples of Jesus Christ.”
A final session, which was originally to be held at Lakeview, was just rescheduled to be held on Zoom for later this month. “It will still be a wonderful time, a joyful moment,” Lindstrom said.
And even though this year is unique, the excitement and the commitment the new pastors make is just as heartwarming as ever.
“The church does not need a building,” Lindstrom said.