What Clergy Shortage? Candler Course of Study Trains More Than 250 For United Methodist Ministry
For the record, there is no clergy shortage this summer at Emory University's Candler School of Theology. More than 250 United Methodist pastors from towns such as Shady Hills, Fla., Evarts, Ky., and Hornick, Iowa, have descended on the school for the Course of Study, a part-time five-year program that ensures the education of the church's ministers.
Course of Study enrollees, who already are serving as pastors in United Methodist churches, take time out from their ministries to spend a month in residence each year during the program. They have a wide range of educational experiences, from high school diplomas to PhDs, but most have not gone to seminary. "Course of Study provides an alternative for those who don't have the time or funds for pursuing an M.Div. degree," says Russell E. Richey, dean of Candler, one of seven United Methodist seminaries hosting Course of Study programs this summer.
"The Course of Study is a very old form in United Methodist education. It's the bedrock pattern of the United Methodist movement," says Richey, a scholar of American Methodist history. "From 1816 until well into the 20th century, the Course of Study was the norm for Methodist clergy," meaning that everyone read the same set of books, took the same exams and met the same expectations over the five-year period of the program. For an historically evangelical denomination committed to an itinerant ministry over a vast country, it was perhaps the only way to educate clergy.
United Methodist seminary degree programs became the dominant route to ordained ministry only within the last 50-60 years, says Richey. But there is still a vital place for Course of Study, which enrolls some 2,000 local pastors nationwide, according to the church's Division of Ordained Ministry, which oversees the program.
"It's really a much bigger program than people realize," says Beth Luton Cook, director of Church Ministries Education, who supervises Course of Study at Candler. In addition to the five-year summer residency program (designed for full-time pastors), seminaries hosting Course of Study programs also direct weekend schools at satellite locations in their respective regions. Cook, for example, administers Candler's Course of Study Extension Schools (usually held on United Methodist-affiliated campuses) in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Kentucky and Tennessee.
"From the church's perspective, it allows us to leave no congregation unserved (because of lack of ordained clergy to fill pastorates)," says Andrea Haynes, programs administrator at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., which has 217 Course of Study enrollees this summer. "We're able to get people on the ground serving churches, many of which would otherwise go pastorless. These are a great group of people who are really living their faith."
One example is the Rev. Donna Sue Roberts, an associate pastor at First United Methodist Church in Bainbridge, Ga. A 22-year veteran of Campus Crusade for Christ, Roberts had traveled both here and abroad for the group and spoken at more than 300 college campuses, but had not considered being a pastor until approached by members of her home church in Auburn, Ala.
"Since then God has convinced me over and over again that this is my call," says Roberts, who met her husband, the Rev. Lynn Roberts, during a Course of Study session at Candler. Now they serve different churches in the same South Georgia Conference, and Roberts declares that for Course of Study pastors, the "stick-to-itivness comes because you know that's what God wants."
In the classroom, Course of Study pastors are able to hit the ground running despite the differences in their educational backgrounds, says Theodore H. Runyon, emeritus professor of systematic theology at Candler, who teaches a course on Methodist tradition. "They know all the problems in the local church and are ready to ask questions from that perspective. They're also good at analyzing how what they learn in courses can apply to what they're doing in their parishes."
Sites for the church's Course of Study program, besides Candler and Wesley, are: Duke University Divinity School, Claremont School of Theology, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University and Saint Paul School of Theology.
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