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The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon

The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon is Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry at The Divinity School, Duke University. He is recently retired after serving eight years as Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of The United Methodist Church.

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Bishop William Willimon: Making Clergy

March 07, 2011

She walked off a good job that she dearly loved and, in her early forties, went back to school in an academic field in which she had no previous experience. When she told her husband that she was heading to seminary, he called her crazy and threatened, "This wasn't part of my contract." Her teenagers said they would never forgive her for announcing, "I think God wants me to be a United Methodist minister."

She borrowed fifty thousand dollars to help pay for the education that the church requires, leapt a dozen hurdles including psychological testing and a financial investigation, and endured grueling interviews and papers on United Methodist doctrine, history, and polity for the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry. Not content with her M.Div. degree and her past preparation, the Discipline requires two more years of probation while the Board evaluated her fitness for ministry.

And all of that has brought her tonight, to where she kneels before me in the Service of Ordination. I hold my crosier in one hand and give her a Bible with the other, ominously telling her, "take authority to preach the word." I ask her to promise loyalty to the United Methodist Church, to defend our doctrine and, more specifically, submissively to go wherever a bishop like me sends a pastor like her. And then I lay hands on her head praying for the gift of the Holy Spirit to enable her to do what she has so brashly promised.

Of all Episcopal duties, the making of new clergy is the most sacred -- and the most daunting. Ordination is counter to just about everything that Americans believe. A vow to subordinate personal ambition, marriage, family, a comfortable income, and even the choice of where to sleep at night to the mission of the Bride of Christ is mind boggling recklessness. The odds are something like one in four that she will make it no more than ten years as a pastor before she burns out, blacks out, or backs out.

And I stand before her, lay hands upon her head, order her to tell people the truth that most of them are assiduously avoiding, pray for the Holy Spirit to zap her, and proclaim that her ministry is God's idea before it was hers. I am unworthy to be here, as I have been unworthy to nearly everywhere Jesus has put me.

Pray, church, that the Lord will continue to send us laborers for a bountiful harvest!

Bishop William H. Willimon

[Taken with permission from the bishop's blog, originally posted March 7, 2011]


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