By Bill Hemmig
The training and recruitment of pastoral leadership is a major issue for Indiana United Methodist churches, whether we are one conference or two. We have always depended on two resources for seminary education for our pastors - the fine United Methodist seminaries which are located across the nation, but not in Indiana; and seminaries from other denominations within Indiana that have made their faculty and facilities available for United Methodists. This latter resource has been crucial for those who were not able to travel or relocate for seminary education due to financial, family or job-related reasons. Both kinds of institutions have served us well in the past. Such may not be the case in the future.
The past several years have seen the United Methodist University Senate, the national body of academic professionals who approve non-United Methodist seminaries, systematically eliminate virtually all non-UM seminaries in Indiana. Only Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis is currently approved for United Methodists, and that with a requirement that certain courses be done through Garrett-Evangelical Seminary in Evanston, Ill. To my knowledge, there has been no study that identifies how such a constriction of seminary opportunity will affect the quantity and quality of pastoral training for the churches of Indiana.
It seems to me this is a crucial issue for our Indiana conferences. In response to this, I have submitted a petition (to General Conference) to allow the annual conference board of ordained ministries to have the authority to accept seminaries within their boundaries if they remain academically accredited, have a positive history of training clergy and provide courses necessary for United Methodist clergy. I urge the General Conference delegates to attend to this issue and my petition as one that affects the future of our conference. The petition does not deny the University Senate the right or responsibility for seminary evaluation, it simply allows annual conferences a voice in the matter based on their experience with and stake in the training of clergy candidates in their area.
I have taught at Associate Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart as adjunct for the past six years. That is one seminary which has been disallowed by the University Senate. During the past ten years, more than 140 United Methodists have studied there. Many of them have graduated and currently serve faithfully and effectively in the North Indiana and West Michigan conferences. Most of them would have been unable to attend seminary without this institution in northern Indiana.
This is a significant number of ordinands to replace with no schools available in the area. For our sake, and for the sake of other areas across the nation similarly squeezed by the University Senate's restrictive policies, and for the sake of the principle of local decision-making, I urge our delegates to favorably consider my petition.
Bill Hemmig serves as pastor of St. Paul's UMC in Elkhart, Ind.