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GBHEM Board works on new call focus, General Conference legislation

Nicole Burdakin
August 19, 2015

A report on the Young Clergy Initiative, a discussion about a new leadership initiative focused on call and legislation preparations for General Conference 2016 served as leading topics of discussion at the Board of Directors meeting of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM), August 5–7, in Nashville.

Before the board began its work Wednesday, GBHEM General Secretary the Rev. Dr. Kim Cape shared a photograph of the 1953 Board of Higher Education. She reminded the board of its history and the legacy it will leave to future boards. Cape told the board that since 1953, GBHEM has remained true to its core values, “committed to quality, committed to diversity, and committed to serve the church of Jesus Christ through education.”

The 1953 Board of Higher Education.

“We are going to be looking at legislation and ideas this week that I believe place us squarely in this kind of tradition—facing the challenges of the church, listening closely to the needs of the church, and then creatively bringing to bear the resources toward those expressed needs and challenges,” Cape said. “That’s what we’re up to as we craft our legislation, and as we consider some new avenues of work.”

A musician herself, Cape said, “Everything we do is in a missionary key, and we listen to the church to hear what the church needs from us… Hearing the church, and then matching our resources to meet the expressed needs of the church, is really the purpose of our general agencies.”

Cape also challenged board members to work in “a missionary key” by asking, “What is the need the challenge is addressing? And how can we best address that need?”

Read the General Secretary’s State of the Board address in full.

Young Clergy Initiative Fund Update

There were 75 Young Clergy Initiative (YCI) grant awards made this quadrennium totaling about $5.5 million. Grants ranged in size from $5,000 to $100,000. The Rev. Trip Lowery, GBHEM’s director of Young Adult Ministry Discernment and Enlistment, delivered the YCI report and focused on metrics used to evaluate the success of the YCI recipients as awarded projects continue to report updates to GBHEM.

One of the challenges in evaluating the fund’s success is seeing immediate change in its primary desired outcome—to “increase the number of young clergy among the jurisdictional conferences.” New projects may not produce young clergy for many years given the time it takes to be ordained; therefore, evaluation currently is gauged by measuring attitudes, behaviors and intentions as early success indicators. Grant recipients have already showed significant improvements in attitudes toward ordained ministry, increased engagement with their communities and increased peer support from other young clergy.

Similar project requests from three annual conferences were combined to plan and launch a new churchwide vocational discernment resource this summer, Called: One Word, Many Ways. This resource emerged from a collaborative project among GBHEM, Discipleship Ministries, United Methodist Communications, and the Forum for Theological Exploration. Contributors represented a broad diversity of age, gender, nationality and race, location of ministry, deacons, and elders. Resources include sermon starters, graphics, liturgical resources, videos, retreat plans and educational material for children, youth and other small groups. Called will be updated annually and available for free download at

Trip also reminded the board that YCI grant recipients were encouraged to seek additional project support from other sources, including annual conference initiatives, special collections within local churches, districts, colleges, universities, theological schools, endowments and more. In total, grant recipients raised an additional $6.8 million, nearly doubling the General Conference’s investment in ministry discernment and young clergy development.

As more YCI projects begin and end, more statistics will become available for presentation at General Conference 2016.

“Called Out” for Leadership

Dr. Ianther Mills, Vice President of GBHEM and chair of the Division of Ordained Ministry, led worship at Service of Word and Table, attended by GBHEM staff in The Upper Room chapel.

Mills reminded the board of Acts 1:23-26, and how Matthias was “called out” by God for leadership. “Barsabbas and Matthias both had the same qualifications. Both were considered viable candidates to serve among the apostles. But Matthias was selected. What was on Matthias’s resume that called him to be chosen? What is on your resume?”

“Resumes do serve their purpose… but you cannot depend on a resume to tell you everything about what a person can do or is like,” she continued. “Peter and the other apostles understood that well, and while they identified two men who seemed to have the right qualifications, they left the selection process to God…. God reads our spiritual resume.”

In the days before the board meeting, a group led by Bishop Grant Hagiya developed a new approach to call in the denomination reached the same conclusion—anyone can be “called out” by God to make a difference.

“[This new initiative] is not about defining what we think leadership is; it’s about making a difference where you are in any context, any circumstance,” Hagiya said in a presentation to the Board of Directors. “We are all uniquely created by God and called out into the world. Jesus is ‘calling you out’ for something greater.”

This initiative will be presented to the Connectional Table in the coming months as a leading message for the denominational focus area of “developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world,” as the church begins the 2017-2020 quadrennium.

Legislation and Board Actions

Most of board members’ time in this meeting was spent working through legislation GBHEM will propose to the 2016 General Conference. A new small group format was utilized to expedite deliberation while still allowing all board members to review each piece of legislation brought forward by the Legislative Committee.

Several conferences are bringing petitions to General Conference 2016 to increase access to theological education, including Course of Study, particularly for ethnic minority students. The Alabama-West Florida Conference petition would annual conferences to determine where their students attend seminary and the educational level they need to attain. The Texas Annual Conference petition would allow conferences to choose the seminary their students attend—with or without University Senate approval.

Cape reminded board members that “the University Senate does not make these decisions on a whim,” and of other denominations that require pastors or priests in their communions study in their seminaries, including Presbyterians, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, Mormons, and the Russian Orthodox. She added that the University Senate does not approve schools that do not doctrinally allow ordination of women.

The GBHEM Legislative Committee, chaired by the Rev. Amy Gearhart, brought forward a proposal that would address the needs behind these legislative challenges. The proposal is that United Methodist-related undergraduate institutions, of which there are 119, offer a Bachelor of Arts in religious studies or ministry arts that would include the requirements for Course of Study. This will provide greater access to students and have the added benefit of a bachelor’s degree with Course of Study work.

General Conference legislation and reports from the Young Clergy Initiative Fund, the Central Conference Theological Education Fund and more will appear in mid-October on the GBHEM website.

A non-legislative proposal to reignite the academic publishing ministry of GBHEM has been tabled until the next board of directors meeting.

In other action, the Board:

  • Approved a grant proposal for the Lilly Foundation, Inc., National Initiative to Address Economic Challenges Facing Pastoral Leaders, written in partnership with the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits and the Texas Methodist Foundation. This grant will allow for evaluation of proposed programming and continued monitoring of data around United Methodist seminarian debt over the next quadrennium.
  • Approved new directors for Course of Study schools at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University and Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. The Course of Study is the educational path for licensed local pastors in the UMC.
  • Approved the Chaplain’s Supplemental Pension Grant Fund at a rate of $841.66 for 2016. This fund provides pensions for clergypersons whose service, as chaplains or pastoral counselors, does not qualify for pension or other denominational benefits.
  • Approved Dr. Paul Barton as the Course of Study Regional Director at Perkins School of Theology.
  • Approved Dr. Tercio Junker as the Course of Study Regional Director at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.
  • Elected Larry Engel to the American University Board of Trustees (1st term).
  • Elected the following individuals to the Africa University Board of Directors:
    • Bishop Minerva Garza Carcaño (2nd term)
    • Bishop James Dorff (2nd term)
    • James L. Waits (2nd term)
    • Pius N. Busera (1st term)
    • Anastácio Diogo Lopes Chembeze (1st term)
  • Created a task force to propose a new structural model for the 2017-2020 GBHEM Board of Directors.
  • Heard a report from the Racial and Ethnic Concerns Committee. The committee said the new Ethnic-In-Service Training Grant application is now online and will remain open until Sept. 30 for applications. Robin Starr Minthorn, committee chair, asked members of the Board of Directors to reach out to individuals who would be interested in applying.
  • Received a report from Jim Salley, associate vice chancellor for Institutional Advancement for Africa University, which highlighted many of the now more than 6,200 graduates. Salley also reported that construction of the anticipated Ubuntu Retreat Center will conclude in October.

Burdakin is former communications coordinator, Office of Communications, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.