Preparing for ministry

Preparing for ministry

Nick McMillan
Rev. Julia Metcalf

Recently, First Presbyterian Church of Tulsa was blessed to witness the ordination and installation of Reverend Julia Metcalf. Her ordination service was the culmination of a long process of study and growth, including her call, seminary education and field education. Completing preparation for ministry is a testament to Julia’s faithfulness, dedication, and hard work from late night study sessions at Princeton spent poring over scripture, to shepherding youth and young adults as a pastor in Paris.

Importantly, this preparation also included intentional and thoughtful maintenance of long-term relationships with representatives of her church back home in Tulsa. Developing and maintaining these relationships over time was both intrinsically rewarding as well as part of a multi-step process designed to nurture aspiring ministers of word and sacrament, aptly titled the “Preparation for Ministry Process.”

Under the care of the Committee on Preparation for Ministry, the steps Julia took in her education and professional development were tracked, monitored, and shepherded with all the decency and order befitting the Presbyterian tradition. In 2021, Julia was certified by the Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery as “ready to receive a call,” which not only refers to a grace given by God but also formally recognizes this grace as the final stage of a process of interest, inquiry, candidacy and certification. Our church has been walking with five candidates in this process including another child of the congregation, Sam DeVore, who delivered a sermon in Stephenson Hall last August.

Sam DeVore

Under the supervision of the Committee on Preparation for Ministry, candidates can pursue either the role of teaching elder or commissioned ruling elder. The differences between these two paths include the length and requirements of preparation. The process to become a teaching elder is more involved and arduous and usually occurs concomitantly with seminary. The role of commissioned ruling elder is a part-time position that meets a current need for leadership in many churches within our Presbytery that are not large enough to afford a full-time minister.

Rev. Dan Hutchinson

Through this preparation process, the Committee on Preparation for Ministry works with candidates to love, listen, correct, encourage, laugh, cry and care. Each candidate is assigned a liaison from the committee with whom they maintain correspondence through emails, coffee shop meetups, and phone calls for guidance, fellowship and support in discernment. Candidates are also typically assigned a second liaison from the Session of the church of which they are under care. Candidates and committee members complete forms and submit responses to specific prompts throughout the process to track, document and certify a call when that day comes. Notably, while these requirements are generally like other Presbyteries, they will not be the same, which makes the role of liaison crucial.

Of the five candidates that our church currently cares for in this process, two are inquiring to become teaching elders and three are candidates to become commissioned ruling elders.

Church elders and pastors comprise the Committee on Preparation for Ministry. Reverend Dan Hutchinson chaired this committee in past years and his own walk through the process came at a pivotal moment in his life and education. “The times with the Committee on Preparation for Ministry and with mentors provided important opportunities for me to discern my call. I changed through the process and hopefully learned some humility,” said Dan. In addition to learning practical aspects of discernment and humility, Dan learned about the careful governance and oversight of the Presbyterian church and said, “I had not grown up in the denomination and had a lot of questions. I learned a lot about being Presbyterian, both in terms of our polity, how we are governed and run, and our theology.” Dan regards preparation for ministry as a moment for both prayer and discernment and hopes that by knowing more about the process, congregants will pray for candidates under our care.

For Sam DeVore, preparation is a way for candidates to assess fitness for a congregation culturally and doctrinally. In discerning, Sam has also considered how the challenges that face congregations change over time, including whether a congregation is in a phase of preservation and renewal, needing guidance back to theological fidelity, or is already soundly established, faithful and growing. Sam’s sister and First Church elder, Elizabeth DeVore, hopes that through this process Sam will become a good pastor.

When asked what becoming a good pastor means, Sam described the qualities of a good pastor as, “humility, balancing grace and truth, a passion for discipleship and compassion.”

Sam seeks to share the gospel relationally through individual authenticity and loyalty in the many aspects of a congregant’s walk with Christ. During his return to Tulsa to preach last summer, Sam sensed the support of a caring congregation and affirmed, “People hope for the best, and you feel that.” Sam plans to graduate Seminary in May 2024.

This article is the first in a series of three stories featuring each person currently going through the training process and sponsored by First Church. Watch future issues of Tidings for stories on Zack Rivers, Judith Land, Faith Wambugu and Laura Stockbridge.

About the author: Nick McMillan joined First Church in June 2021. He enjoys teaching and leading small group discussions for Exodus high school Sunday school and is a frequent participant in the “Before the Rooster Crows” Bible study. He is grateful for this opportunity to learn more about the preparation process and current candidates.