I had the privilege of being with the national United Methodist camp and retreat leaders who gathered in California recently. One of the things I emphasized was the importance of camping experiences for young persons as a place for hearing and responding to God’s call to ordained ministry. The Lewis Center survey of under-35 United Methodist clergy showed that 11 percent of elders and deacons indicated that their acceptance of their call to ordained ministry took place in the context of a camping experience.
The need for a peer support system is a sentiment echoed over and over by today’s young clergy. The ability to be in community with other young clergy can help young clergy navigate this difficult terrain.
There is another opportunity that some camp and judicatory leaders may want to explore related to young clergy. It grows out of other findings from the Lewis Center research reported in The Crisis of Younger Clergy (Abingdon, 2008). In answer to the question: “What one thing could your annual conference do to be more supportive of young clergy,” one of the most common responses was providing opportunities for young clergy to gather. The need for a peer support system is a sentiment echoed over and over by today’s young clergy. They know they must take responsibility for developing their own support systems, but they also would welcome conference assistance. The demands of ministry, family and child care responsibilities, distance, and lack of authority make it difficult for the young clergy themselves to initiate and carry out such events. The ability to be in community with other young clergy can help young clergy navigate this difficult terrain.
Church camps and retreat centers would make ideal locations for such gatherings. The young clergy themselves could take responsibility for the programming. But they need the annual conference to make possible their coming together by providing the housing and meals for their families to gather for a few days each year. It would be an ideal way for the conference to affirm their young clergy and to permit them to develop those ties that will serve them well throughout their ministries in the conference.