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Presidential Perspective: Whom Shall I Send?

Philip AmersonIt was orientation week and new students filled our home to overflowing. Enthusiasm and laughter rattled the rafters of the house. Every nook and cranny found students in eager conversation. No one could remember a larger entering class. One hundred and twenty- two (122) new students were enrolling. After several attempts, we were able to quiet them for a prayer. Then in a loud voice I began: “The Lord be with you.” The response roared back: “And also with you!”

I opened my mouth to pray and nothing came out. Not a peep. The prayer I intended seemed stuck; words were caught somewhere deep in my chest. After several deep breaths, I found words, and the food was blessed. Perhaps the students noticed, perhaps not. I was overcome—with joy and gratitude for the potential they represented. I thought of Isaiah 6: “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” All around me were remarkably talented future leaders responding to God’s call. They were answering, in a chorus of strong voices, “Here am I, Lord; send me!”

It was a stirring moment. I knew only a few from this astonishing assortment of future pastors, teachers, counselors, chaplains and community workers. Students came from California to Washington, D.C., from Arizona to North Carolina. They had practiced law and interned in home congregations. They came with Ph.D.s in literature and master’s degrees in neuroscience. They were artists and musicians. They included newlyweds going into ministry together. I was rendered temporarily speechless by their commitments.

Why so many preparing for ordained ministry? Is it the downturn in the economy? Not necessarily. Our enrollments were increasing before the recession. Something profound is happening. I have been watching and thinking about this generation of students for several years. I would argue for two more fundamental explanations for this increase: 1) the work of local congregations and pastors and 2) the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

We at Garrett-Evangelical know there are “ministry- encouraging congregations” of all sizes who year after year send us students. One such congregation is Emmanuel Community United Methodist Church in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. Pastor Carly Kuntz (G-ETS 1985) and the congregation are marvelous “ministry encouragers.” In the last decade, at least seven students have entered the ministry, and the church has set up a scholarship to aid in their education!

I asked leaders from Emmanuel to tell me what they do to encourage persons. Here are a few items from the list they gave me:

1. We speak favorably about our past clergy, support our current pastor, and speak of the great privilege it is to be in ministry.
2. We encourage people to enter the world of ideas and learning.
3. We take seriously the task of encouraging persons to hear the call of God.
4. We provide opportunities for leadership growth in the congregation.
5. When someone has an idea for ministry, our first response is, “How can we help you?”
6. We act, as much as possible, like normal human beings to remove the separation, fear and mystique from the role of pastor or lay person.
7. We commit ourselves to mentoring candidates through the entire process and beyond.

As to the work of the Holy Spirit, we are not able to predict or control this. What I can tell you is that we are living in a remarkable time, when God is moving in the hearts and minds of scores of persons. What I can tell you is that I can hear the roar of voices, sometimes far away and sometimes close at hand as they answer, “Here am I, Lord; send me!”

What a great and grand joy to hear them. Sometimes I am so inspired that my knees buckle and I can find no words to speak. Pray for us. Support these who are called. Celebrate God’s goodness.

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