Wesleyan Pilgrimage Helps New UMC Clergy Deal with Changing Denomination

September 10, 2013

Six newly ordained United Methodist clergy, who find themselves in the midst of a changing denomination, share in a powerful new film how a pilgrimage to follow in the footsteps of the Methodist movement’s founder John Wesley helped shape their ministries.

The film, “Pastor or Savior? A Wesley Pilgrimage,” was made by GodFilms, a production unit of the General Board of Discipleship (GBOD), in England during the fall of 2012, just months after the 2012 General Conference.

Two international agencies of the denomination – GBOD and the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry – led a group from the United States on a 10-day pilgrimage throughout England during a crucial time in the life of the United Methodist Church.

The group on the Wesleyan Pilgrimage included the six newly commissioned clergy, who along the way shared their insights, the pressure they feel to “turn the church around” and how they were changed by the experience on the pilgrimage.

“I wonder about the future of the church a lot,” said one of the new clergy, Rev. Emily Carroll, pastor at Court Street UMC in Fulton, Mo. “I believe in the United Methodist Church, but I think that it's scary right now. It's different landscape than it's ever been before.”

Carroll said she regularly challenges her colleagues “to not put so much pressure on young clergy and to not think that we're the saviors of this denomination.

“We have a savior already – Jesus Christ,” she said. “I try really hard to help my colleagues understand that it's not our job. It's all of our jobs, with the power of Christ.”

Rev. Jared Priset, pastor of Aurora UMC in Aurora, Ohio, said he also feels the pressure to help change the church.

“I do think myself and other young clergy I talk to are feeling overwhelmed at times at the weight that we feel the church is putting on our shoulders – that we need to be the leaders, the next generation who turns this ship around,” Priset said.

However, Priset said he believes the church is “on the verge of a revival, a reawakening of some sorts.”

I'm here to say that God hasn't given up on the Methodist Church,” he said. “I don't feel like I have to be a savior. I just have to preach about the savior, Jesus Christ. And that's what I want to do day in and day out, and week in and week out – just preach Christ and Christ crucified.”

Rev. Daniel Cho, pastor of Westville UMC in Westville, Ind., acknowledged the denomination’s high expectations on young ministers, but not so much the pressure.

“I know there is a lot that the church is wanting to do,” Cho said. “I don't think we're burdened by those expectations because the good news is there are many of us who are coming into the church because we're passionate about God's good news for this world. So I don't feel that pressure.”

Cho’s wife, Rev. Hyemin Na, is pastor of Tinley Park UMC in Tinley Park, Ill.

“This year, 2012, has been a pivotal year in the life of our denomination. And a lot of people say that we're at a junction,” Na said. “... There's a lot of change needed, and it can be for good or for ill. So I do think that I am participating in this pilgrimage in a timely manner.”

“Pastor or Savior? A Wesley Pilgrimage,” was produced and directed by Steve Horswill-Johnston, Executive Director of Communications & Brand Strategy at GBOD. It is currently available for viewing online and free download at http://bit.ly/148JpgG. DVDs will be available to purchase this fall from https://store.gbod.org.