For newly appointed Licensed Local Pastors, this transition is accompanied by the rigorous completion of the Licensed Local Pastor School, which is typically held at Lake Poinsett Camp near Arlington, South Dakota. Due to the COVID pandemic, this year's class of the Dakotas Conference Licensed Local Pastor School, comprised of 11 members from three different conferences, including the Dakotas Conference, the Minnesota Conference, and the Wisconsin Conference met virtually.
Rev. Val Reinhiller, a pastor at Faith UMC in Williston, North Dakota, is the dean of the licensing school and finds much fulfillment in helping steward these future leaders of the church.
"Licensing school's goals are to educate those answering the call of Christ as Licensed Local Pastors. We give them the beginning tools for ministry. We teach the basics and then walk alongside as they enter the ministry," says Reinhiller.
Rev. Reinhiller felt the virtual format worked well. "Everyone was willing to be flexible and work with technology. Technology can be a challenge, but we were able to head off some of the challenges, or we were able to diagnose and fix the problems. We had a great tech team."
A technology support team walked alongside the instructors and participants to help things go smoothly. Anne Rienhiller, Pastor Val's daughter, provided direct support to the five instructors: Rev. Gary Ball-Kilbourne, Rev. Ross Reinhiller, Rev. Val Reinhiller, Rev. Eric Van Meter, and Rev. Fred Vanderwerf. Anne, Val, and Ross Reinhiller operated out of a quasi-studio, set up at the Reinhiller home in Williston, North Dakota.
Participants met by Blue Jeans, a video conference platform similar to Zoom, on June 19-26, for a range of 4-8 hours daily. Several weeks before the live video sessions, reading and written assignments were sent electronically by each of the instructors to the participants. One of the assignments was to video record a sermon that was viewed and critiqued during the live sessions.
The eleven participants completing the school were: John Anderson, Kody Bullock, Steve Delano, Tia Felberg, Kim Hipple, Cathy Hoffbeck, Jake Holck, Janelle Jacobsen, Amber Laffey, Mary Morgan, and Matt Scherbenske.
At one point, during a virtual class session that Pastor Val was leading, a moose walked by the window of the Reinhiller house. It created a fun break for all of the participants.
Mary Morgan lives in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and will serve the congregations White and Sterling in South Dakota, says that the virtual format fulfilled the purpose. She says, "Holding licensing school virtually worked, its purpose was accomplished," she says. "However, how many group events can we say are better virtually?"
Matt Scherbenske lives in Bismarck, North Dakota, and is moving to Minot, North Dakota, to serve Vincent UMC, was thankful that Licensing School happened virtually.
"Honestly, for me, the virtual format this year was a blessing in so many ways. This is such a crazy time of finishing up my prior employment, preparing to physically move our family to another city, selling our house, and preparing for and onboarding the new job. While it was unfortunate not to be able to meet the cohort in person and develop relationships, it allowed me to balance better all of life's requirements during this chaotic and busy time," says Matt.
Morgan and Scherbenske bring experience with them from other denominations. They express gratitude for readings, discussions, and connections throughout Licensing School.
"After a lifetime in the Reformed Church in America, I have enjoyed comparing the teaching of Wesley to Calvin and learning the history and practice of Methodism," says Morgan. "The reading, pre-work, and teaching is practical and will help me get started on the right foot. I have been impressed and encouraged by the amount and quality of leadership, care, and resources the UMC provides for pastors. "
Scherbenske says, "This experience has complimented the experience I had in my previous licensing process very well. The professors of the courses allowed for great conversation and questions about the realities of life as a pastor of a local church. On top of all that, I'm taking relationships with a cohort of brothers and sisters in Christ beginning their first steps in ministry."
As Morgan and Scherbenske end their licensing school experience, they delve into the daily life of serving congregations.
"I think for many of us, the question remains, what will life as a pastor be like? With that said, I believe it would be great to have an opportunity six months, nine months, to a year down the road to reconvene and have some time to reflect and share in our experiences on the job," says Pastor Matt.
Pastor Mary says, "I pray that I will be able to love and serve my new church family well while maintaining healthy boundaries for my family and myself."
The following participants will serve as leaders of congregations in the Dakotas Conference. John Anderson is serving Spirit of Faith in Woonsocket, South Dakota. Kody Bullock is serving at Millete Northwestern UMC. Tia Felberg will be the pastor at De Smet and Iroquois, South Dakota. Kim Hipple will lead the congregation at Beach UMC in Howard, South Dakota. Amber Laffey is serving Flandreau UMC in South Dakota. Watch for upcoming stories about how they are living out their call.
The hope for Licensing School in that future is to meet in person. "If it is not possible, then we know we can provide a quality Licensing School virtually," Reinhiller says.
Meet Mary Morgan: I graduated from Sioux Falls Seminary with my Master of Divinity in May of 2019, and my former ministry position was eliminated in November. At the same time, I was still recovering from considerable ministry burnout and knew I was in no place to have clarity around where God was calling me. Recognizing this, I asked God to close the doors he didn't want me to walk through, and I promised to walk through doors he opened. Graciously, God answered my prayer, and I kept my promise! After giving me the deep rest and refreshment, he knew I needed it. He has opened doors I never thought could be open to me. I now own a consulting business and, starting July 1; I will be serving as part-time local licensed pastor for the United Methodist Churches in White and Sterling, SD.
Meet Matt Scherbenske: For me, getting to this point has been a long journey. It took nearly nine years from when I first received the call from God to serve in ministry. I was so entrenched in my career; I didn't know how or when a career in ministry would ever become a reality. After years of prayer, and God working in our lives, my wife and I recently had service in ministry laid heavily on our hearts. We prayed to God in an attitude of surrender for Him to send us – wherever that may be, really embracing an attitude from Isaiah 6:8.
We wouldn't have predicted that Kermit Culver, the Northwest District Superintendent in the Dakotas Conference, would call me to have lunch. As he presented an opportunity, it continued to move inside my heart that this is what God has been uniquely preparing us for. Through ongoing prayer, we recognized this is what God has been planning. So, our family decided to answer the call and we are willing to make a move, ready to make the change, willing to meet the requirements, including licensing school.