Thirteen members of the 2019 class of the Dakotas Licensed Local Pastor School take a moment to pose for a photo at the week-long, intensive, coursework, at Lake Poinsett Camp. Photo by Morgan Fischer.
Lake Poinsett Camp, S.D.—Summer is officially here for the Dakotas Conference, and that means it's that time of year when many of our clergy are leaving their current charges and beginning new assignments. This comes with the packing of belongings and making adjustments to new communities and church homes. For our brand-new clergy, more specifically, our newly appointed Licensed Local Pastors, this time of transition is also accompanied by the rigorous completion of the Licensed Local Pastor School which is held annually at Lake Poinsett Camp near Arlington, South Dakota. This year's class is comprised of 13 members from three different conferences, including the Dakotas Conference, the Minnesota Conference, and the Alaska Conference.
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.
"We learn about all the different facets of clergy and ministry, including learning about the Book of Discipline and why it is important and all the things involved in it. We look at pastoral care and what to do when people come to me for counseling and when it's time to move people on to a professional counselor, so to know our boundaries. We also learn about preaching, and for some people, the very first sermon they will ever preach is right here at licensing school. We also learn about Christian education within the church and what that all means for discipleship and also we learn about missions and evangelism, how to get your church to focus beyond themselves and to reach out to the greater community," said Reinhiller.
To many, the Licensed Local Pastor School seems like a shortcut of sorts to become clergy. It has the outward appearance of being an easy, streamlined way to follow your calling into ministry by bypassing a traditional seminary education which usually takes three years of full-time study. When asked about this, Reinhiller didn't hesitate. "I think it's actually harder. Many of these people are second career, and so some of them already have master's degrees, and some are deciding that this is a second career for them, and they may be in their forties, fifties, or sixties. I believe it's a harder route."
Often, it is more difficult to follow the call later in life, especially in terms of obtaining the appropriate amount of education to prepare one for ministry in a pastoral role. Many have to contend with the fact that they have families and have roots in their current communities, making it hard to uproot and move far away to attend one of the designated United Methodist seminaries.
Rodney Knock, a newly appointed Licensed Local Pastor to Plankinton and White Lake United Methodist Churches, is one of the many who have felt the Holy Spirit nudge them into embracing a life of ministry in the church and agrees that the Licensed Local Pastor School is no cake walk. "Interestingly enough, the work requirements of this are equal to 2-3 semester-long courses that you would take at a seminary. People have called it, you know, 'pastor boot camp.' Knock also sees the practical side to Licensing School as it pertains to himself. "I actually actively fought against my call for many many years. When I finally quit resisting God and listened to the Holy Spirit's promptings and started to follow the call, I started to attend Sioux Falls Seminary. The LLP path allows you to actively serve a local congregation in the full capacity of clergy within your appointed charge, so it allows you, quite frankly, a practical pathway to serving prior to graduation and subsequent commissioning and ordination."
Bishop Ough shakes Rodney Knock's hand as part of the Celebration of Life in Ministry Service where newly appointed licensed local pastors were celebrated. Photo by Joni Rassmussen, jlynn studios.
While Knock is himself preparing to move to Plankinton, South Dakota to begin his new charges, other students, like Teresa Pearson, don't have quite so far to go. "It's a little different for me because I'm going back home. I'm going back to Brookings. I've been there for years and years, but the majority of people here right now are packing, and they're in the middle of their transitions right now. I have felt the calling for a long time to do more in my ministry. I really feel that I am called to do more than I am doing and that we are called to use our gifts in any way that we can to be able to shape the kingdom of God. This is just the next logical step in my journey."
Pearson echoes the way many have felt at some point in their faith journeys, and it's that urge to do more in service to God that has led countless people to the shores of Lake Poinsett for this week of intensive study every year. When asked what their hopes were for their ministry both Pearson and Knock expressed high hopes and a willingness to dive deeply into a missional style of ministry that serves not only their local churches but also their communities. "I pray that we will be conduits of blessing, that God will work through us to somehow, you know, beyond our egos, touch the lives of the people we come in contact with whether it's through our music, our words, our actions, or just our presence," said Pearson. Knock also echoed Pearson's sentiment on community outreach. "My role is to encourage my congregation to make a friend, be a friend, and bring those friends to Christ. That's what I hope."
It's the hopes and dreams for a ministry like these that will propel these 13 students through their week at Lake Poinsett Camp. When all is said and done, they will officially be Licensed Local Pastors and equipped to begin God's work in their respective communities. Reinhiller emphasized that there is a strong support system for these new clergypersons in place as they navigate their new careers. "The challenges are there, but we try to give them encouragement and help them to remember God is calling them to this place and to the specific ministry where they are going and, you know, to rely on God for that strength because God's the one that's called, God's the one who will give us strength to do what we need to do, to minister among the people that we need to. We encourage them to know that we are fellow clergy with them. We've all gone through these struggles and we still go through these struggles so we are also people whom they can call upon."