One of our church's great challenges is finding qualified pastoral leaders for our churches in the future. As you know, United Methodism historically has some of the highest educational and character standards for our new pastors of any church. Our rigorous educational requirements are expensive to maintain. But we think our congregations are worth it.
You may also know that we have the lowest percentage of young clergy (only about 4.5% under 35) at any time in our history. Each year, when I ordain new clergy, I ordain close to a million dollars in educational debt along with them -- money they have had to borrow to prepare for our ministry. It grieves me that most of our precious conference resources go into financing yesterday's church -- clergy pensions for older clergy, subsidies for maintaining congregations and institutions that trived in the past but not now. Ought we be surprised that we have trouble obtaining a future for our church when so much is expended on our past?
Patsy and I have therefore established clergy scholarship funds at two of our seminaries (Emory and Duke) and I have pled for more assistance for our newest clergy. I am therefore so excited about a recent gift that we received from two dedicated laypeople, Jim and Betty Tucker, who are members of Central UMC in Decatur. A generous series of gifts by the Tuckers will enable grants to be made to seminarians who are serving in the Northwest District. It will provide aid to students with expenses incurred while going to seminary. Jim Tucker has seen first hand how even generous scholarships are not enough for seminarians, particularly those who are serving student appointments while in seminary. Mike Stonbraker, Jim's District Superintendent, has been a great leader in cultivating new, young leadership for our church. (Mike also wants me to tell you that Jim is a Marine, Mike forbidding me to say "retired Marine.")
Jim Tucker has been a successful business person in Decatur and is not only a loyal member of Central, but is also grateful for the high quaility pastoral leadership who has served Central over the years. He knows that fine pastoral leaders like Gary Formby, his current pastor, required quality seminary training. We are so grateful to Betty and Jim for leading the way with their generous gift.
God means for us to have a bright and vital future, I'm sure of that. But we must do our part. As I've often said, with Jesus Christ, we have more tomorrows than yesterdays, for we serve a living, resurrected God who leads us into the future. Let's go with him!