Ministry Discernment Program Moving Ahead

Owen Burkholder guides the
Owen Burkholder (l.), Virginia Mennonite Conference minister, guides the "Culture of Call" meeting at Eastern Mennonite Seminary.
Photo by Jim Bishop

A program at Eastern Mennonite Seminary aimed at helping persons to explore their potential and gifts for pastoral ministry is moving ahead.

A "Culture of Call" initiative at the seminary, being funded by a Lilly Endowment grant, is helping congregations who have agreed to participate in the ministry effort to in turn tap potential participants for the program.

In stage two of the three-stage effort, leaders in pilot congregations are identifying young people or those in mid-career who have pastoral leadership gifts and inviting them to serve as ‘interns’ on their leadership team.

The initial stage involved holding a series of vocations banquets and a "Ministry Sunday" emphasis in several Mennonite district conference settings.

The seminary also held a two-day retreat/workshop in December 2003, at Laurelville (Pa.) Mennonite Church Center that involved 45 church leaders representing 15 "pilot congregations" from the four cooperating Mennonite conferences – Franconia, Lancaster, Ohio and Virginia.

Ken and Ellen Peachey Lawrence

Merlin L. Miller, pastor, Landstown Community Church, Virginia Beach; Randy Coblentz, pastor, Williamsburg (Va.) Mennonite Church; Harry Jarrett, associate pastor, Harrisonburg Mennonite Church; and Ed Heatwole, pastor, New Beginnings, Bridgewater, Va., interact at the gathering of current and prospective "pilot congregations" in the "Culture of Call" program.
Photo by Jim Bishop

Owen Burkholder, conference minister for Virginia Mennonite Conference, met at the seminary on Dec. 10, 2004, with representatives of five of the six pilot congregations that had attended the Laurelville meeting. Also present were three more congregations who are considering getting involved in the program.

Participating Virginia Conference congregations represented at the meeting were: Harrisonburg Mennonite; Landstown Community, Virginia Beach; Park View Mennonite, Springdale Mennonite, Waynesboro; Williamsburg Mennonite and Zion Mennonite, Broadway. Congregations present that are exploring mentor/intern relationships were: New Beginnings Mennonite, Bridgewater; Charlottesville Mennonite and Stephens City Mennonite.

According to Del Glick, director of church partnerships at EMS, a major portion of the time together was spent hearing reports from those congregations who have an internship plan in place. The group also discussed key ingredients of planning and implementing a congregational intern plan and listened to concerns and ideas from those considering taking part, he noted.

Randy Coblentz, pastor at Williamsburg Mennonite, shared his congregation’s experience in identifying an intern from within the congregation. This person will serve an eight-month internship in a variety of roles – preaching, visitation and outreach and administration.

"I see this pilot program being a discernment tool – is this person being called to the ministry," Coblentz said. "We need a fresh approach to identifying pastoral leaders and assisting them in spiritual formation and equipping for leadership before the need arises for a new pastor."

"The next step is to bring together participants in the 2003 events as cohorts for a training process," Dr. Glick said. "We also plan to invite more congregations to join this three-year commitment of calling forth persons from their congregations to serve as interns on the leadership teams and to train them accordingly.

"The resources and training are not programs imposed on them by the seminary," Glick noted. "Rather, what emerges will be based on mutual partnerships driven by needs identified by the conferences and congregations."

For more information on the "Culture of Call" program, please call (540) 432-4698 or email