Certified Lay Ministers: Laity called and connected
They provide pulpit supply, pastoral leadership and staff support in cooperative parishes.
Harrisville UMC in the Northern Flow District hosted a special service and lunch to celebrate a new class of Certified Lay Ministers, who often serve churches that could not otherwise afford a pastor.
They lead Bible study, VBS, and children's and older adult ministries.
They perform funerals and make hospital or nursing home visits.
They are Certified Lay Ministers (CLM).
CLMs are laity who are called to congregational leadership as part of a ministry team under the supervision of a clergyperson. CLMs are assigned by the district superintendent, in many cases to pastor a small congregation. These differ from Certified Lay Servants, who complement and support, rather than replace, pastors.
On June 21, 2014, the Harrisville United Methodist Church hosted a special service and lunch to celebrate the seven individuals who have completed the educational requirements for the role of CLM (some additional requirements have to be completed for full certification).
Those being celebrated were:
Barbara DeYear, Northern Flow District
Linda Dunning, Northern Flow District
Theresa Grescheck, Mohawk District (was unable to attend the service)
Martha Helmer, Northern Flow District
Lori Hickey, Northern Flow District
Jane Neely, Northern Flow District
David O'Neil, Northern Flow District
The CLMs were presented with a lapel pin, the book Making Sense of the Bible by United Methodist pastor the Rev. Adam Hamilton and a letter of congratulations from Upper New York Resident Bishop Mark J. Webb.
"Certified Lay Ministers play a large role in our Church," Bishop Webb wrote. "This category of ministry was created to enhance the quality of ministry to small membership churches, expand team ministry in churches, and share an expression of gifts and evidence of God’s grace associated with the lay ministry of early Methodism."
This class began its training in October 2013. The certification process includes training, support, supervision and accountability. (This brochure outlines specifics of the process.)
"These folks put in 60 contact hours, which is the same as licensing (for Licensed Local Pastors, who are considered clergy; CLMs are laity), so we wanted to celebrate that commitment," said Northern Flow District Superintendent Rebekah Sweet.
In her sermon at the CLM service, Rev. Sweet told a story of two rabbits who encounter a bear in the woods. As the one rabbit prepares to run, the other says: "You don't think you can outrun that bear, do you?" To which the rabbit replies: "I don't have to outrun the bear; I just have to outrun you."
Rev. Sweet said that the story "captures the cynical, self-centered individual notions" in both secular and sacred institutions that says: "As long as my needs are met and cared for, as long as I have made it, everything will be fine no matter what happens to you."
"We can do better, friends. We can rise above the isolation of putting self first at the expense of others because we have Jesus Christ to follow," she said.
Clergy and laity need one another, Rev. Sweet said.
"Friends, in our efforts to serve Christ well while scaring away the bears that are knocking on our doors, we are most effective when we learn and serve together," she said.
Need for CLMs
The Rev. Frances Hemstreet, pastor at Natural Bridge and Harrisville UMCs, was the coordinator of the Northern Flow District CLM training and one of the instructors for this class, along with the Rev. Mark Pierce and the Rev. David Piatt.
"I thought it was totally appropriate to have a celebration, a time of fellowship" Rev. Hemstreet said. "I especially wanted previous classes of CLMs to reconnect with one another and to start networking with the new class ... networking is critical."
As is the need for CLMs, she said. Many very small churches cannot afford to pay a pastor and there are cooperative parishes that need additional staff support.
"I am delighted to do this work; it is my honor and my privilege," Rev. Hemstreet said. "I love hearing ‘the call’ stories, about how God is calling (folks) at various places in their life journeys and faith journeys."
The 2013-14 CLM class members shared their journeys to this point and their hopes for their ministry, as well as offered some advice for those considering becoming CLMs.
DeYear said she became a CLM "for the people in my church." Four years ago, Barnes Corners UMC "became another whole family for me" and helped her through a difficult time. She said the small church does important work in its community, and she wanted to be part of that.
"I talk to God all the time," she said. "I always knew He was there, but I didn't know where my place was; I found my place, where I belong."
Dunning said CLM training was a "natural progression" from the lay speaking courses she had taken.
She said she would "like to be in a pulpit," but also to write and research stories of faith – either through a blog or compilation of stories from the North Country.
Dunning said she enjoyed learning more about Methodism's history during the training, and would encourage anyone considering it to: "Try it. Jump right in with both feet – or stick a toe in; take the first module and see what you think."
Even those who don't wish to be in the pulpit can develop their leadership skills through the training, she said.
Helmer, who currently serves the Dekalb and Dekalb Junction UMCs, began preaching before her husband, Adam, passed away but her experience after his death bolstered her faith.
"(God) held me up when I could not hold myself up, when even human love was not what I needed to sustain me," Helmer said. "The Lord asked me to share the Word of God and the truth that Jesus is Lord and Savior."
Helmer said the training taught her a great deal, and learning is always worthwhile.
"I really enjoyed what I learned," she said. "... everything you can learn, no matter what is, that brings to light a piece of scripture that helps you on your journey or makes your heart more informed for the Lord (is beneficial)."
Hickey, who plays guitar and led the CLMs in a song written by Dunning, hopes to continue to use music in her ministry through hospital and nursing home visits and at funeral services.
The CLM training gave her "a special connection with six other people ... a bond that will not ever be broken" – a feeling expressed by her classmates.
"My best advice: Go with an open mind and be a sponge and gather it all in," Hickey said of the training. "(Don't) hold back; be open to the relationships (that you) can have with the other members, instructors, mentors and coaches ..."
Neely said "God put a calling on my life a long time ago," but not to become a pastor. This is a way, she said, that she can help churches that can't afford to pay a pastor. Neely said she just needs "gas money; I'm not looking to get rich."
She encourages others to consider this ministry.
"It will be the second best thing that you have ever done, the first being going on the Walk to Emmaus," she said. "I rank them both right up there."
O'Neil, who lives in Redwood, said he came away from the CLM training with "a quiet humbleness."
He does not have an assignment, but feels he could serve by filling in for pastors who are on vacation or medical leave.
The General Board of Discipleship website has several resources for those who want to learn more about Certified Lay Ministry: