Hundreds set out to explore a path to ministry

Group of young adults sitting at a table in a dining hall
Rev. Christy Holden, counter-clockwise second from right, attends the opening of the Exploration conference with a group of students from the Fort Myers area. Photos by Don Youngs. Feature home page photo by Giffin Creative for the General Board of Higher Education & Ministry.

Only four years ago, Rev. Christy Holden was scouting around the Florida Gulf Coast University campus, looking for nooks and crannies where she could launch a Wesley Foundation ministry.

Earlier this month, the campus minister accompanied her first crop of university students to a national event aimed at helping them explore their call to ministry. Sponsored by the Division of Ordained Ministry of the United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM), the event called “Exploration” was held Nov. 6-8 at Walt Disney World in Orlando.

“I was pretty excited,” Holden said. “It was great to have five students interested in ministry.” 

Not only did the students accept the invitation to attend an event designed to help them discern and pursue their calling, “they jumped at the chance,” Holden recalled.

Three of the students are current members of Florida Gulf Coast’s Wesley group, which numbers 25 to 30, Holden said. Another is a former student at the university who transferred to a different school recently but retains ties to the Wesley Foundation at the Fort Myers campus, and the fifth is a student from another institution.

The Fort Myers group and other students from Florida Conference campus ministries were among nearly 300 adults 26 or younger who turned out for the national conference aimed at helping them discern and follow their call to ordained ministry. The event offered workshops, exhibits and resources, as well as a chance for fellowship with others exploring a call to ministry from across the state and the nation.

Rev. Karli Pidgeon of Cornerstone UMC, New Orleans, preaching
Rev. Karli Pidgeon, pastor of Cornerstone UMC, New Orleans, inspires the Exploration crowd at opening night worship.

Campus ministries have long been considered fertile ground for new generations of clergy. Holden said her group included students at all stages of the discernment process, from wondering whether they were truly hearing God’s call to being bound for ordination but uncertain what the steps are in the process.

The Exploration event convened seminary representatives and workshop leaders to help students explore their options, including the financial aspects of a preaching career, Holden said. Students also benefited from hearing the stories of calling from other young people and realizing they were not alone. Small groups were intentionally designed to mix people with other attendees they had not met before.

“I think for most of them [in the Florida Gulf Coast group], they certainly felt affirmed in their calling,” Holden said. “It clarified how far along they are.”

To view additional photos of the event, click here or visit

– Susan Green is the Florida Conference managing editor.

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