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COVID-19 forces UMC Licensing School online

COVID-19 forces UMC Licensing School online


The danger wrought by COVID-19 has forced churches across the Florida Conference to move worship and other gatherings online, and now the pandemic is changing the licensing process for local pastors.

The FLUMC was scheduled to hold its next licensing school over a two-week period in May at Florida Southern College in Lakeland.

“It’s usually an 80-hour residential program,” said Rev. Sara McKinley, director of the FLUMC Office of Clergy Excellence. “Because of the crisis, it obviously can’t be.”

In an effort to maintain momentum and extend the opportunity to more candidates, Conference officials decided to move the entire licensing school online. With the assistance of Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, the FLUMC will join the North Georgia and South Georgia conferences in holding a five-week virtual licensing school from April 24-May 29.

“We have had to catapult into the future!” McKinley said. “It is doable. … When I mentioned it to my colleagues around the country, they all said, ‘Can we sign up? Can we sign up?’”

Yes you can.

Registration is open for Florida Conference students through April 17 by following this link. The cost is $700 for certified candidates and $900 for non-certified candidates.

A typical licensing school is a deep dive into everything a pastor needs to know about running a congregation.

“It covers all the bases about how to run a church, how to preach, how to design worship, how to do pastoral care,” McKinley said. “It’s like being fed by a firehose for 80 hours.”

The online version—which is still being designed and tweaked—will include all of those same elements. Participating pastors will still have lectures to listen to, papers to write, and sermons to record and submit for evaluation. The FLUMC participants will also have their own Facebook discussion group.

The bulk of the content for the licensing school is provided by Candler School of Theology under the guidance of Amy Walker, the assistant director of the United Methodist Church Course of Study School.

"For the past five years, Emory’s Candler School of Theology has managed the Licensing School for the North Georgia and South Georgia annual conferences. This year we were forced to move our program online because of the coronavirus-related closure of Candler’s building and the statewide shelter-in place directives," Walker said.

"When word got out that we were moving our program online, other annual conferences chose to join us. I am thrilled Candler is able to offer this program to other annual conferences in the same predicament. This is yet another joyful result of conferencing. The response has been overwhelmingly positive."

And it is making an important difference. Currently, 12 annual conferences and one jurisdiction (Western) have joined the program.

“This would not be a possible option without Amy Walker,” McKinley said. “We are just indebted to her. We’ve described it as building a bridge while you’re walking on it.”

At least 15 local pastors are expected to participate in the online school, and Garrett Evangelical School and Perkins Theological Seminary are working to see if it can also be offered to Spanish speaking candidates.

For Luanne Hunter, who serves as an assistant pastor at Deer Lake UMC in Tallahassee, attending the licensing school online is a chance to maintain her momentum. She had planned to attend the residential program at Florida Southern and will now be able to stay on track.

“First, I feel like this is what God is calling me to,” she said. “Secondly, I know it’s a positive process. … It may be increased work, but it is for five weeks.”

Hunter said the adjustment is simply par for the course. Like thousands of pastors across the Conference, she and her colleagues at Deer Lake have moved almost everything they do online. They work daily to provide church members with online worship, prayer sessions and small-group Bible studies via Zoom and Facebook.

“It’s become a real learning curve,” she said. “Necessity is the mother of all invention, and it’s forced us to get out of our comfort zones and do things we weren’t planning to do.”

McKinley agreed, adding that the pandemic will likely bring some far-reaching changes to the way churches operate in the future.

“There is actually a real bright side,” she said. “It’s actually going to bring opportunities to a lot more people. I hope we will continue to have an online option for licensing school going forward.”

--Kari C. Barlow is a freelance writer in Pensacola.

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