Main Menu

Northwind Seminary fits the needs of Licensed Local Pastors

Northwind Seminary fits the needs of Licensed Local Pastors


Will Clark is the Pastor at the Isle of Faith United Methodist Church in Jacksonville. He discerned his call to ministry from God after serving more than 20 years in the U.S. Navy.

During that time, he took extensive college-level courses offered by the Navy and earned a bachelor's degree in business management but attending a traditional seminary to receive full ordination as an Elder or Deacon was out of the question. He had two young daughters, and, he said, "It was more important that they go to college instead of me."

Pastor Will Clark

However, God's calling was strong and relentless, so he completed the required coursework offered by the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church to become a Licensed Local Pastor. 

He has basically the same duties as an Elder but lacked a Master of Divinity degree. 

That's where Northwind Seminary comes in. It's an online-only opportunity to earn a master's or doctoral degree through individualized interaction with instructors Sara McKinley, Director of the Office of Clergy Excellence for the Conference, called "some of the very best in the country."

How good?

McKinley believes in Northwind so much that the Florida Board of Ordained Ministry, of which McKinley is a member, approved funding up to $400 per 3-Credit course for LLPs at Northwind.

"I see that as a great benefit. To recognize what the local pastors have already done and then to reward that with academic credentials is important," she said.

"If someone says they took 20 classes, people won't know what that means. But if you tell them that you have a master's degree, that's impressive."

Faculty members include Dr. Leonard I. Sweet, a Charles Wesley Distinguished Professor of Doctoral Studies at Evangelical Seminary. Paul Chilcote was a visiting professor and academic dean and professor of historical theology and Wesleyan studies at Ashland Theological Seminary in Ohio, now retired from Asbury Seminary Florida.

Retired Pastor Steve Harper is a former Vice President at the Florida campus of Asbury Theological Seminary.

LLPs are vital to the mission of the Florida Conference. There are 382 fully ordained pastors compared to 193 LLPs, or about one-third of the appointed ministerial positions throughout the state, and that number is increasing.

It's important to note that LLPs who complete their degrees at Northwind still won't be eligible for full ordination. That is reserved for seminary graduates. However, that's also not important to Pastor Clark.

At this point, he said, it's all about learning. He will be the first Florida Pastor to earn his master's from Northwind. He plans to pursue a doctorate.

"I've decided not to seek ordination, but I want the knowledge," he said. "If you're licensed and want to learn more and get your master's degree and further your education, that's where it shines. I realized the beauty of this when I talked to them. I'm just doing it for me, anyway, so why not go ahead and get my doctorate? They tailored my course work to that end."

Northwind students don't sit and watch online lectures given by their instructors. Northwind follows the Oxford model of education. It begins with a one-on-one tutorial meeting between tutor and student to plan a course of study.

"The professor assigns books to read and things like that," Pastor Clark said. "You complete the assignment and send it to the professor, and then you make an online appointment with him to discuss the project's outcome.

"You get to know this person, they get to know you, and it forms a relationship. I learned a lot. I learned new things I thought I already knew."

It's rigorous work, but Pastor Clark said it's equally rewarding.

"He is completely dedicated to the role of the local pastor in the United Methodist Church and lifelong learning," McKinley said. "He is a prime example of someone who for Northwind Seminary is a perfect fit."

What advice would Pastor Clark have for someone thinking about Northwind?

"I would want to have an in-depth conversation with that person, find out who they are, how they learn, and what they've been through so far. For someone who is not clergy, look at the list of professors. They are so well known. I would talk with them and be honest and see if this is a learning style that works for them. If I do, I would then put them directly in contact with someone from Northwind," he said.

"They have to figure out if the program is for them. If you're a licensed local pastor, the attraction is that this is the only online seminary that I know of that will take your courses of study and evaluate them for masters-level credit."

McKinley sees great benefit to the individual and the Conference from Northwind.

"I want local pastors to know that they can receive the recognition of having a master's degree in pastoral ministry," she said.

"This is customized education for the benefit of the learner, a chance to learn from some of the very best in the country. I'm very excited about the opportunity."

Joe Henderson is News Content Editor for

Similar Stories