The Rev. Emily Cannon, pastor at First UMC in Auburn, Nebraska, responds to: What would you share about your TiM journey to those interested in the program?
As I embark upon year four of my “Transition into Ministry” journey, I can honestly say that this program has been energizing, challenging and transformative. Applying to be part of TiM when I was in seminary was one of the best decisions I ever made, and I have encouraged seminarians to seriously consider participating in this program. When I’ve spoken to prospective TiM candidates, I’ve always emphasized the numerous advantages that they’d receive in Phase I, including:
A chance to learn the ropes from an effective pastor who has years of ministry experience.
Seminary and full-time ministry in a local church are two very different animals, and it’s easy for a recent M.Div graduate to feel overwhelmed by all of the things that weren’t covered in graduate school. (Running a capital campaign? Preparing for a funeral when the family is in the midst of an ugly feud? Talking about HVAC systems with the trustees? Why didn’t they offer me any classes on that?!?) But as a TiM associate, you have the opportunity to spend two years working with a mentor who has both been there and done that. And best of all, unlike a traditional associate, a TiM pastor gets to be fully immersed in all aspects of ministry — you’re not relegated to a specific niche role (i.e. children’s pastor, visitation pastor, etc.) Also, you are only in the associate role for two years — and I think that this can prevent some of the tension and power struggles that have been known to arise in longer-term senior/associate relationships.
Regular opportunities for theological processing/reflection.
Ministry is full of unpredictable highs and lows. There are times where you will feel like you have the best job in the world, and there will be times where you will feel angry, frustrated, heartbroken or confused … or possibly all of the above! TiM associates and senior pastors meet weekly for theological reflection and conversation — and perhaps it’s because I worked with a great senior pastor, but these meetings were always a highlight of my week. Our mentoring meetings provided me with an opportunity to share what was going on in my ministry, ask questions, hear stories from his years of ministry and talk through the practical application of the things I had learned in seminary.
The support of the lay committee.
I have spoken and written much on my unabashed love for the TiM lay committee. It’s a fantastic concept: you arrive at a new church, and you have a whole committee of people who are there to welcome you, help you get acclimated to your new community, act as a sounding board and provide honest feedback during your first years of ministry. (Also, they might throw you an awesome baby shower if you get pregnant.)
I’d also want a prospective TiM pastor to know that these benefits continue into second “solo pastor” phase of the program. The lay committee morphs into the transition team (which helps you get the lay of the proverbial land in your new appointment, while also preventing you from accidentally slaughtering any of your new congregation’s “sacred cows” on your first day), and the mentoring aspect of the program is replaced with the opportunity to work with a coach. And there are also benefits which TiM pastors in both phases of the program receive. I’ve told seminarians interested in the program that they can look forward to:
A built-in covenant group with your TiM colleagues!
In my eyes, this is by far the greatest advantage of the TiM program. My TiM colleagues are some of my best friends, and I can’t imagine being on this ministry journey without them. We pray for each other, we brainstorm with each other, we share the joys and challenges of ministry together and sometimes we have epic adventures. I’m so excited to spend the next 40+ years doing ministry with these wild, passionate, intelligent, Jesus-loving people.
Whether you’re learning about pensions and clergy taxes in Atlanta, meeting Nadia Bolz-Weber and Will Willimon at the Festival of Homiletics, or getting an entire year’s worth of worship planned while enjoying the hospitality of some Benedictine sisters in Kansas, the TiM program provides learning/travel/professional opportunities that young clergy in other conferences might only dream of. And our local TiM meetings often include opportunities to meet and learn from leaders from around the conference — which is a huge benefit when your conference spans the entirety of two states!
Now, having waxed poetic about the positive elements of the TiM program, I would also take off my rose-colored glasses long enough to let prospective TiM pastors know that participation in this program does present a few unique challenges. For instance, anyone looking at the TiM program should know that:
There’s a time commitment!
The TiM program does require extra travel and extra time out of the office, beyond your regular pre-ordination Residency requirements. And although the BOOM and the TiM program have worked well together to minimize overlapping demands, you’ll still be traveling to more meetings than your non-TiM colleagues.
Moving after just two years is tough!
By the end of Phase 1, I was very much ready to venture out on my own and dive into the solo ministry phase of the program. That said, being in an appointment for only two years can bring a handful of challenges — it’s hard to feel “settled in” and it can be difficult to put down roots when you know that you’ll be packing everything up in less than 24 months.
Your mileage may vary!
Every TiM pastor has their own journey, and your experience in the program depends on a lot of external factors: your family situation, the geographical/cultural setting of your appointments, how well you mesh with your senior pastor, and the individual parishioners in your congregation. As I said earlier, I think that the TiM model is — at its core — the best possible way to transition from seminary into full-time ministry … but this doesn’t mean that everything will flow smoothly or that you won’t encounter bumps in the road! But fortunately, when the journey gets bumpy, you have a whole team of advocates on your side! The TiM director and your TiM colleagues are always there to help you navigate rough patches and help you brainstorm solutions.
I think that the TiM program is a huge asset to the Great Plains Conference. It’s something that I would happily recommend to any incoming clergyperson, and I feel extraordinarily fortunate to be a part of the TiM cohort!