By John MacKeil
Two years ago, at the annual district Christmas party, then-Greenville District Superintendent George Howle tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I was ready to help him fulfill a promise I made to him the previous year.
I had told Rev. Howle that if there was anything I could do to help him, to let me know. Well, the time came, and he needed help. He wanted me to be the pastor of a church because there was a shortage of pastors to fill the need.
I had taken many of the courses that were offered by Lay Servant Ministries over the years, including advanced courses. I had been certified as a lay speaker some years before and had, on occasion, filled the pulpit as a lay person. But now that I was close to meeting the qualifications for certified lay minister, Rev. Howle felt I would be the ideal candidate for a small church in the district.
I spoke with a dear friend and fellow certified lay speaker Michael Cheatham about the opportunity. Michael, a past district and conference director of Lay Servant Ministries and the district lay leader at the time, had been an instructor in Lay Servant Ministries for years and was currently serving a church as a Lay Supply pastor. While we discussed the opportunity, Michael suggested that since both of us had completed the required courses for certified lay minister, we should complete the rest of the program, which included a four-part CLM program, background check and approval of the District Committee of Ordained Ministry.
Both Michael and I were approved by DCOM to hold the CLM certification, two of the first in the conference and first to pastor churches. I was assigned to Fews Chapel UMC in Greer and Michael continued at his current church, Zoar UMC in Greer, but now in the role of certified lay minister. The current district superintendent in Greenville, the Rev. Jim Dennis, has been extremely supportive of the role of CLMs in the district and of Lay Servant Ministries.
My wife is a retired Methodist elder, and when Rev. Howle asked me to fill the position it also brought her out of retirement to serve as a pastor in a church. The privilege of the CLM designation brings with it the opportunity for the church to have a person serving in a capacity they can put their trust and confidence in.
The United Methodist Church has seen a decrease in the number of ordained clergy and local pastors, and the decline will continue as more pastors reach retirement age and fewer people enter the ministry. The CLM program for laity is a wonderful opportunity to help the church lighten the burden on clergy as they continue to serve larger congregations. The program allows those who wish to serve in a church or in a role assisting the lead pastor in their church to gain the education, qualifications and understanding needed to spread the Word of God.
Both Michael and I know the work we do has benefited the churches we serve, the district and the South Carolina Conference by bridging the gap leaving no church without a pastor. I implore those in Lay Servant Ministries to continue toward CLM certification and, for those who want to serve God in a special way, to become a part of Lay Servant Ministries.
Be prepared when you get that tap on your shoulder.
MacKeil pastors Fews Chapel UMC, Greer.