Monday, June 15, 2009

I've been filling out applications for United Methodist schools of theology where I can take my "Basic Graduate Theological Studies" (BGTS) courses that are required for ordination. It is rather striking, even comical, that a program that claims to be fairly standardized (even the name BGTS implies this), is no where near standardized. Course credits are different (e.g. a 2 credit course at one school is 3 at another - for the same course), costs are considerably different as a time spent in class. For example, one school teaches a course in UM Polity that is 2 credits, at another it is three and yet another combines it into a Polity/Doctrine course that is 4 credits. Some are offered as semester courses and some are taught in two-week intensives. Costs are stunningly different, ranging from just over $400 to over $1,000/credit. So, as I work through this process there's much more than just signing up for a class involved here. Quite honestly it is beyond frustrating. First because the process is presented as being rather streamlined. It isn't. Furthermore, it is nearly impossible to get a consistent answer to a question from anyone. I've been told that I need to take all my courses at the same school, I've been told that I should just take the UM-specific courses (Polity/History/Doctrine etc.) and petition the acceptance of my St. John's credits, and I've been told that the UM courses need to be taught by a United Methodist - yet the one in MN isn't currently taught as such (but will be in the spring), I've even been told I should become Roman Catholic, get ordained as a Deacon and then switch back to United Methodism. Seriously! Second, I'm struggling with the idea of paying out a large amount of money that in the long run I won't ever see back. Regarding this second point, I know as well as anyone that a call to ministry isn't about money but rather service to others. However, one still has bills to pay. Ironically students taking BGTS courses aren't really recognized as students at the UM schools. As non-degree seeking students, they aren't eligible for institutional scholarships or financial aid (although the General Board of Higher Education does pay up to $200/credit for certified candidates) beyond your regular student loans. As a matter of fact as I add up the cost for tuition, living expenses and such, I'll be paying nearly three times more for these 24 (or 27 depending on the school) BGTS credits than I will for both my MA and MDIV degrees. That causes me concern, not just for me, but for the denomination in general. How do we expect to attract young people to ministry when we burden them with what certainly can be considered a mountain of debt? Combine that with the bureaucratic maze that has to be navigated and other service-oriented careers suddenly have a great deal more appeal than does ordained ministry! There is one consistency among the schools, not one of them make it particularly easy for someone coming from a somewhat (i.e. non-large metropolitan area) rural/remote location. Has anyone heard of weekend classes or web-based distance learning?

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