While I wait to hear from the Boston Seminary admissions and financial aid (which is essentially like waiting to hear if I won the lottery or not) I've begun to wade into the misty pool that is the "In Care" process.
In the United Church of Christ those seeking to enter the ministry are required to have "In Care" status in their home association/conference for at least one year prior to ordination, with most associations recommending that the process be started as early as possible - preferably within 6-months of starting seminary.
Being "In Care" essentially means that the you've spoken with your pastor about your plans to enter the ministry, you've met with your local church council and provided them with written materials describing your spiritual journey and educational plans, the home church then recommended you to the local association as a candidate for ministry, and the association reviewed the written biographical materials, school transcripts and references provided by the candidate. The association then interviews the candidate and approves or rejects the application for "In Care" status, if the application is accepted the association assigns the candidate a mentor/counselor who will meet with the candidate on a regular basis as long as the candidate remains In Care.
Being "In Care" is the first step towards ordination in the UCC but there is a whole other process that one has to go through in order to be ordained - the completion of an M.Div degree, the submission of an ordination paper, psychological testing, and a final interview/interrogation by the Ecclesiastical Council that is dependent upon one receiving a "call" (a job offer) from a church or ministry organization.
While this is a long and complicated process during which the candidate can be rejected at any point, I'm grateful that the UCC's path to ordination isn't as arduous as it is in some other denominations. I've heard horror stories about the endless hoops of fire that candidates have to jump through in the Episcopal church, where the process can last 5 years or more and candidates have been rejected for seemingly irrational reasons (such as being too old, or not using the right theological buzz-words during interviews).
So, the wading has begun. My pastor has known of my plans to enter the ministry for two years, and with seminary on the horizon I can now begin the "In Care" process. I'll spend this week writing and gathering the materials that I need for my application, and my pastor will set up a meeting with our church Deacons to formally submit a letter of application to the Association. If is accepted my pastor and I will attend the Association's Committee on the Ministry's meeting in April or May for my formal interview.
Any and all stories, anecdotes, and words of wisdom from those who have already gone through this process (in the UCC or otherwise) will be greatly appreciated!
"…the candidate will then be interviewed by the Ecclesiastical Council"