Once a person feels that he/she has been called by God into ordained ministry, they enter a stage known as candidacy. The first thing to do is read a short book called "The Christian as Minister" that explains the various ways the church can be served and the role of the ordained minister in it all, as well as a brief history of ordination in the UMC and the various roles that go along with the titles.
After that the candidate has to find a minister as an "unofficial" mentor to help me fill out and work through a rather large spiral bound workbook. Typically this is a minister from their home church. The only requirement is that they have been through the process and be a member of the clergy.
After this was done a paper was submitted to the district committee on ordained ministry (DCOM). The candidate usually has to meet with the DCOM and explain why they feel called to ordained ministry. It was then their responsibility to assign a candidacy mentor to help work through the "dreaded" big blue notebook (which is basically a slightly more detailed version of the purple workbook). This is where I ran into trouble, but I'll explain that later.
After the candidacy mentor is assigned, you work through the notebook, begin (or continue) to fulfill the educational requirements, be approved by the local church's staff-parish relations committee (SPRC), complete a psychological evaluation, and obtain several recommendations, and meet with the district committee once again. I'm sure there are a few other things that got slipped into the stacks of paperwork, but it escapes me at this point.
After all the requirements were met at that stage, you must appear before the DCOM and be interviewed once again. At that point you can be granted the status of "Certified Candidate". You must be a certified candidate for at least one year before the district committee can recommend you to the conference Board of Ordained Ministry (BoOM).
Once you are recommended to the BoOM, you have to write a lot of papers and complete a lot of assignments that cover three major categories - Theology & Doctrine, The Called & Disciplined Life, and The Practice of Ministry. After all this work is submitted (along with other papers including financial disclosure, health forms, and more recommendations) you are called before the BoOM and are interviewed.
If you exhibit appropriate readiness for ministry and are approved by the BoOM you are then commissioned as a Probationary Elder. I know "probationary" isn't the appropriate term anymore, but it's what I'm used to saying. You enter a program of education, supervision, guidance, and support for two to three years that is now known as Resident in Ministry (RIM). The length of time required for this stage depends on the Book of Discipline under which you are commissioned.
As you near the end of the required time for your RIM or probationary period, you must submit more papers in the same basic categories (although they are different questions!) and once again be interviewed by the BoOM. If you are determined to be appropriately effective in your ministry you are the approved for ordination in full connection.
There are two basic paths of ordination - deacon and elder. Deacons are ordained to a ministry of word and service. Their primary task is connecting the church with the world. This is done in a variety of ways. There are so many fantastic deacons working in wonderful ministries I won't even pretend I can even scratch the surface in listing them. Elders are ordained to word, order, service, and sacrament. They are typically your pastors of churches and the ones people think of when they think of a minister. They can officiate over the sacraments (communion and baptism) as well as at weddings and funerals.
I won't lie. This process is very trying at times. There are times when I really dislike it. But I do respect it. I recognize that, for the most part, it works and has continued this way as long as it has because it is important and effective. And much like competing in a marathon, there's a certain level of pride and relief that comes with the completion of such an endeavor!
Stay tuned for Part Two, which will contain some insight into my personal experience in this process.