Ordination Process by Denomination
This section provides an overview of the ordination process for several mainline denominations, along with links to the denominational websites.
The American Baptist Conference of the Rochester Genesse Region offers extensive information about their ordination process on their website. The process begins in the local community where those sensing a call to ministry are encouraged to seek the counsel of their pastors.
The Conference defines ordination as follows: “Ordination grants recognition to the person’s calling, fitness, and preparation for a particular ministry and confers upon such person its approval of her/his place among peers. Ordination has tended to be the “setting apart” to perform special functions of ministry, on behalf of the community of faith.”
African Methodist Episcopal
The African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) has provided the following synopsis of the steps to ministry:
“To become an ordained minister in the AME Church, one must first be a regular and in good standing member of an AME Church for two years. If you feel a calling, you must then make your wishes known to the pastor of that charge. The pastor will then determine if you are pursuing the itinerant or local track. You must give a trial sermon at which point, the church will have a church conference in which to vote a person to be submitted as a potential licentiate. At the quarterly conference at that church, the Presiding Elder will then issue a preaching license, valid for a year. A candidate will be taken before the District Conference to be voted to be admitted into Annual Conference. It is only after these steps will you be allowed to go to the admission's class of the Board of Examiners (BOE). It takes five years to go through the BOE. If taking the itinerancy route, in three years after starting the BOE, you will be ordained a Deacon if you have a bachelor's degree. To be an itinerant Elder, you must have a Master's degree from an accredited seminary. To be a Local Deacon, you must have attended the BOE for three years. To be a Local Elder, you must complete all five years of the BOE. Deacons, both itinerant and local, can marry, bury, baptize, and assist with communion. Elders, both itinerant and local are the only ones that are able to consecrate the elements for communion and they perform the same rites as Deacons.”
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) organizes its ordination process in two main categories: initial assessment and ongoing assessment. For details about the criteria and approach to candidacy, visit their website discussion of the ordering of ministry.
For complete information about the Episcopal ordination process, you may access the Episcopal Diocese of New York's webpage about postulancy for ordination.
The Episcopal Church ordains to both the diaconate and the priesthood through a multi-year ordination process. While the roles of these two ordained ministries are distinct, they share certain core requirements and responsibilities. Both require consultative, educational, spiritual and vocational commitments from the individual seeking ordination.
The Episcopal Church offers the following list of foundational gifts for the priestly ministry:
- Sense of self: self-knowledge, psychological health
- Personal integrity: authenticity, trustworthiness, dependability
- Intelligence: intellectual grasp of concepts and practical applications and implications of them.
- Spiritual depth: a tended relationship with God in Christ
- Sense of vocation for the ordained ministry: a call, a beckoning recognized as from God
- Leadership: initiative, vision, willingness to risk, ability to motivate others
- Sense of fitness of things: judgment, boundaries, etc.
- Loyalty to the institution of the Church: a healthy respect for the traditions and authority of the Church from a position of challenge as well as from a position of support.
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
This branch of the Lutheran Church is governed by an “episcopal” polity. This means that ordained clergy persons, under the supervisor of bishops, are responsible for the governance of the church, including the ordination process, acceptance and guidance of those sensing a call, and ultimate direction regarding vocation for those individuals.
The ordination process in the ELCA follows four steps, which they label as:
For more detail about the ELCA ordination process, visit their website to review the Ordination Manual.
United Methodist Church
The United Methodist Church is governed by an “episcopal” polity.
The UME ordination process is organized in six steps that delineate the progression of the candidate. Once a person is approved to begin the process, s/he is considered a candidate for ministry. The stages of a candidate’s progression toward ministry are outlined below.
- Inquiring Candidate
- Exploring Candidate
- Declared Candidate
- Certified Candidate
- Continuation of Candidacy
- Completion of Candidacy
For details about the requirements of each step of this process, as well as an outline of the initial phases of ordained ministry, visit the UMC website that covers this topic.
Unitarian Universalist Association
Unitarian Universalists (UUs) who sense a call to ordained ministry begin by applying to participate in the ordination process. All applications are recorded by the Association. Those applicants who are accepted into the process become “aspirants,” aspiring to the ministry while fulfilling the formational and educational requirements to become a candidate.
The UUA website provides access to its ministerial candidacy booklet as well as links to several videos and online resources.
Presbyterian Church (USA)
The Presbyterian Church (USA) ordains individuals as “Teaching Elders,” formerly known as Ministers of Word and Sacrament. Those who sense a call to ministry in the PCUSA must be active members of a congregation for at least six months prior to entering the process. Their first step will be to complete the initial paper work requesting approval to become an inquirer and to meet with the ruling elders (the session) of his or her congregation who will determine whether to recommend the individual to be taken “under care” of the congregation and its presbytery. Each presbytery determines the specific requirements for its inquirers and candidates within overall guidelines. The three main steps of the process are:
- Certified Candidate
Reformed Church in America
The Reformed Church in America outlines its ordination process for Ministers of Word and Sacrament as a progression from the individual’s sense of call through ordination as follows:
- Internal call/External call—a personal sense of call affirmed by the church
- Local church consistory (governing body) applies on behalf of the applicant to the classis (regional governing body)
- Candidate appears before the classis or its committee for an interview.
- Classis petitions the General Synod (national governing body) for a Certificate of Fitness for Ministry, which will be issued upon completion of all requirements by the candidate no sooner than 27 months after the petition is received.
- Education (Master of Divinity degree)
For additional details, visit the RCA website.
United Church of Christ
The United Church of Christ delineates 12 steps for the student in care in the ordination process. These steps typically occur within a similar time frame (three years) with the seminary education and correlate to other denominations. The steps are:
- Individual approaches local pastor about sense of call
- Individual applies to local church governing board
- Individual provides required information about call and plans
- Governing board interviews and determines whether to approve application
- Local church provides documentation to request care from the Association Committee on Ministry
- If committee approves it sends an agenda for an interview for the individual
- The Association Committee on Ministry interviews the candidate
- The Association Committee on Ministry arranges presentation of the individual to the Association or Conference
- Student pursues education and relates to a church throughout the process
- The Association Committee on Ministry assures that the required steps are completed
- The Association Committee on Ministry conducts an annual review determining each year whether to continue with the student.
- Six months prior to completion of theological training individual may begin ordination procedures.
For details and additional information, access the ordination manual
or visit the UCC website resources for those considering ordination.