Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the difference between the various terms, such as credentialing, licensing, and ordination?
“Credentialing” is an umbrella term used to refer to all of the ministerial credentials within the ECC’s structure. Licensing refers to the three types of ministerial license – the Ministry License, Bi-Vocational Ministry License, and Global Service License. Licenses are annually renewable, and therefore temporary in nature. They are tied to the ministry setting, and if the license-holder goes out of call, the license expires immediately. Ordination is one of the permanent credentials in the ECC credentialing structure. There are two ordinations – Ordination to Word and Sacrament and Ordination to Word and Service. The ECC also has two other permanent credentialing categories – Commissioning and Consecrated Missionary. The permanent credentials are different from licenses in that they are lifelong and do not expire.
Why does the ECC grant credentials to ministers?
The ECC believes in the accountability that the credentialing process brings. It protects both the credentialing candidate and the broader church. It protects the candidate by bringing that person into the structure of care and support provided by the conference and the denomination. It protects the church by ‘vetting’ each candidate via an involved examination process, which includes a background check, references, and an in-person interview with ministry peers. The requirements of the credentialing process help to ensure that the ministerium is continually learning and growing, and that its members are in alignment with ECC principles and theology.
Why should I get credentialed?
Receiving ministerial credentials is a privilege and carries with it responsibility to act in accordance with the Ethical Principles for Covenant Ministers and other ECC policies and guidelines. If a person is not ready to commit to the requirements of credentialing, he or she should not enter the process. In addition, a person needs to qualify by performing certain ministerial acts as part of his or her position. This is a discernment of the individual, the ministry setting, and the conference office. If you do qualify and are ready to commit to the requirements, then credentialing offers benefits to both you and your ministry setting. For you, it offers connection to a larger body of accountability and support. You will be part of a collegium of ministers that meets regularly and builds each other up through learning and fellowship. You will also have access to the resources of the Ordered Ministry in times of crisis. For the church, the credentialing process allows the denomination to ensure that its ministers meet a certain standard of education and competence, and ensures that ministers are adequately oriented to ECC theology and principles.
I hold a license. Can I perform sacraments?
Yes. Any license holder is authorized to perform sacraments, as well as any other ministerial duties required by his or her position, such as the ministries surrounding death and marriage.
I don’t serve in a local Covenant church setting. Can I still receive a Covenant credential?
Possibly. In addition to completing the paperwork for licensure, you will also be asked to fill out the Petition to Serve in a Non-Covenant Setting. The conference office will review the petition and make the final determination regarding whether you qualify.
I want to be ordained, but I don’t have a Master of Divinity and I don’t think I can complete one. What are my options?
The Board of the Ordered Ministry offers the option of ordination equivalency plans for ministers who are at least 35 years old and have at least 10 years of ministry experience. Through an application process, candidates may have their portfolio of existing education and experience evaluated by the Board. The Board will then offer the candidate a pathway toward ordination. Contact Ordered Ministry for more information and a consultation.
I hold ordination in another denomination. Can I transfer it to the ECC?
Yes, assuming you meet the qualifications, but be aware that the transfer process is not necessarily quick, and requires a period of discernment on the part of the candidate and the ECC.
I want to be licensed to perform a wedding. Does the ECC do that?
No. The ECC does not issue licenses just for weddings. A person must meet the qualifications for licensure and complete the procedure before receiving a license.
I just graduated from seminary. Can I be ordained?
To be ordained, a candidate must have 2 years of post-seminary degree experience. Or, a candidate must have been serving in ministry while in seminary. In those cases, the candidate must have earned the degree by January of the year he or she wishes to be ordained. In either case, a candidate must hold a ministerial license in the ECC before being ordained.
I want to get credentialed in the ECC, but I am not serving in ministry right now. Can I start the process?
A license is not primarily for the individual, it is for the church or ministry setting. According to the Rules for the Ordered Ministry, credentialing is contingent upon call. This means that a person must be in a called ministry position to qualify for credentialing. Therefore, a person must wait until he or she is in a qualifying ministry position before applying.
I found the ECC’s website and I like what I’ve read. Can I affiliate with you?
We are pleased when people find out about the ECC and are drawn to our fellowship. We encourage you to spend significant time reading the ECC’s documents on the Who We Are page, as well as documents such as Covenant Affirmations. We also recommend that you have several conversations with other Covenanters, especially Covenant pastors, and get a feel for our ethos. We encourage you to attend a Covenant gathering, such as the Covenant Midwinter Conference, to get a sense of our common life. If at that point you still feel that the ECC is a good fit, see if you meet the qualifications of licensure. If so, call your conference office and have a conversation with the staff to further discern if you qualify.
What does Inactive status mean?
Those with a permanent credential (Ordained to Word and Sacrament, Ordained to Word and Service, Commissioned, or Consecrated Missionaries) may move to Inactive status if they are not actively serving in a paid, called ministry position. Inactive status simply means that a person is not presently in a ministry position. Those on Inactive status are still listed on the roster of ministers and they may still seek a call. They are not obligated to pay dues, complete a Vocational Growth Tool, or maintain a current profile. However, they may choose to if they wish. Those on Inactive status have voice but no vote in ministerial business meetings. Those on Inactive status may not hold office in ministerial associations. A minister on Inactive status may perform occasional ministerial functions (such as a wedding) with the permission of the conference superintendent or the Ordered Ministry.
What does Leave of Absence status mean?
Those with a permanent credential (Ordained to Word and Sacrament, Ordained to Word and Service, Commissioned, or Consecrated Missionaries) may move to Leave of Absence status for purposes of childrearing, convalescence, continuing education, or other life events. Leave of Absence is different from inactive status in that there is a 5-year limit to Leave of Absence. Those on Leave of Absence understand that they are taking a break from ministry, but they intend to return to vocational ministry within 5 years or less. Those on Leave of Absence status are still listed on the roster of ministers. While on Leave of Absence status, it is optional to maintain the elements of good standing. If they choose to pay dues, they may vote in ministerial business meetings. A minister on Leave of Absence status may perform occasional ministerial functions (such as a wedding) with the permission of the conference superintendent or the Ordered Ministry.
If I am on Leave of Absence or Inactive Status, why am I required to obtain permission from the conference superintendent or Ordered Ministry before performing ministerial acts?
The reason is based in accountability. You are still representing the ECC while using your credential to perform ministerial functions; it is not simply yours to use. The ECC’s credentialing structure presumes call precedes credentialing. By virtue of call, a minister is automatically accountable to the ministry setting he or she serves, and performs ministerial acts in that context. We do not credential ministers “at large” which means that a minister, even if ordained, cannot hold an active credential indefinitely without being in a called position. If you are on Leave of Absence or Inactive, the understanding is that you are not in an active ministry position to which you are accountable. Therefore, you should not be performing ministerial duties (sacraments, weddings, pastoral counseling) regularly. You may perform the occasional ministerial act, but we ask you to check in with the superintendent or Ordered Ministry, either by email or phone call, so that others may be aware of what is being performed on an ECC credential.
How do I move from inactive or Leave of Absence status back to active status?
If you are on Inactive of Leave of Absence status and you receive a call to a qualifying ministry position (paid, called, pension-eligible), you may begin the process to return to active status. This may be accomplished through an interview with the Conference Committee on Ministerial Standing (COMS). Contact your conference office to notify them of your change in call and to be placed on the interview schedule.
I am not in a ministry call right now, but I want to be credentialed in the ECC. What should I do?
You need to first secure a qualifying ministry call, either in an ECC congregation, or other qualifying ministry. The best first step is to create a minister’s profile form on CovConnect, the online portal which connects ministers seeking call with churches seeking a minister. To gain access to CovConnect, you must either be a North Park Theological Seminary student in the call to ministry process or enrolled in Covenant Orientation. Contact your conference office for information on how to get access to CovConnect.
I want to be ordained as soon as possible. How can I accomplish that?
Keep in mind that faster is not always better. Ordination involves a discernment process. Allow yourself time to ask yourself deep questions such as: Am I ready to speak vows declaring my intention to serve in pastoral ministry in the ECC for the duration of my ministry life? The ECC also needs time to examine you and determine if ordination is the right step for you at this time. For this reason, the committee on ministerial standing (COMS) may delay a candidate if they feel he or she is not ready.
Why does the ECC require seminary education for ordination?
Formal education for clergy has been a foundational value of the ECC from the beginning. One of the first acts of the denomination was to establish a school (North Park) for the training of its ministers. The ECC continues to uphold the Master of Divinity as the standard degree for Ordination to Word and Sacrament. The ECC believes in the value of prolonged, directed study and in being required to submit one’s work to authorities in a given field. Seminary broadens understanding and exposes students to a diversity of ideas and interpretive methods that they may not have been exposed to in the local church or in their own private study. The life of a vocational minister is a life of study. Seminary gives both novice pastors and experienced pastors the tools to enhance their journey.
Why does the Ministry License require completion of the “core four” seminary courses as well as Covenant Orientation?
The Ministry License (ML) is the standard license for those in full-time vocational ministry in the ECC. It seems appropriate to require a minimum level of formal theological for those endorsed for full-time ministry. The “core four” refers to survey courses in Old Testament, New Testament, Systematic Theology, and Church History. If a candidate does not already have seminary training, he or she will need to complete the core four within eight years of receiving the first-time license. In addition, Covenant Orientation (CO) is required for those who did not earn a degree at North Park Theological Seminary. CO is vital for sharing with newcomers the ethos of the ECC. Since the ECC is non-creedal, our beliefs must be more “caught” than “taught.” It is essential that licensed pastors understand and appropriate Covenant theology and values so that they may in turn teach them to their congregations. The completion of the core four and CO can reasonably be accomplished in eight years if the candidate takes one course per year. A candidate may complete courses more rapidly if he or she desires.
Is Ordination to Word and Sacrament the highest credential? If I don’t qualify for Ordination to Word and Sacrament, should I seek Ordination to Word and Service first and then work my way up to Ordination to Word and Sacrament?
No, there is no hierarchy among the credentials. They are differentiated only in calling. In regard to credentialing, we must always ask ourselves “to what end?” The person Ordained to Word and Sacrament (OWSa) is classically trained, usually with a Master of Divinity, and sees him or herself as a theologian in residence. The person Ordained to Word and Service (OWSe) is a specialist, with graduate education supporting their specialization, who feels a lifetime call to staff ministry. It would not be appropriate for a candidate to use OWSe as a stepping stone to OWSa. Each permanent credential is an end in itself. This preserves the integrity of each credential and honors the calling and preparation of those who hold that credential. Occasionally, those who hold one permanent credential feel called to pursue a different permanent credential. In those cases, please contact Ordered Ministry for a discussion about requirements and process.
What happens to my credential when I retire?
If you hold a ministerial license, then when you retire, your license will simply expire, and you will no longer appear on the roster of ministers. If you hold a permanent credential, such as ordination, you should notify the Ordered Ministry of your retirement. The Ordered Ministry staff will then discuss with you moving your credential status to “retired.” When on retired status, pastors may still perform ministerial functions, but should do so with the permission of their superintendent or the Ordered Ministry. This is for accountability reasons. Those on retired status are not required to pay dues, complete the annual Vocational Growth Tool, or maintain an active minister’s profile form. Retired ministers are still expected to act in accordance with the Ethical Principles and other Covenant policies and guidelines. Retired ministers have voice and vote in ministerium business meetings.
Where do I start when I want to begin the credentialing process?
Contact your regional conference office for a consultation and a conversation. The staff in each conference is trained in credentialing procedures and should help you in discerning the proper credentialing category for you. When you are ready to apply, the conference staff will send you the application paperwork.
What is the difference between an interim license and a first-time license?
An interim license is any license granted between denominational annual meetings. All applicants need to be interviewed by the conference committee on ministerial standing in order to receive an interim license. A first-time license is one that has been approved by both the conference and denominational annual meetings and is always granted on July 1 (after the Covenant Annual Meeting).
What is orientation to the ECC?
Orientation seeks to assist pastors new to the denomination in becoming more fully connected to the Covenant. The orientation programs explore the life and mission of the Evangelical Covenant Church, help pastors to establish collegial relationships, and offer education in Covenant heritage and distinctives.
Why does the Covenant require orientation?
As a non-creedal denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church highly prizes our characteristic interconnectedness stemming from shared life in Christ. While emphasizing theological freedom, the Covenant has placed a high priority on developing these relationships within the context of theological education and exploration of the Covenant characteristics. In short, orientation introduces the Covenant to pastors, and pastors to the Covenant. Note that pastors may hold a ministerial license while completing a Covenant orientation program.
Who needs orientation to the ECC?
All pastors seeking any kind of credential within the ECC are required to enroll in a Covenant orientation program. Orientation programs are modified for those seeking a Bi-Vocational Ministry License and those seeking a Global Service License.
What are my orientation options?
Candidates may become oriented to the ECC through a variety of programs.
- Study at North Park Theological Seminary (NPTS). Students may be oriented to the ECC by completing a degree program at NPTS or by completing the required orientation courses. Orientation through NPTS may be accomplished through residential on-campus study, or through the distance learning program. This is an excellent choice for those who have not yet finished their seminary work.
- Covenant Orientation. This two to six year program includes orientation courses held at denominational and regional gatherings, required participation in various Covenant events, and an intentional advising relationship. This program is the best choice for pastors who need to be oriented while continuing in their normal ministry and/or who have already completed a seminary degree.
- Centro Hispano de Estudios Teológicos (CHET). CHET is an ECC institution dedicated to training ministers serving in an Hispanic context.
- Western Alaska Ministry Training (WAMT). This is a special program offered for those serving in the Western Alaska context.