Direct, relatable. transparent, loving, accessible, dependable: these are all terms that could be used to describe Pastor Ellen Shepard at Stone Mountain First United Methodist Church. Researching and responding to her call since the 8th grade, Pastor Shepard is knowledgable, focused, and in a loyal and personal relationship with Christ that leads a successful ministry in the historic town, Stone Mountain, Ga. Staying holy and remembering the reason for the sacraments and what they symbolize averred important to her, and her service to the public is centered on Christ like living and spreading the message of love, salt and light. The following interview with Pastor Ellen Shepard sheds light on the diligence and ingenuity it takes to lead a successful ministry in the United Methodist Church.
Interviewer: Felicia S. C. Gooden — Student; Church member and Lay Servant
Interviewee: Senior Pastor Ellen Shepard
Interview Setting: Interview was conducted in the Pastor’s office at Stone Mountain First Untied Methodist Church at 11:10 on Wednesday morning.
Affiliation with interviewee: I have been a member of her congregation for just over a year now. I have also taken church leadership classes are our local church.
(Start of Interview)
FSCG: Tell me about your call to pastoral ministry.
Pastor Shepard: It’s been a call over a lifetime. My first call probably happened when I was in the 8th grade at a youth conference and felt the invitation from God to respond to a call sometime in the 60’s. The folks they were expecting to respond to the call to ministry we all male, so I didn’t go because I felt that maybe I got that information wrong because they were looking for males. Our denomination (Methodist) was ordaining women at the time, but this is was in the deep south and I had never seen any clergy women and had not seen any women serving. I felt shame that I could have gotten God’s call wrong, so I went on to get a teaching degree. I was a youth director, and then I became a children and family minister and thought, Oh! I better get some training for this!
FSCG: Which pastoral responsibility do you enjoy the most? Why?
Pastor Shepard: Funerals (of believers) because I love to tell their stories. I love to hear their stories. I love to see family members reflect on stories, and see how faith was lived out in someone’s life.
FSCG: Which pastoral duty do you enjoy the least? Why?
Pastor Shepard: Weddings (preparation and counseling in enjoyed) because the actual event is not about the church, it’s about the dress, the venue, the details. Too much worldly focus. I think there are weddings that are holy but by and large they are not, especially with weddings of non-believers.
FSCG: Describe the amount of time you spend in an average week preparing a sermon.
Pastor Shepard: The number 14, about 14 hours, comes to mind. You do some study the day of and the week before. You study the week before the sermon and get prepared, and then you write the manuscript — that’s all day.
FSCG: Describe the amount of time you spend in an average week on administrative responsibilities.
Pastor Shepard: Maybe about 8 hours — 8-10. About 2 hours each day — responding to emails, writings newsletter articles.
FSCG: Describe the amount of time you spend in an average week on personal devotions and prayer.
Pastor Shepard: Well, I spend in the morning at least an hour everyday. And then in the evening I’ll spend another 30-45 minutes.
FSCG: What is an area of pastoral ministry that you wish you had been taught when you were in school?
Pastor Shepard: More emphasis on raising money. Ya know, a preacher really has to be a fundraiser. The whole importance of stewardship, personally, for each person in the pew, to be able to teach the importance of it. Most people shut that off because they feel like, “Oh it’s my money, and I don’t want you thinking about my money.” I wish I had more training in some area about how to teach stewardship. How to help raise money. How to help fund the projects that are outside of the budget. It’s been a lot of figuring out on my part.
FSCG: Describe your ordination council.
Pastor Shepard: It was a 12 year process; in the United Methodist Church it’s a 12 year process. You go to seminary for 3 years. You go before your district board of ministry. You go before your conference board of ministry. You have to write answers to historic questions about the faith and the church and the organization of the church and your understanding of the sacraments of the church. And then you have to go before a committee and defend those papers, and be interviewed and be voted on. The hole gets smaller and smaller on every step, so not everyone gets through… Once you’re approved, you have to be commissioned for three years as part of a small group that meets once a month for three years under supervising elders. After that three years — that’s outside of seminary — then you can be recommended for ordination.
FSCG: What is one piece of advice you would give to someone aspiring to be a pastor?
Pastor Shepard: i would say this: too often we allow our desire to be a pastor to become the thing we worship, and we have to make sure we’re worshipping — actively worshipping — and in relationship with God everyday.
FSCG: How do you handle church conflict?
Pastor Shepard: As transparently as possible. Another reason to stay prayed up is conflict. There is going to be conflict. There is no way around it.
FSCG: Have you ever been trained in church conflict? If so, where?
Pastor Shepard: In seminary.
FSCG: Do you think forced termination of pastors is a problem in churches today? Why or why not?
Pastor Shepard: Well, in our tradition, what we call it is Surrendering (your) Credentials. You will have to surrender your credentials. Ah, I think it is a problem when that happens, and it usually a result of some financial or sexual indiscretion. But here’s what I say, “If you are walking with Jesus, every night, everyday, and God is your God, and you’re not your God, then you’re not going to get into trouble in those areas. It can happen in other areas, but it’s usually, tampering with the money.
FSCG: What advice would you give me on how to avoid forced termination?
Pastor Shepard: Don’t touch the money! Don’t touch anybody else’s loved one. Ya know, the opposite is actually what I would say, “Just make sure you are in relationship with Jesus Christ. Every morning, every evening, all throughout your day.”
FSCG: Do you think politics and religion should mix? Why or why not?
Pastor Shepard: I don’t think politics and religion should mix, but I do think that some of us in the church are called to address justice issues in the world. And I see social justice issues to be separate from politics. I do think we should vote. I do think we should make our buildings available for voting. I think we should encourage people to vote. And I think we should be in favor of human rights. How do we live that out? I think politics is, um, dirty business. But that’s just my own experience. We are all political people.
FSCG: How do you feel about there being so many translations of the bible?
Pastor Shepard: I think it’s great…I think a translation is one thing; a version is another thing. A translation is translated from another language. A version is someone’s opinion about a translation. When preparing for a sermon, I like to look at scriptures in as many different ways as I can.
FSCG: How do you handle the burden of ministry? Stay positive?
Pastor Shepard: In the morning, you pray. In the evening, you pray. You pray throughout your day. You stay in relationship with Jesus… A pastor has to stay full, and sometimes that means going away.
FSCG: What does your daily schedule look like?
Pastor Shepard: I get up and I walk the mountain, and then I come back and I shower and dress and pray. Have breakfast. Go to work… I’ll have lunch with whoever is here at church or have lunch meetings. I don’t do as well with the evening meals. If I come home at 8, 8:30, 9 o’clock, I don’t want to eat.
FSCG: How does being a pastor influence personal relationships, especially during conflict?
Pastor Shepard: A tragedy happened in my family and I didn’t feel like preaching, but I couldn’t stop. There’s only so many times I can call Kevin (the Associate Pastor). God will continue to minister you and guide you.
This interview was a great eye-opener for me in reference to workings of the United Methodist Church and my pastor in particular. I learned that there is room to have a general structure to one’s life and allow God to guide daily life. Certain beliefs about earning one’s ordination were confirmed in learning that the United Methodist Church requires 12 years of study and training in addition to undergraduate and graduate education. Pastor Shepard’s journey of understanding and responding to a call to ministry since her pre-teen years is most inspiring, and it speaks to the reality that women are called into ministry by God just as men are. The greatest takeaway from this interview is the importance of being transparent and honest, in ministry and in life. Pastor Shepard said, “it isn’t yelling and walking away; it’s staying in…” When we stay in the moment, and in relationship with Jesus Christ, we are able to come to a point of understanding that will resolve all conflicts, build stronger personal and spiritual relationships, and build up the body of Christ.
This interview was conducted for educational purposes for the A.A. Religion Program at Liberty University. (c) 2015