BANGOR, Maine — Over the past five years, Darlene Shortt has been a secretary, lay leader and lay speaker at Grace United Methodist Church, 193 Union St.
Earlier this month, the 73-year-old Holden woman became the first certified lay minister for the United Methodist Church in Maine.
“About 18 months ago, I began to feel a very strong calling from God to do something,” Shortt said after Sunday’s worship service, “but it was left to me to figure out exactly what that something was.”
Shortt is an example of the growing number of lay leaders in many Protestant and Catholic churches across the country who are being trained by their denominations to take on pastoral duties previously performed by ordained clergy.
In the United Methodist Church, the training takes about six months of intense study done under the guidance of a minister. Shortt said Sunday that she spent two hours each week with her pastor, the Rev. Kathy Macedo.
Short had four study modules to cover — discerning spiritual gifts, worship, preaching and the history and polity of the United Methodist Church. That work takes a minimum of 34 hours of study, according to information on the denomination’s website.
“I didn’t know a lot about the history and the evolution of the denomination,” she said. “I really enjoyed learning about John Wesley and how the church has changed and developed over the years.”
The denomination was founded by John Wesley, an 18th century Anglican priest whose followers took the name their leader had been called by scoffers — Methodists.
In 1784, the American branch was founded in Baltimore. Over the next two decades, itinerant preachers traveled on horseback throughout the Northeast, leaving converts behind who established congregations and built churches.
Many of those early Methodists had no formal education to be clergy but felt they had been called by God to spread the “Good News” of the New Testament. Those colonial evangelists, often called circuit riders, worked under the guidance of ordained ministers in cities far from the rural areas they served.
Unlike those early lay ministers, Shortt had to undergo a criminal background check and psychological testing before she could be certified. She also had to be approved by her congregation, the district superintendent for the Northern Maine District and a districtwide committee on ministry.
As a certified lay minister, Shortt must work under the direction of a pastor and be part of a ministry team. Because she is the first one in Maine and one of the few in New England, Shortt has no role models to follow as a certified lay minister, but she does have a goal.
“I want to show love and compassion for the people on this corner, in this neighborhood,” Shortt said, referring to the church’s location on the corner of Union and Clinton streets in Bangor. “I’m grateful to God for giving me this chance.”
Next month, Macedo will move to Acushnet, Mass., outside New Bedford, Mass., where she will pastor the Acushnet-Wesley United Methodist Church. The Rev. Sue Davenport, now pastor of Oakland-Sidney United Methodist Church in Oakland, will replace her, but part time.
Davenport will be the first minister who will not serve Grace United Methodist Church full time.
“When Darlene began working toward certification, we didn’t know the church was going to be transitioning to having a part-time minister,” Macedo said after Sunday’s service, “but I guess God knew.”