Young adults gather virtually to discern their calling despite COVID-19

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By Meg Young, TNUMC Communications Intern

Coronavirus has not deterred Tennessee Conference (TNUMC) leaders from helping young adults discern their calling. When on-site internships and jobs disappeared or moved online, they created an online program to support conference college students and young adults.

Russell Casteel, director of camp and retreat ministries in the Tennessee Conference; Sarah McCormick, director of leadership formation for Project Transformation; and John Weaver, director at Wesley of Middle Tennessee, joined with TNUMC’s Brad Fiscus, director of the conference’s Next Gen Ministries, to create the six-week series, Vocational Discernment Cohort Program for young adults.

Sarah McCormick described the program as, “a series of small groups, with the goal of providing space for young adults to connect, reflect, and seek resources in the discernment of their callings.” With virtual weekly meetings, over 65 college students and young adults across the Tennessee and Memphis conferences gather in these small groups (cohorts) to discuss callings and begin to discern theirs with each other and a facilitator.

The cohort program has covered many topics of discussion surrounding vocation, according to Russell Casteel. These discussions often are preceded by watching videos especially made for this program. Lay and clergy servant leaders discuss personal aspects of their calling and their perspectives or experiences in this series of videos. Featured in these video discussions were many leaders including Bishop Bill McAlilly, BHECM Chair Angella Current-Felder and Executive Director of Open Table Nashville Ingrid McIntyre.

Casteel said, “We have discussed how vocation is broader and more inclusive than just to ministry or pastor careers but includes living into our gifts and serving the world. We have talked about how we hear God’s voice, and how we interpret when others do or do not say that we are ‘called’. We have explored our gifts and how we could use them in an ever-changing world.”

The cohort program is making a difference not only in helping students discern their future but showing them how to live into God’s call now, according to one student participating in one of the cohorts. Daniel Phebus, a sophomore at Middle Tennessee State University, said he previously struggled with finding action steps to take despite feeling God calling him into ministry. Phebus went on to say, “The cohort has made me be more active in God’s call. Instead of taking being called as a granted, I am more consistently looking for ways to actively discern and live into God’s call through thinking ahead but perhaps more importantly seeing ways to live into God’s call in the present.”

When asked how they would carry this on in the future, many program participants agreed that their discernment process is far from over. Michelle Ozier-Wallace, a cohort facilitator, emphasized, “Discernment is never over. It’s a process not a destination.”

Members of the 2020 vocational discernment cohorts met in their small groups for six weeks over the summer, but it won’t necessarily stop there. John Weaver said, “I have also heard of some older adults and churches who want to use this as well.” The program leaders are excited that other groups want to use the program to help even more people in other settings.

A pandemic is certainly not enough to stop God’s work through others’, something that Weaver, McCormick and Casteel have shown through their work with the Vocational Discernment Cohort and young adults and college students have shown through their willingness to participate in a time when life can seem chaotic as it is.

For more information on the Vocational Discernment Cohort Program or to inquire about using the curriculum, contact John Weaver at or Russell Casteel at Sarah McCormick, John Weaver and Russell Casteel have shown that even if what they say is the “lifeblood of discernment” (summer camps, PT, and campus ministries) can’t meet in their usual way, there is always a way for God to work in helping them deepen their call to discernment and grow their spiritual gifts.