The United Methodist Church, which has been meeting at General Conference in Tampa, FL, has just voted to end guaranteed appointments for ordained elders. My understanding is that it is effective immediately after General Conference ends.
Security of appointment was established in 1956 to protect women clergy and later clergy of color. It allowed bishops to appoint clergy to congregations and make them deal with the reality of the denominational commitment to diversity - including leadership.
It's a wonderful, progressive idea which has worked well for 54 years.
The arguments against it all centered around the fact that, as Tom Choi, District Superintendent from Hawai'i and member of the Ministry Study Commission said, "These days, the group most protected by security of appointment is ineffective clergy."
In the United States, one in three churches have less than 40 in worship on Sunday, said the Rev. Ken Carter, chair of the Western North Carolina delegation and co-author of the ministry study report.
“What we have done is to displace local pastors often in poor and marginalized areas or created charges that are sometimes artificial and not helpful to the local churches to try to provide employment for elders,” he said. They have continued despite ineffectiveness and this has done harm to local churches.”
Carter said an amendment to the legislation allows for the monitoring of cabinets and bishops by an independent group of people not placed there by the bishop or cabinet.
Is anyone else just a tad weary of using 'mission' as the reason for just about anything we want to change in the church? Any church?
Suddenly, 'mission' is all the rage. Everybody's doing it. Or, more precisely, realizing that we are not doing it. Or, haven't been doing it very well. So we have to 'restructure' and become 'more nimble' in order to do it.
Which, interestingly enough, protects the structures at the top, cutting everything else below - with clergy employment and compensation packages being hardest hit.
The petition stated that the council “may elect from its active membership a full-time president” who also would “be relieved from residential responsibilities” while in that office.
That's what we, in The Episcopal Church, call a "Presiding Bishop" - except s/he doesn't only "preside" - even though that is, as I understand it, the original intent. S/he has become "the face" of The Episcopal Church.
Which is why, ultimately, the UMC meeting in General Conference, defeated the motion.
It is reported that "Several delegates rose to express their fear that a full-time council president would have too much power or that the position would be thought of as “the face of The United Methodist Church,” whether that was the intention or not."
Now, look, I'm not a Methodist but some of my good friends are - and I'm certainly not familiar with all the ins and outs of Methodist polity, much less the specifics of any of these pieces of legislation - but I must say that this sounds very familiar to conversations I'm hearing in Episcopal circles.
See? All that time you thought we were starting missions in "poor and marginalized areas" in the name of mission but really, we were creating jobs for elders. And
No more 'guaranteed appointments' for the whole lot of you, then.
See? We need to centralize institutional power, placing in the hands of bishops, who, apparently, know more about mission than anybody else.
Which we haven't been doing very well, which is why the church is failing and losing members, because of 'ineffective pastors', but now that that there are no more 'guaranteed appointments', we are free to do 'effective mission', but we're keeping the bishops in place because ..... well.....because I suppose we can only kill so many sacred cows in one sitting.
I know. None of it makes any sense, does it?
I mean, if the analysis is that there isn't an effective method in place for congregations to remove an 'ineffective pastor', then why not set up a system to be able to do just that?
And, if you're going to remove 'guaranteed appointments', shouldn't you also set congregations free to be able to call their own pastor and liberate clergy to be able to choose the congregation they wish to serve? Or, is that taking away too much power from the bishops and district superintendents?
Never mind. I think I know the answer to that.
Indeed, I hope they will. I haven't spoken to anyone who is "on the ground" who can give me some of the nuances and mood of the House.
I'm looking at what's going on at General Conference from afar and with my Episcopal lenses on, but none of it looks good to me - on their or our side of the ecclesiastical fence.
legislation, it looks as if progressives are at least holding the line on LGBT issues. There have been creative forms of protest, from a "die in" and a "flash mob" protesting the church's exclusion of gays and lesbians from full inclusion in the life and leadership of the church.
It appears, at least at this point, as if we won't be able to see anything untoward but clearly - well, at least as I see it, there won't be any progress.
As I said, there are only so many sacred cows one can kill in one sitting.
I'm more concerned with the dynamic of churches centralizing power at the top all in the name of effective mission, which everyone knows is done best at the local level.
I mean, didn't we just see that in the Anglican Covenant?
The Episcopal Church will be meeting in General Convention in Minneapolis July 5-12. We'll be having some of the same discussions about budget and whether or not we can save ourselves and our future by cutting Youth Ministries.
We'll also be discussing final approval to changes in Title IV canons (Disciplining Clergy), and whether or not we will actually save money by requiring all dioceses and clergy and lay employees to enroll in a denominational health care plan and what the heck did we mean by "cost sharing" anyway?
Yes, it does looks - for now, at least - like we'll be giving the green light to the authorization of the development of liturgical rites of blessing for covenants between two people of the same sex, when we're not talking about changing the marriage canons to be pronoun neutral.
And, we'll also be talking about whether or not to have a Special Convention - which we can't afford - in order to talk about restructuring the church so we can save money so we can..... wait for it..... yes, yes, children, you know..... all together now..... "DO MISSION!"
You can smell the fear from here.
That sound you hear?
Those are the sacred cows being led to the slaughter house.
That other sound?