Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Guaranteed Appointments

That loud 'mooo' you've been hearing is the death of another sacred cow.

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.
The Methodists, apparently, have determined that "guaranteed appointments" interfere with ......wait for it........"denominational mission".

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 UMC is also looking at three - count 'em, 1,2,3 - proposals for restructuring. There was even a proposal to create the position of a "Set-aside bishop" (Don't you just love the really-trying-hard-to-be-egalitarian language?) whose sole purpose would be a sorta-kinda President of the UM Council of Bishops who was not any more powerful than the other bishops but would be "set aside" to coordinate the running of meetings and other important stuff bishops need to do.

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.

Clergy are bearing the brunt of this membership - and ensuing financial - crisis in the church. See? We can't do 'mission' because of 'ineffective' clergy who are costing us too much.

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 we didn't put the right people in the right positions and didn't really think the whole thing through, they sucked. 

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.

I'm sure some knowledgeable Methodists will chime in here and correct or finesse what I've reported from what I've read in the Methodist press releases.

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.

As I've perused some of their 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?

That's Jesus.



Elaine C. said...

Appointing clergy isn't popular with younger UMC "clergy" -- I used to work at a UMC seminary. Many 20 something students refused to be ordained elder because they either had or expected to have spouses with lives and careers. They did not want to turn both of their lives over to the arbitrary decisions of the church hierarchy. The alternative was to be a deacon or a locally ordained pastor or something like that (yep, the UMC folks will correct me on lingo). Anyway, the rumblings about being appointed being a problem are part of the picture.

Yet, much of what I heard also suggested that the hierarchy was pretty good at removing, or taking out of rotation clergy that they disagreed with (I'm thinking of an outspoken woman I knew, as well as, some lesbian friends of mine ...) -- So it really does feel like "bad clergy" is a red herring, an excuse.

Churches are human institutions -- flawed -- is it time to serve Jesus through other means ...

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Elaine C - I used to be adjunct faculty at a UMC seminary and that wasn't my experience. Indeed, it was just the opposite - it seemed to be a draw, but I can hear and understand the argument. It will be interesting to see hoe that part of the 'restructuring' unfolds - especially as a 'backlash' to what seems to have been a surprise - if not precipitous - decision

Unknown said...

Why would Jesus weep at fewer clergy and hierarchy? Monika

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Monika - I think Jesus weeps over injustice in any form.

Anonymous said...

So the Methodist are sacrificing sacred cows and the Catholics are sacrificing the escape goats. So what are the Baptist sacrificing today?
Sorry I could not resist.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Maria - Everything, just for the hell of it ;~)

Dave said...

My experience as a UM employee is that we've now had 2 horrible pastors in a row who have been killing our church. It seems they are moved around a lot because they can't be fired. I am convinced that guaranteed appointment is no longer effective. If pastors, like all other workers, aren't willing to change, adapt and learn new skills, they become obsolete.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Dave - I hear you, but I think it's just lazy management to throw out the whole barrel because of a few bad apples. There are ways to deal with ineffective pastors. I know because I have seen bishops reassign clergy to non-parochial ministry.

If you want to eliminate the guaranteed appointment system, that's fine. Take the bishop out of the appointment system and allow clergy and congregations to have control over the call process. Give them autonomy. You know. Like adults.

I'm thinking too many bishops are too wed to the control they have.