Tuesday, April 29, 2008

General Conference- April 29

OK, let me clear one thing up first. In my previous post I talked about a hypothetical situation in which I could justify denying church membership to a person who served in the military under a recent Judicial Council decision interpreting part of the Book of Discipline. I would never actually do such a thing for a plethora of reasons. I love and support people in the military, even though I disagree with certain decisions that are made by their superiors. It was only an example to show how stupid said action of the Judicial Council was. At least one person misunderstood me, although I'm not entirely sure they didn't deliberately misinterpret what I wrote. But I digress.

I've been tracking the progress of legislation through the different committees because I know there are some things that won't get covered in the news blurbs that come from the journalists at the Conference each day. Not because they're trying to hide anything, of course (if they were why would they put the progress of legislation on the web?). There's just so many topics to cover that they can't all get the full treatment.

One of the big issues that is before the General Conference is the current state of the ordination process. As it stands now it takes the better part of a decade to become a fully ordained Deacon or Elder. The 2004 General Conference commissioned a Study on Ministry Commission to evaluate the current process and make recommendations for improving it. Dozens of very gifted people devoted countless hours to this project, hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent, and a very thorough report was produced with some very clear and reasonable recommendations. 

So what did the 2008 General Conference do with all this hard work? They chose to extend the Study on Ministry Commission for another four years and not take the risk of changing anything.

The process of ordination is one of the most critical issues facing the United Methodist Church today. I'm rather biased, of course, because I'm in the middle of the process, so take my analysis with the appropriate grain of salt. But I can't tell you how many people I've met over the last few years who have found the process so cumbersome and adversarial that they have chosen to drop out and pursue their calling elsewhere, or have taken one look and said "no thanks" altogether. In a time when we face rapidly declining membership and an ever growing shortage of clergy to serve churches (I haven't had a conversation with my District Superintendent where he hasn't lamented how hard it is to fill every pulpit), it is completely irresponsible for the General Conference, which is the only body that can make changes to the Book of Discipline, to put off making any decisions for another four years just because some people might not be happy about it. 

We cannot afford another four years of gifted people choosing to pursue their callings elsewhere while our membership declines and our clergy age. The General Conference has a few more days ahead of it, and it is not too late to make the courageous choice to deal with the problem now rather than let someone else deal with it later. Such delaying tactics are currently being employed in regard to other issues as well. The question of whether to reorganize the United States into a Central Conference, thus putting non-US conferences on a level playing field with ones in the US, and the ever present question of whether to fully include persons of differing sexual orientations in the life of the church are receiving the same silent treatment.

Not making a decision is itself a choice. It says loudly and clearly that either we feel the problem in question is not serious enough for us to face right now, or that we do not have the courage to deal with these issues just because they are controversial. I feel that the UMC is sending the latter message. The Church of Jesus Christ is called to be courageous, not to be popular. I fear that if we continue to delay and equivocate we will be failing our millions of members, and even worse, failing to live into the calling that our God has placed before us. It is not too late. I pray that the delegates to the 2008 General Conference will have the courage to face these issues now and not do further damage by delaying.


Steve and Andrea LaMotte said...

It's interesting to hear that ordination has come up for discussion. I am in the process of ordination as an appointed student pastor...and I believe the process is entirely too long and drawn out. I continue to wonder if I will end up finishing this process.

Unknown said...

Steve, you are in very good company there. It's amazing that the General Conference said it wanted to "develop Christian leaders for the church and the world" as one of its priorities for the next quadriennium, and yet left the ordination process intact.