Friday, May 21, 2010

Guaranteed Appointments

Lately there has been a lot of talk about ending guaranteed appointments for ordained elders in the United Methodist Church.

I haven't yet decided where I stand or how I would (theoretically) vote on the issue. I can see both sides of the argument. There's no question that there are lots of ineffective elders who get shuffled around from church to church, creating chaos wherever they go. These are people who, if they were part of a congregational polity, wouldn't be able to find a job. In theory, the system would naturally weed them out.

On the other hand, I share the concern of many female and ethnic minority clergy who already have a hard enough time being accepted by many churches. A lot of good has come from bishops appointing a female or a person of an ethnic group that the congregation might not necessarily feel "ready" for.

I am currently a Provisional Elder, so while I have not yet been fully ordained in full connection with my conference, in practice I fulfill the same function as a Full Elder. I agree to serve where I am sent. Three years ago the Clarksville District Superintendent called me up and said that the Bishop was appointing me to Bethlehem UMC, and I said OK.

In an article I read recently, the Commission on the Study of Ministry has recommended that the Book of Discipline be changed to to remove the guarantee of employment for Ordained Elders, but that bishops would still have the power of appointment.

I'm not sure how you can have one without the other. Elders make the sacrifice of going where sent because they have the assurance of a steady job with a minimum salary. The article claims that "iteneracy was never meant as a bartering system", but the guarantee is crucial in light of the sacrifices pastors make.

What happens when an Elder gets on the Bishop's bad side and the bishop decides to punish them? (and don't think it doesn't already happen)

If this person has been faithfully serving where they have been sent for a long time, and if each of these appointments has included a parsonage, what happens when the bishop decides not to appoint them anywhere? They haven't built up any equity to buy a home. They might have a spouse who has made a lot of sacrifices or even given up on their career to support them in ministry, to say nothing of their children!

I'll be very interested to see the final report of the Commission, because it seems like there are a lot of crucial questions that need to be addressed before such a drastic change is made. I agree that some fundamental changes need to be made in our system, but I'm not sure this recommendation as it currently exists is the way to go.

1 comment:

Melissa Meyers said...

In a lot of ways, I'm okay with this...but for the points you bring up, I'm not totally comfortable.

I also wonder at what point ineffective churches will be told that they can no longer be guaranteed a clergyperson. Now, to be fair there are times when it has been a series of ineffective clergy who have helped to get them to that place, but when is it enough?

I'll be interested to see how this plays out and how it is followed through.