UMNS Photo by Mike DuBose
Young United Methodist clergy listen to the Rev. Adam Hamilton in a session where they expressed their deep concerns about the proposed restructuring of The United Methodist Church.
Reprinted from the Kansas West Conference blog.
By: Amy Lippoldt On 5/1/2012
Once the word got out at General Conference this morning that removal of “security of appointment” for elders passed the plenary floor vote on a consent calendar, the twitter feed #gc2012 blew up with questions, concerns and incredulous comments.
I want to take a moment to explain some of what we accomplished in the Ministry and Higher Ed legislative committee, and why I think this historic change is not as scary as it might first seem.
A disclaimer: I am a white, young, clergywoman. I do not fear my Bishop. I have not experienced abuse by a Bishop or Cabinet, and I count myself as very fortunate that the itinerant system has worked for me. I’m not saying that I have had dream appointments, but God has enabled great ministry for me in every place the Cabinet has asked me to go. I have served in a church that was full of people very different from me politically. I did speak out on issues of justice in that church and suffered backlash.
I am aware of and value the concerns of clergy who have felt abused or who feel vulnerable in our system, be it for reasons of race, age, gender or theology. I cannot promise that “all will be well,” and I want to talk again in four years when we begin to see the implications of what we have done in removing this security.
I do think that before today, it has been quite possible for bishops and cabinets to punish, sideline or make miserable anyone they wanted to, even with the “security” of a job for elders. I honestly do not know how our action today at General Conference will play out. It will be up to the cabinets around the connection to use it for good, for the overall health of the itinerant system and the clergy within it.
Bottom line: I don’t believe as an elder that I deserve a guaranteed job. Deacons don’t have it. Local Pastors don’t have it. Laity who serve the church for a lifetime don’t have it. I don’t see how my ordination as an elder entitles me to something no other disciple in the church has (except maybe the 60-some U.S. bishops, but that’s a different conversation).
I have studied my United Methodist history. I understand clearly the importance of the “security” in 1956 to force bishops to appoint qualified and credential women, and in 1972 when we finally got rid of the sin of the U.S. Central Jurisdiction, to appoint persons of color. In 2012, we have not eliminated injustices or prejudices in the church, but we have come a long way. And I believe we have other mechanisms in place to safeguard as much as is possible against prejudice.
In the committee on Ministry and Higher Ed we added amendments to the recommendations of the Ministry Study that do the following:
- Create a task force of laity and clergy inside each annual conference that meets with the Bishop prior to appointment making to discuss issues related to “missional appointments.” Any smart Bishop will want this to be as diverse a group as possible so that concerns are heard as a Cabinet begins their work. This is about listening to the voices of others.
- Require every Cabinet to annually report to their Board of Ordained Ministry the people who are going on the new “Transitional Leave” or being appointed less than full time because of a lack of full-time “missional” appointment. They will need to provide statistics for the age, gender and ethnicity of those individuals, so patterns may be seen. Cabinets also will report on what they are learning about appointment making in this new process. This is about transparency and accountability.
- Provide for every person asked to go on “Transitional Leave” an interview with the Board of Ordained Ministry. They can take to that interview an advocate (another clergy member in full connection from their annual conference) who can speak on their behalf. If a BOM feels the lack of appointment is unjust, they can refuse to grant it. In that case, if a Cabinet then refuses to appoint someone, they can start procedures for administrative location because the person is ineffective. If they don’t want to do that, no one knows what will happen. It will take a test case of such a stalemate and perhaps a Judicial Council ruling about such a test case to find out.
- Explicitly requires the clergy session of an annual conference to approve the same “Transitional Leave” on the recommendation of the Board of Ordained Ministry (this is the same as all other leaves and changes in conference relations). Again if the clergy session feels it is unjust, they can overrule the BOM and the Cabinet. No Bishop will be able to unilaterally dismiss a clergy person for any reason. We remain a covenant order of elders that decides who is credentialed and eligible for ministry, and who is not.
While it remains to be seen if, or how, abuses of this system will occur, I think it also remains to be seen if it will really help cabinets. Someone can only stay on Transitional Leave for two years, and then if they are still around asking for a job and a Cabinet does not want to appoint them because they are ineffective, administrative location is the only option. Also with the required steps above there is still a high burden of proof on cabinets.
My hope is that this removal of security will help elders realize they are not permanently entitled to a job and a good pension just because they were ordained. I also hope it will help cabinets have the hard conversations they need to with our brothers and sisters who are no longer leading effectively in the church.
It will be up to General Conference 2016 to decide if we have done something disastrous or taken a step forward in changing the culture of leadership in our church. Whatever may come, I trust God will help us live into this new reality.
If you want to read the exact text of the petitions and amendments, look at UMC.org for these items:
Calendar item #355 p 2178 DCA, about petition 20303, p 1428 ADCA
Calendar item #358 p 2178 DCA about petition 20308 p 1400 ADCA