Annual Conferences are like the three bears: they either have too many clergy or too few. The ‘just right’ bear is off taking a nap somewhere, I think.
Indeed, in some annual conferences with too many clergy, there’s a vicious circle of clergy appointments and ordination. Walk with me through this:
- IF the Book of Discipline requires all provisional and ordained clergy to have full-time appointments.
- BUT there are less and less full-time appointments to which to appoint provisional and ordained clergy.
- THEN the Board of Ordained ministry will not commission candidates for ministry until a full-time appointment opens up for them.
The rationale is solid: if the BOM cannot offer a full-time appointment, and if they bring in more candidates, then the system of appointments will suffer. Also, if they cannot offer a full-time appointment by ordination time, then they are in violation of the Discipline. Makes perfect sense from a maintaining-the-system perspective.
While this takes care of the system of ordination, it leads to several injustices to the candidates for ministry. Some real-life examples:
- One candidate was approved for commissioning, but due to the lack of appointments, he was not commissioned. Two years later he finally got to be commissioned, but during that time he developed a medical condition which required surgery. One month before he would finally be under the clergy health care…he was required to pay for the surgery out of his own pocket.
- One candidate was up for commissioning, but to be commissioned he would have to leave his vibrant, passionate half-time appointment for a different full-time appointment altogether…there were no other half-time appointments available in the area. Thus, the candidate forwent commissioning in order to keep his passionate ministry.
- Transferred clergy or clergy on cross-conference appointments are not required to be given full-time appointments.
Truth be told: there are local pastors who are in full-time appointments while candidates for ministry wait in the wings. Is that wrong? Not as a whole: they are gifted pastors in their churches, and if there is viable ministry, then continue to do good works! But even if they are gifted pastors, does that mean a seminary-educated candidate for ministry would be any less appropriate?
From a systems perspective, I find this troubling. If our theology of ordination includes consideration for the system of ordination above the individual calls to ministry, then there’s something wrong. If we are caretaking the system of ordination more than we are affirming the call to ministry God has placed on individual people….then is that really what ordination is?
Now, full disclosure: I’m not on the ordained ministry leadership, and I’m not privy to those conversations. But I think that when we are keeping candidates for ministry out of the clergy pool we are essentially putting systems above people. And that troubles me.
Perhaps there are ways to commission candidates for ministry and maintain the tense balance between clergy and churches? To me, there is a simple answer to this…but no one will like it.
Perhaps clergy missionaries can be made of candidates. If annual conferences with too few clergy would contact conferences with too many clergy, then they can offer to take commissioned clergy into their conferences for a while on cross-conference appointments. While they may run the risk of staying when they get there, it would ensure that candidates’ ministries are affirmed. I realize the hardship this would be on families for a drastic change in venue, and try to balance that against keeping candidates out of the clergy pool.
Full disclosure: I’m on a cross-conference appointment. By constantly maintaining relationships between two conferences, I’m seeing a lot of United Methodism and drastically different ways of ministry. By seeing how two different conferences deal with ordination, one with too many clergy and one with too few, I think better use and beefing-up of the cross-conference appointments may be a good approach.
Perhaps it can be a precursor to a blend between connectional and congregational systems: churches that want a minister so badly they will accept a cross-conference appointment can put out a “call” for a minister that other conferences can fill.
….let’s stop there (number one critique of HX: my posts are too long!). What do you think?
- What balance should there be between maintaining systems of ordination and affirming the call of individuals?
- What do you think about the cross-conference appointments idea?
- What other methods can ordained ministry leadership try rather than being the stop-gap for new clergy?
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