Like Marty McFly being called “chicken” in Back to the Future, I also have a temper-tantrum point and it’s called ageism. Specifically when I’m treated like a kid or called “sport” or “tiger” or I am told “you will make a great pastor someday” and other comments that reflect on my youth (I’m under 35 years old). So I get feisty and do surveys about young clergy and write articles about young adults involvement in broad UMC stuff and “Hostile dragons for young clergy” and other things to channel that temper into something productive.
But the thing is…ageism is also about the other end of the age spectrum. And I’m shocked at an Annual Conference (a governing body) of the United Methodist Church that has outright said that older people shouldn’t be considered for ordained ministry.
Why would those over 45 be “not encouraged?”
The Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church has released a proposed “minimum standards for entering candidates for ministry” which outlines what are the bare minimum requirements for people to be considered for clergy work. Here’s the PDF and the scanned image is below (click to make it readable).
Notice anything peculiar? The bottom chart has comments about candidates over a certain age.
- If they are over age 60-70, they should consider less rigorous forms of ministry (ie. less education and less opportunity for advancement, serving at the pleasure of the Bishop).
- But for those over age 45 desiring to be a Deacon or an Elder, it says that they “should be encouraged to pursue other expressions of ministry” and in the case of over 45yos seeking Elder’s orders “to pursue licensed ministry, certified lay or other expressions of lay ministry.”
In other words, if you are over 45 when you receive your call to ministry (remember it is GOD that calls, NOT Boards of Ordained Ministries), then you will be encouraged to serve in capacities that:
- Don’t require a pension
- Don’t require health insurance if it isn’t full time
- Serve at the pleasure of the Bishop who can dismiss you when you reach 55 or so for whatever reason.
I don’t know how you can frame this other than outright ageism. Sure, older candidates tend to have higher health insurance costs and ultimately may cost the system more. But to say they are less valuable for a particular position that doesn’t have health requirements other than across-the-board ones is just…bad.
Is this really about senior adults?
No. Let’s be clear: this isn’t even an attack on just senior adults but middle-age adults as well. 45? By the time I’m 45, my daughter will be 13. A pastor with a teenage daughter? That’s not relevant? Given that people wait to have their children until their early/mid thirties now, they are parents older and older. Why would we not consider them for ministry? And singles who are second-career or parents whose children have left home…they are perfectly capable of being Elders and Deacons.
This is really personal to me.
- My senior pastor who helped me in my call to ministry and walked me through the process was commissioned at 41, barely within this rubric above. Without her, I would likely not be in ministry.
- There are tons of other second-career clergy out there who have received their calls to ministry later in life and are asking the church to approve them living them out.
- I’ve served now under two Senior Pastors who have been significantly older than I, to my betterment.
- I ran the numbers on 10 of my clergy friends in Oklahoma who I know were second career. Of the 10, six of them were Commissioned at age 45 or higher. Two of them are DSes, and four of them are/have been on the Board of Ordained Ministry.
To lose the perspective of new middle aged and senior clergy in an Annual Conference, especially those that bring interdisciplinary expertise from their first careers, would be tragic indeed. I can name quite a few effective clergy leading vital congregations that were commissioned after age 45. I bet you can name several as well. If this policy had been in place at the beginning of their candidacy process we’d have far fewer ordained clergy clearly called by God and equipped with the gifts and graces for ministry.
Dr. Sapp says the typical American attitude about aging frames the conversation as a competition between young and old, and he dismisses the idea that if the church is to maintain its appeal to younger people it must neglect old people. Instead he emphasizes that what’s needed is the recognition that we are all aging together. It is one thing every human being shares.
As the body of Christ, we should remember that we are all in this together, he adds. The church ought to be the one institution in our society that lets no one forget that.
Our senior adult clergy are not only important they are integral to the life of the church. To exclude them from ministry because of their age and not their ability violates all kind of Social Principles and affirmations by the General Board of Global Ministries. And a church unbalanced to value youth over aged in both appointments and in ordination standards is not a healthy conference in the long run.
This begs the question: what if every clergy person over 50 years of age was suddenly absent from our churches? How would that impact your conference? What message are we sending? What example are we setting?
Call for Response
So, Texas Annual Conference. What do you have to say for yourself? Why don’t you want senior adults to enter ministry? Why do you let a ticking clock block God’s call on lives that you are evaluating?
But maybe you are being honest, Texas. Maybe you are just putting into writing what other Conferences are already doing, which is sacrifice qualified candidates on the shallow altars of youth. To shuffle middle-aged and aged candidates into positions and roles where they serve at your pleasure instead of being your equal. Maybe other Conferences are already doing this, and you decided to be honest about it.
But really…I really hope this is just you.
Thoughts? Responses? Explanations?