Thanks in large part to the power of social media to provide public inquiry, the Proposal by the Texas Annual Conference to discourage people over 45 years old from entering ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church has been scrapped. Rev. Josh Hale reports on the United Methodist Reporter:
The Texas Annual Conference Board of Ordained Ministry’s Executive Committee has withdrawn the controversial “Proposed Minimum Standards for Entering Candidates” proposal which has been under consideration during the past year. The proposal had attempted to offer guidelines regarding the age levels acceptable for different levels of ministry, with some suggesting that the proposal limited candidacy for ordained ministry to persons under the age of 45.
I would like to push back against one line in the writeup that states “Drafts of the proposal had been leaked and brought forth widespread criticism by those who believed that setting the guidelines reflected a form of ageism.” That is not correct. The draft of the proposal was posted online by the Board of Ordained Ministry for public consideration and it was by no means “leaked” accidentally or maliciously. In fact, it is still up online as of this writing. Claiming a leak seems to cast doubt on the legitimacy of public inquiry when in reality was invited by the BOM itself.
We are rather proud of the role this blog played in this discussion. We were the first to discuss this topic in these two blog posts here:
- Over Age 45? Texas UMC doesn’t want you in ordained ministry (over 100 comments!)
- Texas UMC: Is Proposal Accidentally Ageist?
In short order, a UMNS article came out and Christianity Today picked it up and the cowed Board of Ordained Ministry sent out an email survey which included only two boxes for feedback:
What are the positive aspects of the minimum standards for entering candidates proposal, in your opinion?
What concerns do you have about the minimum standards for entering candidates proposal?
And now we hear that they decided to drop the minimum standards entirely (here’s a copy of the original document). Excellent.
I do wish them well in determining criteria for being a minister. That’s their right and purview to steward the church’s human resources. And they have proved that they are (grudgingly) responsive to concerns about “stacking the ordination deck” against those whom God has placed a call on their hearts, regardless of age. And while I poke fun at their stance, the reality is that I do not envy their task one bit. Saying a person is in this box or another is incredibly frustrating work, and I hope they continue to be self-critical as they wield their power of determining eligibility for ordination
I’m also hopeful that they don’t allow this document to become policy in practice not on paper. I’m a bit cautious of this line in the writeup:
The committee then engaged in conversation regarding the charge to the BOM from the annual conference’s Strategic Assessment Team to re-balance the age of clergy serving in the conference, and from the previous quadrennium’s Board to raise the bar for candidates entering the process.
Hmm. We’ll see.
I do want conferences across United Methodism to heed this sentence here: Your actions are not limited to your area alone but reverberate throughout the Connection. As an unofficial source of commentary in United Methodism, every month I get a request to do work on some questionable action or unhealthy trend that folks are doing. Some I do publish because I recognize the negative direction it can steer the rest of the Connection. So far this blog has done extensive coverage on the Call To Action and Church Metrics; Church websites that do not use United Methodist branding; Questionable instructions to SPRC regarding clergy evaluations; Uncritical use of megachurch strategies; Schism in the
Untied United Methodist Church; Young clergy issues; and many more…
Contrary to the powers-that-be’s likely opinion, I believe public inquiry is nothing to be afraid of. Social media is a tool that allows other voices to help with discernment of a situation or trend. I firmly believe that by bringing the loyal opposition to give fresh eyes to the conversation (if you separate the wheat from the chaff…this is the Internet after all), it can lead to the best for everyone. May we all move onward towards perfection.
The power of social media, indeed. Thank you, Jeremy. I may not always be in full agreement with you, but I always appreciate that you take the time and effort to do what you do. If folks like you hadn’t spoken up, well, it might have encouraged other conferences to do the same openly.
I am appreciative of your voice and your passion for the church. I agree that social media is an important component of hearing other voices and opinions and important feedback. Social media is the new frontier in journalism.
As a member of my conference Board of Ordained Ministry I do struggle with this sentence in your article:
“And they have proved that they are (grudgingly) responsive to concerns about “stacking the ordination deck” against those whom God has placed a call on their hearts, regardless of age. ”
We see candidates at every level who obviously and sincerely believe that they are called to ordained ministry, yet they do not have the gifts, graces, and fruit for the work. When we then have to make the difficult decisions we could easily be accused of “stacking the ordination deck” against them when in reality we are merely living into and exercising the responsibility that has been given to us as clergy members in the connection.
I am concerned that those of us who serve in the BOM’s across our connection get a bad reputation based upon the reported actions of some BOM’s. Unfortunately most of the time candidates that have had a bad experience have the opportunity to speak freely on their side of the situation, we on the other hand cannot speak to anyone but the candidate about why a candidate has been deferred, denied, or discontinued. I am not denying that there are injustices taking place in some BOM’s. I am just asking for a more balanced representation and an awareness that what candidates report might not be the whole story.
As one who has had the difficult task to tell someone in the process that they will continue, I can tell you that it is one of the most difficult things that I’ve had to do, I take no pleasure in it, nor see it as a “victory,” instead we talk, we pray, we support, and we help that person continue to hear God’s call in their life for we know that God is calling, even if ordained ministry is not the way.
Thank you for making space for this important conversation.
A point in favor of the current Texas Annual Conference BOM, some individual members of the board welcomed and encouraged vibrant discussions on the proposal while we were gathered for conference. These discussions often happened over meals, informal coffee breaks, and in late night social gatherings. Having enthusiastic conversations with ordained persons, persons in process and laity considering candidacy was energizing, and a highlight of this year’s conference. I’m glad to hear that the conversation continued at the BOM level and has resulted in changes. That I heard about it via text and Twitter, and only read the full story here is testament to the change in how the UMC communicates with each other.