I promise I didn't write my previous post just to set the stage for this one, but nonetheless, the timing seems a bit fortuitous. The latest edition (April 4, 2008) of the United Methodist Reporter discusses three pretty big issues, and I have points of disagreement with all three.
And so, fellow United Methodists, I love you, and I disagree with you, too.
(Numbers in parentheses are paragraph numbers in the 2004 United Methodist Book of Discipline.)
First issue = The guaranteed appointment.
Firstly, way to go Dennis Harper for making the front page picture! (And that's the top of my grandfather's head in the middle there, too.) Kudos to Missouri AC for the front page publicity!
Secondly, I disagree with the initial premise: that clergy are guaranteed appointments. We are in covenant with each other, and "every effective elder in full connection who is in good standing shall be continued under appointment by the bishop" (334.1) because we have promised to "offer [ourself] without reserve to be appointed and to serve as the appointive authority may determine" (335). This is a relationship centered on trust and covenantal love, and as such all of those invovled offer something - clergy will go where we are sent, the conference will send us somewhere.
Thirdly, there is already language in place that addresses the concerns that some have expressed. Clergy are to be appointed unless, among other things, we "have failed to meet the requirements for continued eligibility" (337.1). And those requirements include "growth in vocational competence and effectiveness through continuing formation" (334.2.b). Seems to me that addresses the major concern, namely that incompetent and ineffective pastors continue to be appointed, with no check or accountability from teh conference. Continued growth vocationally is already a part of the covenant relationship of the clergy, and if that part of the covenant is not being met, the language is in place already for addressing that. Dare I say: Bishops, take thou authority! Claim that language and act on it before more Disciplinary tinkering.
There is no need to add more bureaucracy to an already top-heavy system.
Second issue = The future of the itineracy
The itineracy is an imperfect structure, created by imperfect people, and it definitely doesn't work for everybody.
With that said, my disagreement with those who call for a drastic change in the itineracy is that their points of conflict with the current system are mostly mythical. My position is that the itineracy HAS changed, and is always changing, and will change organically and naturally, without any need to foist upon it yet another decree from "up top."
Myth 1, the big secret:
My great-grandfather used to pack up his belongings in order to travel to Annual Conference, not knowing if he would be returning to the same charge or moving on. Today, my name has been posted on the Missouri Conference website since March 24th, announcing my upcoming move to my new appointment. One of the biggest changes is the openness of the process.
Myth 2, a rigid hierarchy:
Here in Kansas City, we are celebrating a ministry that has lasted for decades as Emmanuel Cleaver III is transitioning out of the lead pastor role at St. James UMC. (Did I mention it lasted for decades?) Nearby, pastors at UM churches such as Woods Chapel and Church of the Resurrection have been appointed for extraordarily long periods of time. My point being, the itineracy is already fluid and flexible, and there are exceptions to how it happens everywhere you look.
Myth 3, no choice:
This very year, one of my colleagues and friends was offered an appointment, visited the place, and then politely and firmly said "No thank you." And that request was honored. When I was first discussing my new appointment, I was given time to pray, discern, and talk with my wife about the move, having recieved permission to say no if I felt like it. While I was in seminary, a fellow student met with a Staff/Parish Committee about a possible appointment, and the SPRC told the Superintendent that it wasn't going to work out, and the person was appointed somewhere else.
The itineracy is changing, and that change is emerging from the real lives of the people invovled in the covenant relationship among clergy, conference, and congregations. There is no need to enact denominational legislation from above when it is already happening from below. There are horror stories, I know - but those stories are mostly about people in power who are abusing that power, not about the system iteself.
Third issue = Young Adult Clergy
AGAIN with the young clergy issue! "Come and save us, under 35 year olds!"
"Look, up in the sky - it's a bird, it's a plane! NO! It is a young clergy person! Hooray, the day is saved!"
OK, out of my system.
I love and respect Lovett Weems, and I disagree with his premise that age is an automatic qualifier for being "adept at reaching emerging generations." I flat out disagree that an arbitrarily chosen age, in this case 35, makes somebody "closer to culture, to the life experience of young persons." One problem with that assumption is that people get older. I'm turning 37 on Saturday, and so I'm out of the category - automatically less adept at reaching young people, automatically more distant from culture (whose culture, by the way?), automatically unable to appreciate the life experience of someone in their 20s.
And the flipside of that: when I was in my 20s, I was as out of touch with the "Pop Culture" scene as it was possible for someone to be. I was a choir director, for goodness's sake, directing a traditional church choir, putting together orchestras and choruses to perform masterworks of classical music, singing with a professional chamber choir, performing in community theaters ... listing to NPR!
Dr. Weems (whom I love and respect, as previously mentioned) said that young clergy bring "energy, vision, vitality that's always needed from young leadership in any organization." Why is the word "young" in that sentence? Is that not what is needed from ALL leadership, no matter how old they might be?
If you have read this post and made it to this point, congratulations! I know this post has been kind of long and wordy, but I read my Reporter yesterday and got all worked up, so I needed this outlet. Others have, too - my brother Brad and my friend Erika have posted on these issues.
I hope that you will comment if you want to, and please feel free to disagree - I know I have!