Friday, January 15, 2010

Ministers' School 2010 Wrap-up: Itinerant Thoughts


Ministers' School 2010 is in the books, and I slept well last night, let me tell you. Overall, I am very, very happy with the event. The tone was exactly right, informal, collegial, and positive. It is always a joy to see ministers greeting one another, talking about families, sharing church stories, and nurturing the connection. During worship on Thursday, we shared $1,693.26 for UMCOR's work in Haiti.

Thursday morning there was a fascinating session led by Bishop Schnase that took us through the nuances of the appointment process. He had a part of the appointment board in front of the room and had created some fictional churches and pastors. He then took us pretty much step-by-step through what he and the cabinet do when considering appointments. I really appreciated the forthrightness and transparency of the session.

The values that undergird the appointment process are very clear. All is guided by the mission of the church. There are "critical appointments" in the conference that are considered key in continuing the mission of the church, and they are not necessarily the biggest churches or the highest paid senior positions. The gifts and graces of each pastor are well rehearsed by the entire cabinet. The needs and potential of each congregation are well rehearsed by the entire cabinet. The process is long and meticulous, and filled with prayer. He was also very clear that not all conferences make appointments the same way, and that some seem to be guided more by attendance numbers, salaries, and seniority. Missouri, I am happy to say, seems to have the priorities in order; God's mission for the church takes precedence.

Personally, I discovered myself becoming quite a bit emotional as he spoke. When he was talking about pastors and their families, memories stirred.

Seven years old, the last day at Northmoor UMC, when I ran crying across the parking lot, into the parsonage, and into my room. I was followed a few minutes later by Jay LeClare, a man in the church and a good good friend. He had come to check on me, and as he sat on the side of my bed and patted my back as I cried into my pillow, I poured out all the grief I had about having to move away from my home.

Eighteen years old, the last day at Harper Chapel UMC, when I was doing pretty good with it all until I was finally able to work my way into the line of people around Dad waiting to speak to him. Then, I didn't so much hug him as collapse into his arms and burst into tears, telling him how much I loved him. I don't know how long we embraced there at the back of the sanctuary, but I'll never forget that feeling.

And of course in my own itinerancy, asking Erin to leave excellent jobs three different times in order to go to a new appointment. And the love of my life did it, all three times, with grace and compassion. It was hard for me to see her uprooting herself, but nowhere near as hard as it was for her. And it has always been so amazing to see her re-plant herself in a new place and flourish there. She is amazing. I love you so much, Erin.

I remember watching our three year old Wesley become a completely different person after moving from Warrensburg to Kansas City. His confusion and anger was expressed by tantrums that included throwing just about every toy in his room down the stairs one at a time. Sweet Cori has had to leave best friends behind twice, and her beautiful heart has been broken both times. But that same heart is what gives her the capacity not only to make new best friends, but to keep the old ones, so that now her list of best friends is significantly longer than it once was.

I write all of this not to disparage the itinerancy. Far, far from it. I am itinerant through and through. I possess a restlessness within myself that is always luring me forward to what is coming next. It's what makes me a progressive, if you must stick a label on me. Creativity and innovation are high values for me, and the itinerancy fits that attitude quite well.

I am writing all of this, I guess, to process the emotional component of our appointment process, and to say that it is vital that itinerant preachers support one another in the process. Our families need to know each other, support each other. We need to know our colleagues' kids. We need to share openly with each other without pride or pretension our emotional responses to ministry, the personal impact of undertaking the mission of God through our call to ministry.

Ministers' School will not be held in 2011, so that we can take a moment of discernment and envisioning the future of the event. One thing that I will advocate for during this process is the inherent value of meeting together across the entire conference, whatever the format happens to be.


Pastor Dave said...

I didn't attend Ministers School but I was at another meeting at Tan Tar A at the same time. By chance we took a break at the same time this session let out and emotions were very high. There were some friends for whom appointments have not been as easy as mine who were experiencing some very deep felt resentments that overflowed into the hallway. I hope I can get some form of text or recording of that session so I can hear what was said.
I appreciate all you've said in this post. I resonate with some much of what you've experienced within the appointment process. Thanks for bringing a well thought voice to this conversation of itineracy.

Susan said...

I'm glad it works for you, Andy, but itinerancy is the reason I am not seeking ordination in the UMC. I have seen too many families and marriages damaged by the constant moving. I suppose the obvious answer is that, ideally, one should be rooted and secure in Christ, no matter where one lives or how often one moves, but that is a terribly difficult thing to explain to children and ask of spouses over and over again.