Guaranteed Appointments: Speaking from the heart

Guaranteed Appointments: Speaking from the heart

The General Conference gathering of the United Methodist Church just ended yesterday. I, along with others from my conference blogged and reflected about the past few weeks of proceedings. Below is one reflection I wrote, originally published here, regarding guaranteed appointments for United Methodist clergy.

I’ve been looking at The Call to Action documents for over a year and conversations about this [and other issues that were brought to General Conference] from my United Methodist Polity class at Seattle Pacific Seminary are fresh in my mind. I’m not a clergy person, but I have committed to the candidacy process in the United Methodist Church through the Pacific Northwest Conference.

I was just about to begin work on my Masters in Teaching when No Child Left Behind [NCLB] was passed by the U.S. Senate in 2001 and had a two quarters behind me when it was signed into law in January, 2002. I’ve found more parallels between NCLB and parts of the Call to Action that have to do with the revision of security of appointment, commonly called guaranteed appointment and vital congregations than feels comfortable. 

I am of a generation that knows assessments. I took the ACT before applying for colleges, took the GRE before applying to grad school and have participated in enough annual reviews and strategic planning to know that benchmarks, scorecards and ratings are just a part of how we assess performance and set goals. So when the United Methodist Church began seriously proposing that the Church followed suit, it wasn’t a shock. In fact, I was supportive. Finally, I thought. We have some accountability.

I don’t think that people opposed to this decision of ‘un-guaranteeing’ appointments are merely concerned with job security. Though, our older clergy who do end up being moved to set aside status will have to consider other sources of income–something that isn’t always taught in seminary and something that’s hard to do when you’re in your 60s. There are concerns with people falling through the cracks: people of color, LGBTIs, those whose theology isn’t in line with their district or conference leanings.

I’d like to share with you reactions from two friends, that give life to this conversation. After all, decisions and ideas affect real people whose lives are impacted as a result.

My heart is heavy at what sounds in print to be a naive understanding of history. Women would not be where we are in the UMC if not for guaranteed appointments. Persons of color either. Women of color last of all. Think ahead to LGBTI populations. We all know that there are “Gay friendly don’t ask don’t tell” churches and that is the only place you might serve if you are out. It is no mistake that the Western Jurisdiction makes most of these strides first and then the rest of the church follows. The Western Jurisdiction Women elected Leontyne Kelly as our first AA female bishop – and she was not even from our Jurisdiction. Phenomenal use of power in that case. At the same time, I understand the arguments people make about ineffective clergy. But I am an unapologetic feminist. I make less than my male colleagues. And guess who people think built The Table? The male, 30 something year old. A 51 year old mother of 3 could not have possibly have done it. In regard to the mechanisms put in place such as “watching the demographics” of who gets appointed. What were the demographics of the people who voted this in? If I find out that it was a majority of white males I will not be surprised. Let’s hope not. If you wish to use any of this you may. Thanks for listening – but more – thanks for asking.

– a UM Clergy Woman from California in her 18th year of ministry as an elder.

[I’m] disenfranchised with the whole system. The whole thing is too big…it’s in maintenance mode…using the bottom to keep the top alive, and the bottom is eroding. Band-Aids over a bullet hole. What’s the alternative? An overhaul of the system…systemic, intrinsic change. There are pros to having such a large (global) institution (UMCOR and relief, for instance)…but it forces the smaller satellite entities (local congregations) to be obligate feeders of that larger institution (in a Panem-ish way). It can’t survive in this state without that support. However, it also partially binds the hands of local congregations who should have more say over who they are (context) and how they are going to exist in a certain place. It forces them to step up, to pour themselves into determining who THEY want to pastor them, mentor them, help them in their communal/spiritual/incarnational formation. The local congregation isn’t a vacuum–not all things are equal, so you can’t plant Appointment X into a church and assume it’s all going to be okay. More local responsibility means more obligation (implication) of the congregation: suddenly they have to really think about who they are and who they want to be. It’s on THEM when it comes down to who they choose to become their pastor, and they have to get into the nitty gritty of community if that person, 6 months from now, doesn’t really seem to be working out…not just request a new person through the D.S. Wesley stepped outside the institution to revitalize the community. I think the UMC has, ironically, become the institution it sought to change.

Not sure if those thoughts help or make sense…just some hair-trigger thoughts/reactions.

–Youth worker of a UMC in the Pacific Northwest Conference

Lovett H. Weems, Jr., with the Lewis Center for Church Leadership says, virtually everything is measurable, but extra effort and new systems are essential to capture more qualitative categories. This applies to both the ways we prayerfully bring about and assess congregational vitality and the ways we categorize a pastor’s ‘effectiveness’ and prophetic voice. I’ll be interested to see those markers are and how they might be assessed qualitatively and quantitatively.

Exponential change creates exponential fear along with exponential hope, writes Diana Butler Bass Bass, in  Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening. I’m hopeful for the ways God will work through the people called Methodists as we remain open to being used as  God’s agents in the world.