GENERAL CONFERENCE: Guaranteed appointments expected to fuel lively debate
By ED TOMLINSON
What is expected to be one of the most hotly debated topics at the 2012 General Conference is “the guaranteed appointment”. Simply stated, an elder in The United Methodist Church has the right to a full-time appointment as long as he or she is in good standing with his or her annual conference.
This guarantee has been in place for a little over half a century. It came into existence shortly after the decision to ordain women. The slowness in accepting women as ordained clergy necessitated some safeguards.
While the issue has been raised periodically, there appears a convergence of several groups calling for its removal from The Book of Discipline. The Council of Bishops, the Interim Operations Team, The Ministry Study, The Sustainability Task Force, and other bodies are in agreement that it produces greater problems in appointment-making than positive safeguards.
Every annual conference of any size has a minority of pastors who have moved throughout their ministries every one to three years. These clergypersons may not have interpersonal relationship skills or competence in ministry or knowledge of basic communications. The result is that these pastors are not readily accepted by local churches. Yet, by church law, the elder has full job security.
Short of misconduct, willful maladministration, or blatant ineffectiveness (which must be proven) an appointment is guaranteed. The product is often a declining church which may have fared better with a part-time pastor.
In its report, the Sustainability Advisory Group stated their research indicated there are 784 “excess clergy” in the denomination. At the same time, United Methodist membership has declined, leaving fewer to support the pastors we have been ordained and are guaranteed an appointment. Eighty percent of our churches have less than 125 parishioners. Given benefits, housing, and equitable salary, the cost of one clergyperson in North Georgia is at minimum $65,000 annually. hankfully, growth continues in our annual conference but even our growth does not keep pace with the number of new clergy seeking admission.
The Church Systems Task Force, formed by the 2008 General Conference, recommended that Interim Pastors be used to bring about healing and visioning for congregations where some trauma had occurred. Where a serving pastor died or there was clergy misconduct or a long-term appointment ended, it was suggested that an interim pastor may smooth the way for the next pastor. The problem for bishops and cabinets is the abundance of clergy (undergirded by the guaranteed appointment) makes it difficult to use these trained and able interims for any period of time.
The membership and financial picture of the denomination is exacerbated by the identifiable ineffective clergy. Where there is effectiveness the church is viable, in mission, and producing disciples. Of course, there are difficult situations but creative work done by effective pastors and the strategic plan of a district or conference can usually help turn around these churches.
While the “guaranteed appointment” is being challenged by many, there are clergy who feel they might not be treated with fairness. Many churches will not willing receive female pastors or pastors of another race. We have clearly made our stand on open itinerancy but in practice it still has its issues. Women, ethnic minorities, evangelicals in annual conferences where few are members, and pastors with disabilities are all concerned with the loss of job security.
Some bishops are confident and bold enough to say, “Hold me accountable if I do not treat women, minorities, and others at risk justly.” The issue before us is not a contest between fairness and effectiveness. The church at its best embodies both without hesitation.
Our efforts to increase the number of “vital congregations” in United Methodism will surely be severely limited with the current number of ineffective pastoral leaders. The time has come to strike a good balance and practice effective ministry and mission!
Over the next several weeks, the North Georgia Advocate will address some of the key issues facing delegates at the upcoming General Conference describe how decisions are made. You are welcome to submit questions to email@example.com. If space and research time are available to make an adequate response, your submission will be addressed in this effort.
Ed Tomlinson has been elected as a clergy delegate to four General Conferences. In 2004, he served as Chairperson of the General Administration Legislative Committee which formed the Connectional Table. He is a current director of the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits and a member of the Church Systems Task Force formed by action of the 2008 General Conference.
Clergy elected to the 2012 General Conference Session
Sharma Lewis, Jonathan Holston, James Cantrell, Phil Schroeder, Jane Brooks, Alice Rogers, Ed Tomlinson, John Simmons, Nora Martinez, Jamie Jenkins, Chuck Savage, Steve Wood, David Bevel Jones
Laity elected to the 2012 General Conference Session
Jane Finley, Lyn Powell, Mathew Pinson, Joe Whittemore, Jeff Jernigan, Bill Stikes, Tonya Murphy , Leon Jourolman, Dianne Spencer, Joe Kilpatrick, Richard Williamson, Bill Martin, Marjorie Kimbrough