By ED TOMLINSON
More than 1,500 petitions were filed for review by the 2012 General Conference. The vast majority of the submissions were from the general boards and task forces (formed by the 2008 General Conference). While several of the filings of the general boards were authored or contributed to by North Georgians, there were 16 identifiable petitions sent in by individuals living within the bounds of the conference.
Topics ranged from an addition to the Social Principles to condemn sexual assault to a proposal to quit printing The Book of Resolutions. Multiple petitions dealt with suggestions on restructure. While all these petitions have the potential of impacting the mission and ministry of the North Georgia Annual Conference, two would have an immediate financial impact.
One filing would mandate that a person qualified for commissioning by the Board of Ordained Ministry could not be deferred because of lack of an appointment. Although the intent is to cleanly divide the role of the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry’s certification for ministry and the Cabinet’s responsibility for deployment or appointment, the implications are significant for North Georgia. The number of candidates for commissioning for ordained ministry is usually larger than the ability to assimilate them. The provision, if passed, would cause a greater demand on funds for equitable compensation.
The basic annual cost of a full-time pastor is approximately $55,000 (by Conference minimum) plus parsonage or at least $17,100 housing allowance. As long as the guaranteed appointment exists, the liability taken on by the annual conference and its local churches for salary and benefits of a clergy person is in excess of $2 million for 30 years of service.
The sustainability advisory group formed by the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits and participated in by the General Council on Finance and Administration has caused the denomination to take a careful look at its capacity to do business as usual. The group did research and recognized that there are approximately a thousand too many full-time clergy in United Methodism impacting costs by $60 million annually.
The denomination’s financial health is being strained. It would be a challenge and fiscal disaster for most businesses or educational institutions to hire everyone minimally qualified and the same is true for the church.
Another request from North Georgia is to address the imbalance between lay and clergy membership of the Annual Conference. The Book of Discipline calls for additional lay members to be elected at large from the districts in order to balance the number of clergy members who serve outside the local church or may be retired or otherwise not counted among local church pastors. The procedure has created an annual conference membership that is 55- 60 percent laity (which some believe is positive). Nonetheless, the mandate of equal membership is being disregarded.
Many clergy by reason of age, physical disability, hospitalization, or the like cannot be in attendance. Unlike the laity, who are backed by elected reserves, clergy cannot have qualified subs. The petition submitted requests that clergy heretofore described not be counted in establishing the balance. Since the districts offer some financial assistance to these at large laity members, district budgets could receive relief to the tune of several thousand dollars.
Other petitions from within the bounds of North Georgia dealt with social issues and will be referenced in one or more future articles. Also, the North Georgia Advocate will report on General Conference action on the 16 submissions noted in this column.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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