United Methodist clergy no longer guaranteed appointments
By GLENN HANNIGAN
In a sweeping change in how clergy are appointed, delegates to the General Conference in Tampa voted overwhelmingly Tuesday morning to change paragraph 338 in the Book of Discipline.
The particular paragraph, which focuses on the itinerant system, currently states that elders in good standing, who honor their covenant to the itinerancy, effectively fulfill their ministerial duties and attend to continuing education requirements shall continue to be appointed. It is widely known to mean elders have a “guaranteed appointment.”
Part of the new language approved states: “The bishop may appoint an ordained elder, provisional member elder, or an associate member to less than full-time service. The clergyperson shall be notified at least 90 days prior to the annual conference at which the appointment shall be made.”
The proposal, contained on a consent calendar, passed without comment on the floor.
A study of ministry revealed that guaranteed appointments often restrict the flexibility of bishops.
General Conference, which meets every four years, is the top policy-making body of The United Methodist Church. The 2012 meeting is taking place at the Tampa Convention Center. The North Georgia Conference, the largest in the United States, is represented by 13 cergy delegates and 13 lay delegates.
Some response from North Georgia delegates to Tuesday’s decision to eliminate guaranteed appointments:
Jim Cantrell (clergy delegate): “I am concerned about the negative effect it could have on women and minorities. While I think we needed to make a change, I do believe it should have been discussed in Plenary.”
Alice Rogers (clergy delegate): “I foresee many unintended consequences with this action that breaks the covenant under which we have lived for 56 years where clergy have promised to "go where sent" and churches have agreed to receive the person appointed. We still have congregations resistant to receiving women and ethnic minorities, and I fear these persons will be labeled "unappointable" when churches refuse to receive them. I also fear that the prophetic preaching for which Methodists have been known as we moved through abolition, the civil rights movement, etc. will be compromised.”
Tonya Murphy (lay delegate): This is a faith walk. I recognize that the majority of clergy are diligent in their work and this change will not be an issue. I trust that there are objective tools for accurate measurement of their work.”
David Jones (clergy delegate): “Historically, guaranteed appointments protected some of our most effective prophetic clergy in times of controversy. I have in mind the courageous Southern clergy in the civil rights era who knew that the guaranteed appointment provision ‘had their back.’”
Joe Kilpatrick (lay delegate): “There is protection in the process while allowing efficiency in appointments.”
John Simmon (clergy delegate): The delegates had speeches for and against this important issue. The legislative committee did its work and overwhelmingly recommended supporting the Ministry Study proposal. The desire is that, as Ken Carter said in debate, our public mission of disciple-making needs to line up with the private (perceived) mission to provide security of the appointment of elders. This change will require new clarity of the checks and balances between the bishop and cabinet, on the one hand, and the board of ordained ministry on the other.”
Steve Wood (clergy delegate): “I applaud the General Conference for careful study and deliberation in crafting legislation that achieves the common good in the appointive process. We have successfully built a process with numerous safeguards for due process to protect all clergy from discrimination and unfairness while simultaneously perfecting out process for raising the bar of clergy for effectiveness.”
Nora Martinez (clergy delegate): “I have some concern for areas in Southern parts of the U.S. where appointments of women elders or of elders with an ethnicity or culture different than that of the local church are still rare.”
Bill Martin (lay delegate): “I believe much thought and research went into the recommendation of the committee and adequate safeguards are in place to protect the prophetic voice of the clergy.”
Phil Schroeder (clergy delegate): “We have opened the door for much-needed accountability but I wonder about the unintended negative externalities of implementation.”
Jonathan Holston (clergy delegate): “The need for effectiveness is essential for the vitality of our Christian witness. While change is difficult, the General Conference has chosen a path that challenges laity and clergy alike to trust and accountability.”
Bill Stikes (lay delegate): “I’m not surprised. I support the petition as amended, but think it should have been debated on the floor.”
Ed Tomlinson (clergy delegate): “Where there is a track record of faithfulness and effectiveness, the impact of the removal of the guaranteed appointment will be unnoticed. It will, however, enable cabinets to fairly and decisively deal with pastors whose effectiveness is legitimately in question.”
Jane Brooks (clergy delegate): “Eliminating appointment security for elders is a significant change that was proposed and adopted with good intentions to advance the church's mission. For it to work justly, it will be absolutely critical for the bishop, cabinet and Board of Ordained Ministry in each annual conference to hold one another accountable for providing the best opportunities for effective clergy to serve, regardless of gender, ethnicity, age or theology. I am concerned that this action could com promise the cherished prophetic freedom our clergy have had and that has been longed for by clergy in other traditions. Time will tell.”