Pastoral Letter from Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson
“You now pledge to go wherever you are sent, to serve however you are called,
to exercise your ministry within and on behalf of the whole Church,
to love all among whom you are placed, and to love God above all.”
Services for the Ordering of Ministry in The United Methodist Church
Spring is the time we at the North Georgia Conference announce new appointments. You may have noted that we announced 70 new appointments recently on Announcement Sunday. I wanted to share some background with you in order to clarify some information.
When they are ordained, pastors cite the words written above and pledge a full commitment of life and service to the itinerant ministry of The United Methodist Church.
While bishops make appointments, they incorporate a consultative process outlined in The Book of Discipline
that includes district superintendents, pastors, and staff/parish relations committees. The needs and desires of clergy are considered, but ultimately, the mission of the church to make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world comes first.
This process of prayer and discernment has been our tradition since Methodism began.
The reassignment of a pastor is not done out of spite. The placement of a pastor is not done as a form of punishment. The reassignment of a pastor is not designed to persecute.
Instead, the process is begun with the goal of matching the gifts and graces of a particular pastor with the ministry needs of a particular congregation and community in a particular season. In this leadership pattern, no two consecutive pastors are alike – over time, the combination of skills blends to form a broad base of developed ministries.
Once projected appointments are announced, the new pastor begins a transition process in partnership with the departing pastor. Cooperation is essential for a smooth transition. Often onboarding occurs to facilitate a deeper, healthier connection between the new pastor, staff and laity.
Most pastors have moved with great reluctance and found a gift in the new appointment. Every church has received a pastor with concern only to find that the pastor’s leadership was exactly what was needed in that time and place. It is not healthy, and certainly not normal, for threats to be made to the personal safety of the sitting bishop or of a new pastor.
I fully understand how some congregations may not completely embrace the transfer of the pastor they have known for an extended period of time. I acknowledge some individuals in leadership positions may not desire a change because they are used to a certain routine and their pastor has accepted how they conduct the ministry of their church.
I also understand how emotion can get the better of some among us when faced with change. As the saying goes, change is hard. Occasionally, individuals dealing with such a change attempt to distort the reality and see this as us vs. them situation. They may also not fully inform their congregation members about the traditions of The United Methodist Church in order to accomplish certain personal goals unrelated to their United Methodist faith. Additionally, some may mask the truth and provide false information to their congregants as a way to react to a pastor’s reassignment.
As you may know, at Annual Conference this year we will be implementing a process in The United Methodist Church for disaffiliation. A change of pastoral leadership would not preclude a congregation, for whom the laity would make such a decision, from following this process.
Ordinarily, we do not discuss the appointment process for any given church. However, the developing situation at Mt. Bethel UMC in Marietta is one that requires clarification.
Earlier this year, after an extensive period of discernment, the decision was made to reassign the sitting pastor. When the district superintendent called the pastor to discuss the projected appointment, he replied “Let me stop you right there. I’m not interested. I’m staying at Mt. Bethel. I’m not going, I do not accept this appointment.” He then hung up on the superintendent, giving no opportunity to discuss that appointment or any possible alternatives. In his letter of reconsideration to the bishop, he termed the projected appointment “a professional compliment” but indicated only a desire to return to Mt. Bethel.
When the district superintendent and the assistant to the bishop met with church leaders to further consult about the projected appointment, they refused to have any meaningful conversation, and instead threatened that $3-4 million would walk out of the church if they were not allowed to deviate from the appointive process and keep their pastor. When asked to further the consultation by submitting written concerns to the Cabinet, they gave no missional reasons against the appointment. The leaders wrote that they would withhold compensation, benefits and any reimbursement for a new pastor. They warned that upon his arrival the church, its ministries, and its school will “most certainly be unstable and likely hostile”.
The sermon on Announcement Sunday and town hall meeting that followed on Monday cast this as a “hostile takeover” by an evil, ungodly woman bishop and denigrating The United Methodist Church.
This reckless behavior has caused a great deal of pain to the congregation and threatens its covenant with The United Methodist Church.
Fortunately, for the vast majority of United Methodist pastors and congregations, receiving a new appointment is a productive and fulfilling process. When we prayerfully follow our process the result is healthy churches. In all but one appointment change projected for 2021, clergy are well on their way to making a smooth transition, and congregations are welcoming them with open hearts, open minds, and open doors.
I ask you to join me in praying for the pastors of the North Georgia Conference who are beginning their new appointments. May they and their church families grow together in furthering Christ’s work.
Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson