Rev. Stephen Sparks, pastor, Indianola First UMC and reserve delegate
This morning the delegates to General Conference 2012 voted to substantially alter the relationship and the social contract of elders in full connection with their local annual conference. The right to a guaranteed appointment absent chargeable offenses was ended, without discussion or separate vote on the petition.
The legislation was approved nearly unanimously in the Higher Education and Ministry Committee who took steps to place safeguards, rights to appeal, and checks and balances in place to protect clergy from abuse. It was placed on the consent calendar for this morning, which was approved in the ordinary course of business of the morning orders. An attempt was made to reconsider the singular consent item by a motion to reconsider. That motion failed to achieve a simple majority and, with that vote, guaranteed appointments ended for elders in full connection.
The response among UM clergy within the convention center was muted and reflective as many had voted to approve the change. Online the response was much different. On Twitter, Facebook, message boards, and elsewhere responses varied from distraught to bitter to sarcastic to wildly supportive. Phillip Dearman asks the question, “Since General Conference has done away with guaranteed appointments for elders, does this mean that all churches will continue to be guaranteed a pastor?”
Adam Gordon responds by saying, "My first reaction is a knee-jerk one of 'oh no!' and fear, but I feel that I will grow into understanding and appreciating this decision. I think, especially for the relationship between deacons and elders, this helps to 'level the playing field,' as neither orders are 'guaranteed' jobs/ministries, and it might encourage us all to take more responsibility in leading those under our charges. I do hope — but fear — that our prophetic voices will not be squelched by this decision."
Lisa Garvin, delegate to GC2012 responded this afternoon:
I speak into this as a deacon and as a delegate to GC serving on Ministry and Higher Education (who is sleep deprived). I was personally indifferent as to whether we supported the petition or not. But, as I've thought about the decision today, this is what I think: All the rhetoric around this GC is about the adaptive challenge of directing all of our resources to nurturing vital congregations. This is the first step we've taken in that direction. Local churches "win"!
Theoretically, it ensures that local churches receive effective clergy leaders whose gifts meet the needs of each congregation — regardless of whether they are ordained or licensed. For those of us who are ordained and/or licensed, it "ups the ante." It requires that we always bring our "A game." We must really be striving for perfection.
When we are in ministry settings that are not a "good fit," we will have to find ways to articulate to our supervisors our passions, our gifts, and our needs so that missional appointments are possible. While I know there are challenging congregations in the world, I believe all persons striving to be disciples of Christ deserve pastoral leadership who lead them to abundant life.
Secondly, as a deacon who is committed to the ministry of justice and compassion, I do not enjoy security of appointment and that does not inhibit my prophetic voice. As I said to some on Twitter today, "It fails to be prophetic if the voice we raise depends on job security." I, personally, trust our bishops (not just Bishop Ward, but the others who will follow her) and their commitment to justice.
In short, those called by God, gifted for ministry, and faithful to the Gospel, have nothing to fear with the loss of security of appointment. I anticipate that this is a first step in a "seismic shift" in our culture. I pray that it will stimulate a covenant life in which we encourage one another toward excellence!
In other action today:
• “We stand united in declaring our faith that God’s grace is available to all, that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” So said the delegates to the 2012 General Conference of The United Methodist Church in approving an addition to the beginning of the preamble to the denomination’s Social Principles.
• The full General Conference approved the Pan-Methodist Full Communion as part of the consent calendar on Monday, April 30, 2012. This action is a significant statement on a new and healing relationship between The United Methodist Church and our Methodist partners including the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Union Methodist Protestant Church and the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church. Click here to read the full text of this resolution>>
For more information check out, www.umc.org, UMNS (United Methodist News Service) online, Facebook, and Twitter #GC2012.