4:45 P.M. EST Mar. 17, 2010 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)
The Rev. Anita Wood talked about the ministry of the baptized.
photos by Kathy L. Gilbert.
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A United Methodist commission charged with developing ways to
improve clergy effectiveness is considering recommending the
elimination of guaranteed appointments.
In a joint meeting with the Committee on Faith and Order this week,
members of the Ministry Study Commission raised concerns about the
practice of promising some clergy lifetime jobs.
“We decided that the system of guaranteed appointments has created
mediocrity, an expectation that clergy will have a job no matter how
effective they are and that churches will get a pastor even if they are
not functioning in a healthy way or participating in living
missionally,” said the Rev. Amy Gearhart, an elder in the Missouri
Annual (regional) Conference and a commission member.
The ministry commission and the Committee on Faith and Order met and
shared their work March 16 as both prepare reports for the 2012
General Conference, the top legislative body of the denomination.
Bishop Alfred Gwinn said, “God is up to something with The United
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The joint meeting was to share and get
“push back” on some of the issues both groups are grappling with, said
Bishop Alfred Gwinn, chair of the ministry study group.
The Committee on Faith and Order was given leadership in reflecting
on matters of faith, doctrinal teaching, order and discipline in the
The ministry commission has named the major issues they are working
on “big rocks.” The team is focusing on recruitment, discernment and
formation for professional ministry; ordination and sacramental
authority; and clergy appointments.
“We want to concentrate on the big rocks in the jar and not get
overloaded with the sand and small rocks,” Gwinn said.
Historically, biblically and theologically, The United Methodist
Church has practiced itineration, Gearhart said. Having bishops assign
clergy to churches has been a tradition in United Methodism dating back
to John Wesley.
However, clergy need to understand itinerancy is not something they
do in exchange for a guaranteed appointment to a church, she said.
“We have heard pastors say, ‘I will give
you the practice of itinerating my family and my life and my household
if you give me a guaranteed appointment.’”
The two are not meant to be used against each other, she said.
“Itinerancy is effective and a response to covenantal obedience to a
particular call from God,” she said. “Itinerancy is not just about
Difficult path to ordination
The Rev. Jay Williams of the New York Annual (regional) Conference
said the church’s fear of not having enough young clergy and the
assumption of guaranteed appointments also has resulted in a cumbersome
and often lengthy process to entering ministry.
“The 2004 and 2008 General Conferences have done strong work in
streamlining the process so we are already under way,” he said. “I
personally have experienced that the process is extraordinarily
difficult to navigate. Even with my extensive and intimate knowledge, it
is still too difficult.”
There needs to be a paradigm shift to a "culture of
call" during the candidacy stage, he added. “We need to deploy those
who are called into ordination quickly.”
“This has been a productive conversation,” said Bishop David Yemba,
chair of the Faith and Order Committee. “It is good to hear what is
going on in the ministry study group. It’s a starting point, but we
still have some issues.”
Gwinn agreed the task was large.
“I invite you to be honorary members of the ministry study
commission,” he said. “God is up to something with The United Methodist
Church. If the church is to catch a new vision, it will take broad
*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service in
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615)
742-5470 or email@example.com.