Right of Refusal

With church appointments in full swing right now, I was asked a very serious hypothetical question recently (by someone whose pastor is staying put): Do UM churches have a right of refusal to a pastoral appointment which the bishop has made?

In other words, if the DS calls and says, “This is your new pastor,” and we decide we don’t want him or her, can we say ‘No’? Do we have that right as laity? Or do we have to accept the appointment no matter what?

It’s a good question. And how we answer it, in my opinion, says an awful lot about the kind of church we are.

I’ll be honest. I didn’t really know quite how to answer the question. My initial response is, based on what I know of the Book of Discipline and from personal observation, yes, one probably could, but I wouldn’t highly suggest it unless you really, really need to.

In other words, this is an option of last resort in the UM world. Bishops tend not to like being told ‘No.’ So, it’s best to do so as seldom as possible, lest they find a truly undesirable pastor to inflict upon you. After all, if the Bishop says, “This is it!”, what can you really do?

That’s my best guess anyway. Clearly, it wasn’t the answer my questioner was hoping for. Disappointment was obvious.

As I continue to ponder that question, I can’t help but wonder: Why don’t UM churches have a right of refusal? In fact, why aren’t local churches far more heavily involved in the appointment process?

We talk a lot these days about wanting strong, involved laity in our churches. How invested can laity really be if they have no say over who their leader is?

I know, there are good reasons for not letting them have more input. Sometimes, maybe oftentimes, sin is at the heart of their discontent. Less than pure motives guide their choices.

But, at the same time, sometimes they know their church better than we as clergy do. Sometimes their input is well-intended and worth taking into account. Perhaps worth more than the paltry forms we often hand them. (Forms that they wonder if we even read.) Sometimes their objections come from the wisdom of previous experience.

I simply wonder, if we truly expect laity to invest more fully in our local churches, why not give them more say? What are we afraid of?

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4 responses to “Right of Refusal

  • Sending out clergy is still our style « John Meunier's blog

    […] out clergy is still our style April 23, 2010 by John Meunier Lauren Porter asks whether local congregations should have the right to refuse elders appointed by the bishop. As I […]

  • Richard H

    Good question. Except for the BIG churches in our conference, I’m not aware of congregations having much say beyond their profile (“Young, outgoing pastor who will solve all our problems and make us perfect.” Or something like that). But they also, I think, don’t have the means to know much about the pastors that are out there. They can go by the immediately obvious, and decide purely on the matter of race or gender (usually the wrong criteria), but I’d guess they usually don’t have much to go on.

  • Brian Vinson

    As a pastor, I was told (by my then-DS) that I could refuse an appointment. And that if I did so, I would be blackballed by the cabinet and that I would get the appointment from Hell.

  • Richard H

    I’ve heard that too, Brian. I DO know that it’s not true for everyone. I also know that someone has to pastor the congregation from hell.

    We still have a hierarchical, top-down, command and control model, so we need to come down hard on people who seek to thwart that control.

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