Promises, Promises: More on Guaranteed Appointments

I ran across the following article yesterday on UMNS by Rev. Robert Williams: Clergy Job Protections Part of Covenant.

In it he does a couple of things I find helpful. First, better than most, he distills down the questions raised by the proposed removal of guaranteed appointments. So he writes:

Under the proposed revisions, who will determine whether a clergy can and should be appointed? Will this be solely in the hands of the bishop and cabinet without procedures involving the board of ordained ministry and the clergy session of the conference? Will conference relations continue to be a matter of the board and clergy session and the requirement to appoint someone an issue of conference relations?

This discussion of “guaranteed appointment” should be recast as “possible revisions to exiting procedures.”

I especially appreciate that last sentence. I really think this is the heart of the matter. The current discussion is less about job guarantees than it is about exit procedures. The problem is, as many have already pointed out, we already have exit procedures in place. They may need revised, but they do exist.

Second, though, Williams gives us a short history of the relationship between appointments and job guarantees. I find this helpful, especially his quotes from Bishop Neely at the beginning of the 20th century:

Kohler refers to “The Minister in the Itinerant System” by Bishop Thomas B. Neely, published in 1914.  Bishop Neely wrote that in his time the system promises “that the preacher shall be provided with a pastoral charge…(and)…that, if he does faithful and successful work, he need not be concerned about his next appointment, for the appointing power will concern itself about that.”

I’d be interested in hearing more about the history of appointments and job security in the Methodist connection. I find it hard to believe this is just the invention of the last 50 or 60 years.

However, the thing that struck me the most was this quote and observation:

The language of Bishop Neely in 1914 is most interesting: “Back of the system, therefore, is the whole Church, self-obligated – sworn, so to speak, to conform to and to uphold this system of pastoral assignment. It is a contract between the laity and the ministry.” In other words, the bishop sends, the clergy go without reserve, and the laity receives. Break any link and the itinerancy is in jeopardy. (emphasis mine)

That last line is well worded: Break any link and the itinerancy is in jeopardy. To me, that’s the key. Guaranteed appointment and itineracy are at some level inseparable.

We cannot have one without the other. We cannot expect pastors to go wherever we send them if in fact there is not a reasonable promise that they will always have a place to be sent. It is a covenant relationship. Break any link, and the whole system falls apart. Williams has hit the nail on the head.

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2 responses to “Promises, Promises: More on Guaranteed Appointments

  • John Meunier

    Thanks for the historical sources. I bet someone could do a D.Min. on this topic.

    The link between appointment and itinerancy may have been broken when we ceased to hold true that part about “so long as” the pastor is faithful and successful in his (or her) work. People tell me that you have to try pretty hard to get removed from ministry.

    If – as some have suggested – the bishops and BOOMs were using the procedures in the Book of Discipline to remove pastors who were not effective or were not living out their ordination vows then perhaps all this talk of guaranteed appointment would be moot.

    • Lauren

      I would agree with you about the use of standing procedures. The mechanisms are in place to deal with ineffective clergy. We have simply been too gun-shy to use them.

      I guess we’re afraid to hurt people’s feelings, or more likely, to face direct conflict. Still, is telling someone “We have no place for you this year” any better?

      You are right, though. We need to do better at dealing with ineffective clergy.

      Thanks as always for your comments.

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