The Michigan Area, along with the global United Methodist Church, is helping climb toward the Imagine No Malaria goal of $75 million by 2015
This month's Burning Question opens a dialogue on the political, theological and spiritual dimensions of participation in the life of the annual conference.
The Personnel Committee of the Conference Leadership Team announces the hiring of Bridget Nelson to the position of Coordinator of Youth and Young Adult Ministries. "Bridget has a deep passion for developing young people in their faith and leadership skills," says Connectional Ministries Director, Jerome (Jerry) DeVine.
Detroit Conference Lay Leader, Wayne Bank, was in Kansas City last month. He and other Lay Leaders were there to seek ways to help their conferences change for the better
The Church Alliance—a coalition of the chief executive officers of 38 denominational benefit programs—has filed an amicus curiae brief in the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals (Chicago) in the case challenging the constitutionality of the clergy housing exclusion under Section 107(2) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (Code).
The case is Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc., et al. v. Jacob Lew, et al. (FFRF v. Lew). The U.S. government is appealing a decision by Judge Barbara Crabb, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin (November 2013) that Code §107(2) is unconstitutional.
Code §107(2), commonly called “clergy housing exclusion” or “clergy housing allowance,” excludes from income taxation the cash compensation provided to “ministers of the gospel” toward the cost of their housing. This section of the Code essentially excludes the value of clergy-owned housing from income taxation.
It is related to Code §107(1), which excludes from a minister’s taxable income the value of church-provided housing (commonly called a parsonage, vicarage or manse). The FFRF v. Lew appeal does not involve a challenge to Code §107(1).
Judge Crabb ruled that Code §107(2) is unconstitutional because it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Under the Establishment Clause, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion… .” Judge Crabb stayed the effect of her ruling until all appeals are exhausted. The government’s opening brief was filed on April 2, 2014.
The Church Alliance brief adds a perspective not duplicated in the government’s brief, focusing on the jurisprudential history of permitted legislative accommodations of religion. The brief argues that Code §107(2) is a constitutionally permitted accommodation of religion when viewed in the context of Code §107(1), the parsonage exclusion, and Code §119, which excludes employer-provided housing from employees’ incomes in numerous secular circumstances.
Barbara Boigegrain, chief executive of the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits of The United Methodist Church and chair of the Church Alliance, said, “The Church Alliance has a substantial interest in the validity of Code §107(2) because of the immediate impact on compensation and housing of active clergy in the benefit plans of its member denominations, and also because of the indirect impact on retirement benefits.”
The members of the Church Alliance stand with other religious organizations in their vested interest in the outcome of this litigation. The clergy housing exclusion is important to millions of active and retired clergy from the 38 Church Alliance-represented denominations, including, among others, American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., Church of the Nazarene, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Brothers Services, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Joint Retirement Board for Conservative Judaism, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Reform Pension Board, Southern Baptist Convention, United Church of Christ, and The United Methodist Church.
Numerous other churches, associations or conventions of churches, and other religious organizations with religious leaders eligible for the clergy housing exclusion under Code §107(2) are additional signers of the brief, supporting the filing of the Church Alliance’s brief and the positions advocated in it. They include the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Central Conference of American Rabbis, General Council on Finance and Administration of The United Methodist Church, Moravian Church, Rabbinical Assembly, Salvation Army, Union for Reform Judaism, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, and Wisconsin Council of Churches, among others.
Are you ready for some in-depth theological exploration? Clergy and laity, spouses and friends across the Michigan Area are invited to a first-ever experience hosted by Adrian College on Wednesdy, May 14. The Continuing Education Learning Day promises be be a time of intellectual and spiritual growth.
"For a long time, Adrian College has been happy to host the Detroit Annual Conference, but we've been working hard to contribute toward the intellectual life of the church, too," says Dr. Chris Momany, Chaplain and Director of Church Relations. "We are very excited about this inaugural event."
The time together begins with gathering and refreshments in Valade Hall at 1 p.m. Then the afternoon is given to two conversations and a panel discussion, all in Knight Auditorium.
Dinner at 5 p.m. provides a time for fellowhsip and a discussion on continuing education in the Detroit Conference facilitated by the Rev. Paul Perez. Fee is $30 per person, which includes dinner and snacks. If you are attending Annual Conference, you may include this event with your online registration. Those not attending Conference should email the Rev. Chris Momany at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bd. Higher Education and Ministry
Proposals to address seminarian debt include making sure seminary students understand the debt they are taking on, whether the master of divinity should be the normal path to ministry, and how more money could be raised in the denomination to alleviate seminarian debt.
The findings and proposals by the indebtedness advisory group gathered in Nashville, April 3-4, will be compiled by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry Seminary Indebtedness Task Force. A report will be made to General Conference 2016 on how to address seminarian debt, said Allyson Collinsworth, executive director of GBHEM’s Office of Loans and Scholarships. Legislation approved at General Conference 2012 recommended that GBHEM form a task force to address financial assistance and seminary debt.
The group talked about programs in United Methodist annual conferences that have proved successful, including the Stegall Seminary Scholarship Endowment Foundation, which in January reached its goal of providing $10,000 a year in financial assistance for all UM seminary students in the Alabama-West Florida Conference. The Rev. June Jernigan, director of the Office of Ministerial Services for the conference, said the foundation was started by a retired pastor, the Rev. Dr. Karl K. Stegall.
The Rev. Wade Giffin, director the West Ohio Conference’s Office of Ministry, asked if the classic three-year master of divinity was the “normative path” to commissioning and ordination in the UMC.
Giffin said the West Ohio Conference has a college internship program that assigns students to a church at a cost of about $4,400 per student. “Sixty-seven percent of our college interns are in seminary or on their way,” he said. He added that a stronger work-study path might help solve a frequent complaint of churches that classic M.Div. graduates are not prepared to lead a church.
The Rev. Meg Lassiat, GBHEM’s director of Candidacy, Mentoring, and Conference Relations, noted that deacons can be ordained after getting a master’s degree in a specialized area of ministry such as social work or music, then taking 27 hours of the Basic Graduate Theological Study.
Other paths include Course of Study and Advanced Course of Study for local pastors, and some at the meeting suggested that a Bachelor of Divinity with some additional training might be another path.
The task force reviewed research that GBHEM had collected, including annual surveys by the Association of Theological Schools, which found that support from the UMC was an important source of income for 28 percent of UM seminarians, compared to 9 percent of students from other denominations who reported denominational support.
In April 2013, GBHEM surveyed UM-related colleges and universities, seminaries, annual conferences and scholarship recipients on questions concerning educational debt. That survey found 60 percent to 75 percent of UM students entering ordained ministry had educational debt averaging between $26,513 and $34,782.
Financial literacy for candidates for ministry and for clergy already serving had solid support from members of the task force, who thought classes on financial literacy should be required by seminaries and through the annual conference. Wei Li Tan, president of the Florida United Methodist Foundation, said Florida has incorporated financial literacy into group candidacy mentoring sessions.
Task force members suggested that pastors be encouraged to take advantage of free financial planning offered through the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits. They also proposed creation of a curriculum or tool to educate children and youth about personal finances. Other proposals included requiring that schools which receive Ministerial Education Funds mandate financial literacy training for students, and that financial literacy cover stewardship so candidates for ministry will understand how to talk to their churches about giving.
Seven UM seminaries were among 67 across the U.S. that received money from the Lilly Endowment as part of its initiative to address economic issues facing future ministers.
Brenda Hicks, director of financial aid at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas, said financial literacy needs to start with college students since many begin borrowing money for undergraduate degrees.
Joe Arnold, research manager for the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary, said that pastors who don’t feel comfortable about their own debt levels are less comfortable talking about church finances.
Annual conference staff at the meeting said they are seeing some elders surrendering their credentials in order to go work for a non-denominational church that pays more.
The Rev. Tom Choi, district superintendent in Hawaii, said there is something to be learned from non-Western cultures. “Korean and Tongan seminarians have little or no debt. Their churches are supportive of them,” Choi said.
In dreaming of how to fix the problem of seminary debt, the group figured that raising $500 million would provide funds for all UM candidates to go to seminary for free, but others raised the question of whether paying all the bills for seminarians was a good thing since it would mean candidates had little personal investment. There was also a recognition that annual conference foundations would not want to share their donor bases for a national campaign, so encouraging conference foundations to provide support for seminarians might be one approach.
Collinsworth said one proposal her office would look into is refinancing debt for seminarians at a lower rate.
Jonathan Strandjord, director for seminaries of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, said the ECLA’s studies of debt have found that pastors who are worried about debt are more passive.
“Even more important than debt is concern about debt,” Strandjord said.
Collinsworth said the GBHEM Seminary Indebtedness Task Force, made up of staff, will continue conversations on the issue with annual conferences, foundations, UM-related undergraduate institutions and seminaries.
“The hope is together we will form a holistic denominational plan that will create a culture of stewardship around the cost of seminary education with training and input from all levels of the connection that will reduce clergy debt and the fear that is often associated with that debt.”
Golden Cross Sunday is observed in The United Methodist Church each year on a date determined by the annual conference. The observance focuses on the work of health and welfare ministries and institutions in the annual conference. If the annual conference so directs, an offering may be received for the support of the health and welfare ministries.
May 4 is the traditional Golden Cross Sunday, but you are welcome to celebrate Golden Cross on the Sunday of your choice.
In the Detroit Conference Golden Cross Sunday provides an offering opportunity to support special needs camperships, children who have been abused or neglected, and seniors who have outlived their savings. The organizations represented are United Methodist Outdoor and Retreat Ministries, Methodist Children’s Home Society, and United Methodist Retirement Communities.
Congregations in the Detroit Conference can help promote Golden Cross Sunday by distributing offering envelopes, placing an insert in the bulletin, and/or including information in the monthly newsletter.
To download bulletin inserts or make a Golden Cross donation online, please click here. To request Golden Cross offering envelopes, please contact Amy Craig, UMRC Foundation Executive Assistant, at 734-433-1000734-433-1000 ext. 7502 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
For more information, please contact:
In the West Michigan Conference the Golden Cross Sunday Offering supports the Methodist Children's Home Society, Clark Retirement Community and Bronson Methodist Hospital.
West Michigan congregations retain half of the offering to support ministries in their church that serve persons with disabilities. Such ministries include: large print bulletins; ramps; ministries to foster residents; day care programs; latch key activities; community counseling; meals on wheels; rides to the doctor; and respite care for caregivers. Download and print a bulletin insert here.
Thank you very much for your support of these ministries and the vulnerable populations they serve
The Detroit Conference Leadership Team Personnel Committee announces their choice for the staff position of Coordinator of Youth and Young Adult Ministries.
After a thorough interview of candidates they welcome Bridget Nelson to this position.
Bridget has a Bachelor's and Master's Degree in Social Work. She has extensive work experience in training, teaching and client interaction. She brings 11 years of youth ministry planning and oversight in two different United Methodist churches in the Detroit Conference.
Bridget is a member of Redford Aldersgate UMC, where her husband, the Rev. Jeff Nelson, is the pastor. She has also been serving for several months as the new Adult Co-Coordinator of the Detroit Conference Council on Youth Ministries as they seek to rebuild their membership and focus.
Rev. Dr. Jerome (Jerry) DeVine, Director of Connectional Ministries, says, "Bridget has a deep passion for developing young people in their faith and leadership skills. She exhibited a clear understanding expectations, with specific ideas on how to implement the vision within the next year, especially for developing adult workers with youth in our local churches." He also praises her "solid Wesleyan understanding of grace and how it fits into this arena of ministry."
Bridget is excited to begin this ministry. "I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of the Detroit Annual Conference staff. I hope to meet many of the people working with youth and young adults around our conference, whether they are full time, part time or volunteers, whether they are new or been at this awhile." She shares a hope to create "a network of support, encouragement and learning." She intends to help make the Conference more aware of who is doing this important work with youth and young adults and what support they need."
Please keep this ministry in prayer.
Information and applications are also available at www.umccamps.org.
Blue Water United Methodist Free Store (BWUMFS) Board Meeting
April 24-27 (Friday-Sunday)
UMW Assembly 2014
Kentucky International Convention Center
221 S 4th Street
Louisville, KY 40202
I received an interesting Burning Question recently which was not about appointments or the Bishop. It was about Districts and Superintendents and the Annual Conference, and it came from an old friend and clergy person. It read: “What are the Conference and Disciplinary guidelines for election of District Lay Members to Annual Conference?”
To properly answer that question, we must refer to both the 2012 Book of Discipline and the Rules of Order for the two Annual Conferences as listed in their most recent Conference Journals. The Disciplinary Paragraph is ¶602. The Detroit Journal Rule is IIA. Equalization of lay and clergy members beginning on page 549. The West Michigan Journal Rule is 8C. Equalization of lay and clergy members beginning on page 253. You are welcome and encouraged to check my answers by doing your own research, but I will try to give a summary here which will work for both Annual Conference sessions.
Lay members of an Annual Conference are chosen in several categories each with its own criteria. First, there is one lay member for each charge, unless the charge has more than one appointed clergy person, who is elected by the membership of the charge.
Secondly, there is a whole list of lay persons who, by virtue of their office or responsibility within the Annual Conference, are given voice and vote (membership) in the Conference Session. These include, but are not limited to, Conference Presidents of the United Methodist Women and the United Methodist Men, the conference lay leader(s), district lay leaders, the presidents (or equivalent) of the conference young adult organization, the conference youth organization, and a representative youth and young adult from each district.
It is this list which has the most variation between the two conferences. Each conference has developed its own criteria for naming lay representation beyond those elected by the local church. Finally, there is provision for the possible inclusion of lay persons if the total number in the conference’s first and second categories are less than the number of active and retired clergy members. These names come from the district conference or the district council on ministries following a nominations process. In summary, then, lay members are either members of conference by virtue of their election by their local church, their office or responsibility in the Annual Conference, or their nomination and election by the district body given that authority by the Conference Rules of Order.
The person who asked the question added an observation that some churches seem to have more representation at Annual Conference than others and they wondered if there should be more equal distribution of participation from local churches across the district. The implied comment seemed to be that there were too many voices from one particular perspective and it caused those who saw things from a different point of view to disrespect the Annual Conference leadership.
There are several responses that I might give to my colleague’s comment. I would like to think that those who are elected by their local churches were, for the most part, representative of the congregation. Even as I write that, however, I know that many of our congregations have very different perspectives on a variety of issues among their members and it would be impossible for one person to represent all points of view when it came to casting their vote on the floor of the conference session. But I believe that, taken together, the lay members elected by local churches represent the wide variety of opinions pretty well.
As to those in the second category, I have found that many of those people come from churches with a long history of participation in the life of the conference where individuals are encouraged by their fellow members and their clergy to volunteer their time or say yes when approached by the Conference Committee on Nominations. Those churches do not always represent every theological or political perspective equally, but there are persons from many different backgrounds in conference leadership at the moment. I know that the good people from the Nominations Committee try their best to find people from all the districts so as to achieve equal district representation, but that is not always possible, and some districts have far less representation on the boards and agencies of the conference than others. This is more often because of geography than theological or political persuasion. People who live at great distances from the Conference offices are less likely to participate in the life of the Conference.
When it comes to the third category, the District Lay Members, both Annual Conference Rules of Order contain directives which say, in essence, that consideration should be given for the election of members which takes into account the full diversity of the conference. This diversity could include theological diversity, socio-economic diversity, age and gender diversity, as well as others. But I also know, from personal experience, that District Nominating Committees do not always know all the people of the district, and so they tend to ask those whose names they know or have been given – usually by the pastors of the district. And not every pastor provide names to the Annual Conference or District Nominating Committees. Again, my own experience would suggest that some churches and some pastors go out of their way to avoid any participation in the life of the Annual Conference, and those churches are then the least represented in the leadership on either the Annual Conference or district level.
Bottom line: If you are a lay person in the Michigan Area, step up, volunteer your time and energy as a leader or member of a district or conference committee, board or agency. Ask your pastor or Lay Member to Annual Conference to share your name with Nominations. We are always looking for persons to help us Make Disciples for Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.
This is the second part of my answer to a whole series of Burning Questions which were prompted by this being the season of appointment-making and appointment-receiving for United Methodist clergy in the Michigan Area.
“Why should I move? I like it where I am!” And “Who decides when our pastor is to leave or where they are to go? How much is the Bishop involved in this process?” are both examples of questions we have received in our office this Spring. And this: “What does it mean when someone asks for re-consideration of an appointment?”
Initially, appointments or clergy assignments to mission fields were made by John Wesley.
Clergy would gather (in England) to report back on how their work was going – how many disciples had been added to the work and how many new preaching stations or Sunday Schools had been started – and then Brother Wesley would, after giving careful thought to the needs of each of the areas of work (he called them “fields of labor”) and the gifts of each of the preachers who had reported to be sent out, assign/appoint or send each preacher to the area which was, in the opinion of Mr. Wesley, the best match between needs and gifts. That is still a good summary of what our appointment process is like today.
Bishops and their district superintendents – the Bishop’s eyes and ears in the several districts with the best knowledge of the churches and the pastors - gather to consider the needs of the several congregations and the gifts of the available clergy.
Then, after prayer and discernment which can take several hours or even several days, the Bishop appoints or sends clergy to minister to congregations by leading them in the work of disciple-making and transformation. In exchange for the assurance of an appointment, clergy covenant together to offer themselves to go where they are sent in the belief that they will be sent where their unique gifts are the best available match for the needs of the congregation and community.
Bishop Deb is directly involved in each appointment, but she could not begin to know all the churches and pastors of the Michigan Area as well as the twelve District Superintendents. Appointment-making is a consultative process of discernment, including consultation with the clergy during their one-on-one with the Superintendent and consultation with the local church both in the annual meeting with the Superintendent and the submission of annual reports which attempt to give an accurate picture of the current state of the congregation. The Superintendents all share what they know and what they have observed with one another and with the Bishop. However, in the end, it is still the Bishop who makes each appointment and is accountable for the sending.
The “why” question is an important part of any answer to either of the questions posed above. The answer of why one should accept any appointment, aside from the universal covenant commitment to go where sent, is as varied as each pastor and each appointment. But I can give a general response which has proven accurate for each of the appointment decisions I have been an active participant in, either as pastor or superintendent. Even when the then current appointment was comfortable, fruitful and reasonable free from controversy, and neither the pastor or the congregation had requested a change, the several concerned participants, given time to distance themselves from the trauma of unexpected change which was initiated by the Bishop or Cabinet, could look back and name the “why” of the appointment change.
Case in point: a pastor with God-given gifts in conflict resolution and congregational healing was moved after only a few years from one formerly wounded congregation to another currently troubled congregation. The pastor had not requested the move. The SPRC members had not requested the move. They were just getting healthy and were looking forward to fruitful ministry together. But two things happened which helped everyone see the “why” of the change: first, the pastoral gifts were clearly needed in the new appointment, and second, the follow pastor had even better gifts for leading healthy congregations to find their mission and ministry focus. The abiding hope of Bishop and Superintendents in every conference is that this will be the outcome of all episcopally-initiated appointment changes.
Even as I write these words, however, I am aware of situations where there are missional reasons for discerned changes to be reconsidered. Missional reasons are things which enhance the disciple-making and world-transforming mission of the church. There are times when missional things are taking place in a congregation which are unknown to the Superintendent, information which, when added to the other information about the pastor and the current appointment might lead to a different conclusion. When a pastor is approached about a change of appointment and it seems clear to them that the Bishop and/or the Superintendent might not have all the facts, then the pastor is obligated to share the missional reasons why the Bishop should reconsider her previous discernment. It may not change the Bishop’s decision, but it will assure everyone that all the information has been considered. I would like to say that each pastor should try to keep their Superintendent informed about what is happening missionally in their congregation at all times, not just during appointment season. But I also know that sometimes things happen so quickly that you don’t have time to share it with your Superintendent.
It should be noted here that this is not the same request for reconsideration as one which is based on the tethers mentioned in my last blog post. A pastor’s tethers should be shared with the Superintendent at the time of the annual one-on-one and not after one has received a new appointment. When known before the appointment is discerned, all tethers will be given every consideration and honored if at all possible. But when they come at the last minute as a surprise for the Bishop and Superintendent, they are often not able to be given the same place in the discernment process. As an example: if, as a pastor, I have determined that my tether to my family’s need to stay in one place is taking precedence at this time in my life, I need to inform my superintendent. He or she will discuss my tether and appointment availability and give me the opportunity to sign a limited itinerancy form which will release the bishop and cabinet from the need to treat my covenant availability for any full-time appointment as their top priority. This, in turn, may mean that I will receive an appointment which is less-than-full-time, which does not have the same compensation, or which does not completely match my ministry gifts so that I can remain within the bounds of my tether if at all possible. It will not necessarily mean that I may stay in my current appointment as long as my tether is in place.
So, in summary, as a pastor I need to be sure that my superintendent knows about my gifts for ministry and my goals and dreams. As a member of a congregation’s Staff Parish Relations Committee, I need to be sure that I have joined with other members of the committee in an honest appraisal of our congregation’s pastoral needs as well as the state of our church which we have shared with our District Superintendent. And all of us, clergy and laity, need to remember that the itinerant system is, at its heart, intended for the fulfillment of the church’s mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
I hope these answers to your Burning Questions will help you understand some of the factors which enter into the appointment-making process at this time of year.
I can hardly believe it, but saw my first robins last week! I hadn't even begun to think about them yet, but driving on South Hannah Street on the campus of Albion College, I looked out my car window - and there they were! In the midst of snow and sleet and howling wind, a group of robins sat huddled together on top of a snowdrift! Six, fluffed up symbols of spring!
Now - even though meteorologists say we are only about three weeks away from the official start of Spring, it certainly doesn’t feel or look like it! I think we can all agree … it has been a long, cold, snowy winter.
And - even though I'm always disappointed in the month of March (because no, it's not spring, yet!) ... And - even though I know we'll still see more snow ... Even with all these things in mind - I know spring is near.
Faith is a strange thing:
It sometimes stands in direct opposition to what seems realistic.
It shouts "YES!" in the face of a host of "NOs!".
It believes in goodness when all around is wickedness.
It sings of life in the midst of death.
So, yes, even in the midst of what still feels like the depths of winter, I believe Spring is about to be revealed. I believe in spring. Just as I believe in new life, new hope, new dreams.
That's what faith is all about.
Let me share with you one of my favorite scripture passages: Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. I John 3:2a
One of the reasons I like this passage so well is that I find it incredibly hopeful. Our lives are journeys - of faith, of wisdom, of experience. And along that journey we are constantly learning - and re-learning - what it is God is calling us to do and be. It’s a journey of revelation.
We want to do the right thing, but we still make mistakes. We try, but we still fall short. We listen, but we still misunderstand.
And then we read these words: Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.
Rather than getting discouraged, the author of I John is reminding us that we are still in the process of becoming the kind of people God wants us to be. With each new day we discover more about God, more about ourselves, and more about our relationship with God.
What we will be has not yet been revealed.
And thank goodness.
Friends, we are just beginning the Holy Season of Lent. For many, this is a time when they consider “giving up something” for Lent. For others, it is the reminder that winter is losing its grip and spring is just over the horizon. For others Lent has little meaning until Easter itself, with its Easter baskets and new clothes for church.
But this season ought to be a time of revealing – of revelation.
A time of walking alongside Christ through the final Holy days of his life;
A time in which we experience what he experienced – hatred, misunderstanding, betrayal, and death;
A time that ends on a cross in Jerusalem.
It’s a difficult journey, and yet one we walk in complete faith … because it is through this journey that we find revealed all the goodness, all the hope, all the possibilities of what God sees - within us, for us, and for our world.
So yes, it may still feel like winter – both in our world and within our hearts. But we know that if we open ourselves to message revealed in this season of Lent, God can reveal the hope that lies before us – and within us, and we can move ever closer to becoming the people God calls us to be.
Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.
With you in the work of Christ,
It’s that time of year when a United Methodist pastor’s thoughts turn to Burning Questions about moving and the itinerancy of pastors in The United Methodist Church. There have been several this month and I will try to answer each one of them over the course of the next two editions of this blog.
In order to answer these questions, I would like to begin by restating the historical practice of our church: we are a “sending” church which was built, in large part, on the idea of a traveling clergy who were sent where they were needed as the church grew. Clergy in the United States moved frequently in response to a rapidly changing population and growing communities. Many of the early Methodist clergy were “circuit riders” who were, for the most part, single and able to be reassigned to new circuits several times a year. When clergy no longer wished to itinerate, they were located in a community, honorably, to be employed for the work of growing the kingdom, but not as a traveling elder of the church.
We are no longer in the context of colonial America, but our appointment system still resembles those early practices. And, unlike those denominations which seek their own pastor and “call” their clergy, our system does try to insure that most, if not all, of our pastors have employment and that our churches are not without a pastor. As a denomination we do our best to match pastoral gifts with congregational needs while adjusting to changing communities and cultural diversities. But we also know that communities and clergy are changing – sometimes faster than the system which they have covenanted to be a part of – and creating stresses for the Church which are painful for all.Against this backdrop of a slowly changing church in a rapidly evolving context come these burning questions: “I have served as a licensed local pastor for several years but I do not currently have an appointment. What am I?” “I overheard my pastor talking with her DS. What is a tether?
Traveling elders are still the “norm” for pastors in our United Methodist denomination. We still tend to think of persons who have come through a college and seminary and the ordination process of our church as pastors – persons whose gifts, evidence of God’s grace, and promise of future usefulness are affirmed by the community, and who respond to God’s call by offering themselves in leadership (¶301.2). But this has never been the whole story. In every age of our church – past and present – persons who meet all of the criteria listed above have served our church as pastors without being ordained. For a wide variety of mostly personal reasons, people who have not been through the ordination process of our church have offered themselves for leadership and have been licensed by the denomination as a pastor. The only difference has been the tenure of their license and the scope of their authority.
When a person is properly credentialed by the Board of Ordained Ministry, they may be appointed and licensed by the Bishop to serve as a pastor in a specific setting or congregation. Their annual license is connected and limited to that congregation, while it may be renewed every year, when they no longer serve that congregation, they are no longer licensed as a pastor. They can be appointed again to a different place and receive a license for that setting, but without an appointment they do not keep their license and return to the much more universal role of the continuing ministry of the laity. In this role, even though they have been functioning as pastor for several years, their authority is the same as it would be for any other Christian lay person. They can officiate at a funeral, they can teach and, if invited, preach in a United Methodist church pulpit, and even, in an emergency, baptize. But, without an appointment, they cannot conduct weddings in the state of Michigan and they are not permitted to consecrate the Sacrament of Holy Communion. And this extends into retirement. Without a current license, no former licensed local pastor retains their “clergy” status. They may be recognized as a retired local pastor and may be appointed and licensed in retirement, but the license follows and requires an appointment.
Please permit me a moment of personal privilege: I have served as a licensed local pastor. I have assigned licensed local pastors within the Heartland District when I served them as Superintendent. And I have worshipped under the preaching and teaching of licensed local pastors. Like any other Christians, they have had a variety of gifts – some better than others. But, in my opinion, licensed local pastors are not “junior” pastors or “second-class” pastors. They have responded to their call by following a different path, and they will, at some future point in time, step away from their pulpit and their license and return to the ranks of the laity. But they are no less called than any Elder of the Church and they deserve no less respect as a pastor.
In response to the second question, all ordained Elders are, by definition, itinerate. We serve as the Bishop directs one year at a time. That is part of the covenant we make at our ordination. In exchange for the assurance of an appointment (tenure) we agree to go where we are sent by the Bishop. But life has a way of impacting the ease with which we can move at any given point in our lives. Some things make it more difficult for us to move – not impossible, just more difficult. Things like spouse’s employment (especially when they are the principle income provider in the home or find it difficult to move themselves!) or children in school. Those things which make it difficult for us to move are called “tethers” by the Cabinet, and this Bishop and Cabinet try to take those tethers into consideration whenever they are discerning an appointment for someone. They are not the only factors to be considered, of course, but they are important.
Some Elders are so “tethered” that they are willing to take a less-than-full-time appointment in order to remain in the area where they are tethered, and the Bishop will do her very best to honor those tethers. However there are some ordained Elders who, for a variety of personal reasons, are no longer willing to be itinerate. This is not new to the church; it has been true since the time of the Circuit Riders. Those Elders do have options: they can surrender their ordination credentials and continue to serve as a licensed local pastor without the assurance of an appointment, they can move to honorable location and live out their call as a located clergyperson or they can request a leave of absence if their tether is of a more temporary nature. They can also transfer their credentials to a different denomination which uses a different method of pastoral deployment. We hope they won’t choose that option, of course, but we do understand how strong those tethers can be for some clergy.
Next time, we will look at some of the reasons for moving and why the current practices are, in the opinion of some, still the best method of deploying our pastoral resources. We will also talk about the Bishop’s role in the discernment process and how pastors can be sure that their concerns will be heard in the discernment process.
Last week’s blog by Bishop Deb prompted several similar Burning Questions which can be summarized by asking, “I read the Bishop’s blog and can’t help asking, “Is this the same old issue all over again – same song, 3rd verse?”One of you even started out by paraphrasing President Ronald Reagan: “Here we go again!” Please allow me to offer a point of view from my vantage point, even as I assure you that this is not meant to stop or stifle your point of view if it is different from mine.
When Bishop Deb and I first began to get to know one another, she told me that “merger” was off the table for her. She had been told that this was a painful subject for people in the Michigan Area and she didn’t want to open old wounds. I believed her then and I still do. I do not think she came to Michigan with an agenda, apart from being the best Bishop she could be for the people of our Area. But for Bishop Deb, a large part of being the best Bishop she can be involves listening.
Listening and paying attention to what people are saying to her and in her presence. And I can tell you that everywhere we went during her first year in Michigan, from the first public appearance in the Upper Peninsula to the last meeting before her renewal leave, the question was always the same: “When will we be one?” And that was the way it was phrased. Not, “When will we merge?” or “When will we stop having two separate conferences?”, but “When will we be one?”
Here, in the interest of full disclosure, I should remind you that I have had a personal involvement and interest in this question since the mid-nineties. So, when I heard the questions beginning to come her way almost from day one, I was not surprised. But even I was not prepared for how often the question was repeated.
And Bishop Deb, from day one, has been careful to say that she came here to work on healing old wounds and making new disciples! And that is what she did time and time again, from Kalamazoo to Detroit to Saginaw to Traverse City. Day after day, Bishop Deb was listening and responding, challenging and inviting us all to continue working collaboratively and thinking creatively about new possibilities. Those of you who experienced her leadership at either session of Annual Conference know that collaboration and cooperation are the hallmarks of her approach to leadership. As we enter the second year of her tenure as our resident bishop, she has not changed, either in manner or method. She is still listening and she is still calling us to collaborate for the sake of our shared ministry in the name of the Christ.
When Bishop Deb returned from her time away – and she really was away – she began saying that she was wondering if the question, so often repeated in so many different places, might not be a nudging from God’s Spirit. She was open to that possibility, of course, but she did not jump quickly to that conclusion. Instead, she began to ask the people in leadership, on both sides of the state, to reflect with her on that possibility. Could this be the time? Could she be the bishop called “for just such a time as this?” I watched her with fascination as she listened and prayed her way to a new awareness and a new appreciation for who we are as people on a journey in ministry and disciple-making. She became convinced that she needed to ask the question on a larger scale, to invite more people into the dialogue about what God might be doing to change us and equip us for ministry in new and exciting ways. I do not believe that she has any particular idea about how that ministry will look, except that she is certain that it will be collaborative and connected.
And I can tell you, from my vantage point, it does not feel like “the same song, third or even fourth verse.” It feels like a new thing is beginning to take shape. I don’t know what it will look like when all is said and done, but I am impressed by Bishop’s openness to ideas from a variety of people and her willingness to hear from a great many people before she makes up her mind. She is certainly better than I am in that regard. As I have watched and listened to her, especially in these weeks since she returned to Michigan from her time in Minnesota, I have become convinced of three things which give me hope and encouragement:
So, in response to the Burning Questions which her article may or may not have inspired in you, I want to assure you that the invitation to share your thoughts, both with Bishop Deb and with each other, was genuine. And I, for one, am looking forward, with more than a little interest, to hearing the conversation and learning what will be the outcome. I think it’s an exciting time to be a United Methodist in Michigan. New things are happening, new disciples are being invited to follow Jesus Christ in churches all over the state and the world is being transformed into a better and healthier place because United Methodists in Michigan have stepped out in faith and dared to dream of a world without Malaria!
Thanks be to God!
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We are a downtown church seeking a responsible, energetic, flexible, and mature Christian to serve as a full time Youth Director. The Director will coordinate, develop, and help rebuild a relational ministry of Christian education, fellowship, and community service for the youth and families of our congregation and community. This position requires someone who is able to positively influence, engage, motivate, and involve individuals in this ministry for the sake of Jesus Christ. The ideal candidate will exude strong leadership, administrative, and recruitment characteristics while functioning as a vital and creative part of the leadership team. Candidates should have an understanding of Wesleyan theology and be able to share this perspective in leadership of the program. A degree in Christian Ministries and experience is a plus. Interested individuals should electronically send a cover letter, a resume, and the names and contact information for 3 professional references to Rev. Mark D. Miller, firstname.lastname@example.org by May 1, 2014.
Develop and lead the worship music ministry for our church, in consultation with the senior pastor and other team members, in a way that is consistent with our mission, values, and theology which is to help people find, experience, and share Gods love through Jesus Christ.
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Position Title: Manager, Strategic Marketing
Basic Purpose: Works with the Strategic Marketing team to develop and execute annual strategic marketing plans. Provides leadership in the overall management of the implementation cycle. Must stay abreast of marketing trends. Must seek out ways to promote the agency’s programs, resources and services. Participates in research, identification and integration of best practices in marketing, advertising and branding communication using various channels. Develops measurement strategy and implements return-on-investment reporting systems. Participants in the development of long-term plans to innovate local church marketing strategies. Works with vendors/designers on assigned campaign deliverables.
To apply or for more information contact:UMCom / Human Resources
Phone: 615-742-5137 Fax: 615-742-5428, Email: email@example.com
To apply please provide the following:
Cover Letter → Resume → Complete Application Form → References
A General Agency of the United Methodist Church
External Posting Deadline: April 1 - 29, 2014
United Methodist Communications /UMC.org
Position Title: UMC.org Website Content Manager
To apply or for more information contact:
Phone: 615-742-5137 Fax: 615-742-5428, Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
Rev. David K. Koski [Retired Detroit Annual Conference Clergy], died Saturday, April 5, 2014.
A Memorial Service will take place at 2:00 p.m. Saturday, May 10, 2014 at University United Methodist Church, located at 1120 S. Harrison Road; East Lansing, MI 49221 [517-351-7030]. There will be a time of visitation with the family at 1:00 p.m. prior to the service.
CONDOLENCES MAY BE SENT TO [Friends]:
The Forest Family
1120 S. Harrison Road
E. Lansing, MI 49221
GIFTS IN MEMORY MAY BE GIVEN TO:
University UMC - Good Samaritan Fund
Mrs. Constance (Connie) Amick, former director of Chelsea Retirement Community and mother of Rev. John H. Amick [Detroit Annual Conference Clergy - UMCOR Assistant General Secretary for International Disaster Response], died Wednesday, April 2, 2014.
A Memorial Service will be held at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, April 7, 2014 at Dixboro UMC, located at 5221 Church Rd; Ann Arbor, MI 48105 [734-665-5632].
CONDOLENCES MAY BE SENT TO:
The Amick Family
C/O Rev. Jack Amick
260 Maple Road
Valley Cottage, NY 10989
GIFTS IN MEMORY MAY BE GIVEN TO:
Mrs. Dorothy Fegan, spouse of Rev. James A. Fegan [Retired Detroit Annual Conference Clergy], died Tuesday, April 1, 2014.
A Memorial Service will be held at 11:00am on Friday, April 4, 2014 at Ishpeming: Wesley UMC, located at 801 Hemlock; Ishpeming, MI 49849 [906-486-4681]. There will be a time of visitation with the family from 10:00am until the start of the service.
CONDOLENCES MAY BE SENT TO:
Rev. James Fegan
278 County Rd CNA - W
Champion, MI 49814
Mrs. Marilyn Hutchinson, mother of Rev. Ronald G. Hutchinson [Detroit Annual Conference Clergy], died Wednesday, March 26, 2014.
Visitation will be held on Friday, March 28, 2014 from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Blackburn Chapel-Martin Funeral Home located at 4216 Huron Street; North Branch, MI 48461 [810-688-3232].
Funeral Service will take place at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, March 29, 2014 at Silverwood UMC located at 2750 Clifford Rd; Silverwood, MI 48760 [989-761-7599]. An additional time of visitation will start at 10:00 a.m. prior to the service.
CONDOLENCES MAY BE SENT TO:
Rev. & Mrs. Ronald Hutchinson
3049 Burnside Road
North Branch, MI 48461
Mrs. Zoe Ann Daws, spouse of Rev. Donald J. Daws [Retired Detroit Annual Conference Clergy], died Tuesday, March 11, 2014.
Visitation will be held Saturday, March 15, 2014 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and also from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Buresh Funeral Home located at 416 Whittemore Street; Tawas City, MI 48471 [989-362-8191].
The funeral service will take place at 2 p.m., Sunday, March 16, 2014 at Tawas UMC located at 20 East M-55; Tawas City, MI 48763 [989-362-4288]. A time of visitation will start at 12:30 p.m. prior to the service.
CONDOLENCES MAY BE SENT TO:
Rev. Donald Daws
23661 Wilmarth Avenue
Farmington, MI 48335
GIFTS IN MEMORY MAY BE SENT TO:
Glennie United Methodist Church
5094 Bamfield Road
Glennie, MI 48737
Mrs. Wilma Woodard, mother of Rev. Debra K. Brown [Detroit Annual Conference Clergy], died Thursday, March 6, 2014.
Visitation will be held Sunday, March 9, 2014 from 1pm to 8pm and Monday, March 10, 2014 from 12pm to 1pm at Marsh Funeral Chapel. The Chapel is located at 396 S. Sandusky Road; Sandusky, MI 48471 [810-648-2244].
Memorial Service will take place at 1:00pm, Monday, March 11, 2014 at Marsh Funeral Chapel.
CONDOLENCES MAY BE SENT TO:
Rev. Debra & Mr. Dennis Brown
P.O. Box 243
Kingston, MI 48741
GIFTS IN MEMORY MAY BE SENT TO:
Autumnwood of Deckerville
Deckerville, MI 48427