Judicial Council upheld the guaranteed appointment for United Methodist clergy. Like it or not, the legal body of our church has upheld that elders in good standing shall receive and appointment for ministry.
It’s been a very interesting 72 hours since this decision became public. Some have lauded the council for its faithfulness to church polity and the protection of those who might be harmed by a system that could arbitrarily take away job security. Others have bemoaned the system, saying that upholding guaranteed job status for all clergy is simply perpetuating a status quo that has helped lead us to decline.
No matter your opinion, I think we can all agree people feel strongly one way or another about this sacred cow of our tradition.
This leads me to an interesting discovery. In light of the recent debate in columns and social media, has anyone else found the petition that passed General Conference allowing clergy to be assigned to less than full-time status without consent?
Study of Ministry (20304-MH-¶338)
¶ 338. The Itinerant System—-The itinerant system is the accepted method of The United Methodist Church by which ordained elders are appointed by the bishop to fields of labor.20 All ordained elders shall accept and abide by these appointments. Bishops and cabinets shall commit to and support open itineracy and the protection of the prophetic pulpit and diversity. Persons appointed to multiple-staff ministries, ….
…2. At the initiative of the bishop and cabinet or at his or her request, an elder may receive a less than full-time appointment Less than full-time service may be rendered by a clergy member under the conditions stipulated in this paragraph.21 Less than full-time service shall mean that a specified amount of time less than full-time agreed upon by the bishop and the cabinet, the clergy member, and the annual conference Board of Ordained Ministry is devoted to the work of ministry in the field of labor to which the person is appointed by the bishop. At the initiative of the bishop and cabinet or at At his or her own initiative, a clergy member may request and may be appointed in one-quarter, one-half, or three-quarter time increments by the bishop to less than full-time service without loss of essential rights or membership in the annual conference. Division Ordained Ministry-endorsed appointments beyond the local church may be for less than full-time service. Appointment to less than full-time service is not a guarantee, but may be made by the bishop, provided that the following conditions are met:
a) The ordained elder seeking less than full-time service should present a written request to the bishop and the chairperson of the Board of Ordained Ministry at least three months 90 days prior to the annual conference session at which the appointment is made. Exceptions to the three-month 90 day deadline shall be approved by the cabinet and the executive committee of the Board of Ordained Ministry.
b) The bishop may appoint an ordained elder, provisional member elder, or an associate member to less than full-time service. The clergyperson shall be notified at least 90 days prior to the annual conference at which the appointment shall be made. Special attention shall be given to ensure that the values of open itineracy are preserved…..
This adds language to emphasize cabinets’ commitments to open, inclusive itinerancy; and adds language to allow for less than full-time appointments for elders at the initiative of the bishop and cabinet. It complies with Study of Ministry recommendation #5, Missional Appointment Making.
Yes, whereas clergy used to be required to give consent and Boards of Ordained Ministry were required to vote on such a status change, it is now at the Bishop and Cabinet’s discretion to appoint clergy at less than full-time status. This means that while elders are guaranteed a placement for ministry, they are no longer guaranteed full-time placement, minimum salary, or benefits that come with full-time status.
Missional appointment making is a principle introduced by the Study of Ministry Commission through the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM). Their full report can be found here. The report lends the theological and practical foundation to make this petition viable. This is a major shift in culture when it comes to making appointments. Bishops and Cabinets now have the power to change the status of a clergyperson at their discretion.
But there’s a major plus for those who think we need more evaluative metrics in place: If you’re serving a 1/4-time appointment and that church grows, you can (in theory) work yourself into a full-time appointment. If this happens, appointments can shift and clergy can have a different status based on changes happening in their local church.
In all of the celebrating and whining about guaranteed appointments being upheld, why are we not talking more about this petition? Is there change a comin’ in The United Methodist Church? If this petition is used the way it reads, we could see appointments dramatically change and the lives of clergy will change along with them.
Our hope and prayer should be that all of this change is for the good of the Church and God’s mission — otherwise known as the original goals we clergy were called to serve.