Methodist court reaffirms guaranteed appointments

The United Methodist Church is struggling with the issue of job security for clergy. The Wall Street Journal has the story.

The United Methodist Church's highest court halted a plan by church leadership to essentially end job security for 31,000 "elders," or ordained clergy, in a Sunday ruling.

The judicial council of the nation's largest mainline protestant denomination, with 7.9 million members, said "abolishing security of appointment would destroy our historic plan" and upend a long-standing "tradition of the United Methodist Church."

"I'm frustrated, I'm saddened, and I'm disappointed," said Bishop Al Gwinn, who argued on behalf of 200 bishops, after Sunday's ruling. "The church is upside down in that we are so focused on clergy, clergy rights and clergy security that the church can't be in mission."

The council overturned a May decision by the church's main legislative body to end so-called guaranteed appointments. The policy calls for giving ordained pastors in good standing a ministry assignment until mandatory retirement at age 72.

As mainline denominations shrink, a loss of job security and a diminishment of the economic prospects of our clergy is probably unavoidable. How is this issue likely to present itself most forcefully in the Episcopal Church? Can we continue to expect clergy to incur significant debt to train for a vocation that may not offer them an opportunity to repay that debt? Can cash-strapped parishes with average Sunday attendance in the 50s or 60s afford a full time clergy person who receives a 17% pension? Can someone point us toward people who are considering these questions in brave and though provoking ways?

Comments (4)

In the Diocese of Kansas we are educating clergy and lay leaders through our School for Ministry. For those seeking ordination it offers an academic curriculum plus an internship component. With only about a third of our congregations now relying on full-time, paid clergy, this helps provide ordained leadership for congregations that otherwise would struggle to obtain that. Neighboring dioceses are partnering with us to help educate some of their students, too.

Looking at my compensation, it's the health insurance that's the real potential job killer. Even if a parish could pay something reasonable to live on, the cost of insurance is a 50% premium on top of that.

In my dream church, the church would take seriously its need for ordained ministers and provide the needed training without asking potential ordinands to pay their own way. How many people don't answer a call because they don't have the means? And for what it's worth, 20 years from now I think we'll see that having dioceses essentially create their own seminaries was a mistake - if having ten seminaries is too many, having 110 more probably isn't a move in the right direction either economically or in terms of maintaining unity in a church that transcends the local.

Jon White

It really brings out what it means to be called and how to follow that calling. There are a lot of jobs that require significant higher education and yet have no guarantees what-so-ever. If more people are being called than there are full-time, all benefits paid, jobs for them, then what?

This would barely be an issue if we had universal healthcare. In the UK, free lancers in academia and music manage to pursue their callings without it being a death sentence if they fall ill.

I just wanted to note a bigger picture. It isn't all the fault of the church, though an intelligent and sensitive response is needed. It is societal as well.

To answwer the essay question: No, we cannot expect potential clergy to fund their own career. And, as long as clergy ed is offered in a traditional campus format, it will continue to be a model too expensive to sustain, and too remote to reach.

Besides, it hasn’t done that good of a job producing clergy anyway, according to the lastest research.

It needs some drastic changes, as I have mentioned in the past. May I suggest:
1. Create education/formation guidelines so that there is some consistency in the program across the church.
2. Offer classes on parish grounds where clergy life is lived, not on campuses.
3. Make the classes short-term and focused, like diaconate or CPE training.
4. Engage in 3-day retreats quarterly to promote community among members.
5. Include more field-work and less scholarship.
6. Make it three years and done. M.Div.’s should be at someone’s own choice, not “mandatory”.
This will dramatically reduce the cost and make it flexible enough for many people to engage. Thanks!

Kevin McGrane

Add your comments

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Reminder: At Episcopal Café, we hope to establish an ethic of transparency by requiring all contributors and commentators to make submissions under their real names. For more details see our Feedback Policy.

Advertising Space