It is beginning to feel that the church I love is becoming a bit unrecognizable to me, as I have moved through the long evenings and the early mornings of General Conference over these last several days.
Yesterday it was the guaranteed appointments. On the surface it sounds fine an exit strategy for “ineffective pastors,” cloaked in the garb of wanting to rid ourselves of the ineffective pastors. These are some of the questions that I have not been able to figure out in this sea change for our denomination:
- Haven’t we always had a way of exiting problematic, unproductive pastors if we had courage to navigate proper procedures?
- What does this mean for freedom of the pulpit?
- Open itinerancy?
- Prophetic preaching?
- Older pastors?
- Female pastors?
- Pastors whose experience levels don’t measure up to the appointment?
- Pastors who serve cross-racial appointments?
- Pastors who might have a different opinion from those who have the power of appointment making?
- What if a pastor has an illness that temporarily diminishes their capacity to perform their duties with excellence for a period of time?
- Will younger persons be willing to go to school for three years or more, incur debt, and navigate the Board of Ordained Ministry process to risk all to be left flying in the wind?
We believe at this writing that a new structure for the United Methodist Church has been established. It is interesting to me that two African-American women who head the two Commissions of our church concerned with values training and advocacy for persons in our church that have been historically unrepresented find themselves marginalized on the sideline in the new structure. As we traverse a world and a church that often needs to be reminded that God loves all, how tragic it is that we are “taking the teeth” out of these historical commitments! How can we offer leadership to divided communities and keep people talking and working at the same table? How do we be leaders in a society where we are rapidly moving to be a nation with no racial majority?
Tomorrow I will hear further divisions in the General Conference as we deal with issues of human sexuality. Some of this will no doubt be painful, just like the debate earlier this day about Israel and the Palestinian people.
It is also interesting to me that over the last two weeks as I have followed the lectionary readings as part of my daily devotions the words from the epistles in 1 John are re-echoing in my mind:
“Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters that the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers . . . Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action . . . There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear . . .The commandment we have for him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sister also.” 1 John 3:13-4:21
Even with my questions, my concerns, and disappointment in the way some of these pieces of legislation have circulated, been adopted, and/or interpreted, I’ve been reminded this day, and every day, that God is still on the throne. God is about love. God is about living out our values every day in spite of what others do. May you this day be reminded too!