Job Security?

The Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church has upheld guaranteed appointments.  This was the news that my Bishop shared during a clergy meeting on Sunday.  He had received a tweet that the decision had just arrived.  When I got home I stumbled upon this news in about every Methosphere that exists.  It is big news to UMC-nerds and completely pointless to about everyone else, including the majority of United Methodists.

Is this decision surprising?  No.  It is just another target to point at and scream foul at a dying system that doesn’t want to change?  Maybe.  Is it the end of the world and the sixth sign of the return of Christ, (the seventh being Hurricane Sandy)?  Yes!  Okay not really. 

There may be some clergy out there that are breathing a little easier though.  Now they can continue their lack of commitment to the Kingdom of God and simply coast to retirement, no matter how many years that is away.  But I think those are far and few between.  

So what does this mean?  Really and truly nothing.  At least for a couple of years until the discussions, petitions, plans, and arguments start to happen again as General Conference 2016 comes into view.  

Andy B. has a great post over at Enter the Rainbow.  I liked what he said:

Because in the meantime, people and communities and congregations already are changing, in spite of the hairball. Or they might be orbiting around the hairball, drawing on its gravity in order to sustain forward momentum. This is why I’m not discouraged by the Judicial Council’s decision this week. They are going to do what they are going to do, functioning in a system exactly as it is designed. You cannot blame them; they are bound by the system in which they exist.

John Meunier also has a great discussion on what it truly means to be an effective pastor, which is at the heart of this discussion I think.  

With the failures or successes of General Conference (depending on what side you are on) and now this verdict from the Judaical Council all points to what the Book of Discipline makes extremely clear.  In ¶ 201 and ¶ 202 it defines the definition and function of the local church, respectfully.  “The local church provides the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs…Under the discipline of the Holy Spirit, the church exists for the maintenance of worship, the edification of believers, and the redemption of the world.” (¶ 201)

There is no talk of the General Conference being the source of the redemption of the world, that comes from the Holy Spirit and the local church.  For true change to happen to my beloved denomination we cannot expect it to come from the top down.  Instead it will have to trickle up from the local church level.  It will have to be so infectious that it cannot be ignored any longer.  The ‘system’ will have to change not because of  committee/conference votes and church politics lobbyists but because at its core it already has.

I’m have never been nervous about losing my job security because the Kingdom of God hasn’t come into fulfillment quiet yet.  It is my job to help my congregation live into its function and definition.  Therefore change will then have to trickle up.


Apportionments Presentation

Using Prezi, I created a presentation I will be giving my congregation on the reasons why we pay apportionments (which we are VERY behind on…shhh don’t tell the DS). See what you think and thanks again Gavin for turning me on to this presentation software. Enjoy…of course realize you won’t actually hear what I’m saying but you can look through my ‘slides’. (just click the middle button to scroll through it and the one on the left to go backwards and to end it, hit the circle little thing for the last dramatic effect)

The main point I’m bring up is that when we give a $1 to apportionments it goes a very long way. There is no other place $1 can make such a large and significant difference.

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Choice Empowerment = Unconstitutional

In 2004 the Western North Carolina Conference decided to move to a Choice Empowerment style for paying apportionments. What this allowed the local church to do is pick and choose the apportionments they wanted to pay. For example, if your congregation only could afford 80% of their apportionments they could specify which apportionments they could pay with their 80%. The old way was the monies went into the chauffeurs for the conference to then they decided who was left out. The hope was with more choice, people would understand where their money would go and would pay 100% of what they were asked.

I voted against the idea because if we have learned anything about free will, people will always choose badly. Sure enough as this new apportionment asking process started, our apportionments started to slip. Bishop Goodpaster says in his e-pistle, “For years, the Western North Carolina Annual Conference was a leader in our denomination; now we are hovering near the bottom.” Was this the financial crisis or a crisis of character within our congregations?

At Annual Conference the bishop was asked to give a decision of law on the validity of “Choice Empowerment.” The actual question that he had to consider was this, Is ‘Choice Empowerment’ as approved by the 2004 session of the annual conference, in violation of Paragraph 247.14 of the 2008 Book of Discipline?” Now after his ruling it will be sent to the Judicial Council. Changes only happen after the JC makes their decisions.

Here is his ruling:

In the documentation that I have sent to the Judicial Council my decision is that Choice Empowerment is a violation of the Book of Discipline. After reviewing the documents from 2004, and subsequent Annual Conference sessions, and having several conversations over the last months with a number of groups and leaders, I reached the decision based on the clear instructions of our Book of Discipline. Paragraph 247.14 is one of a number of instructions on the “powers and duties” of a Charge Conference. The last line of that sub-section is the relevant passage: “Payment in full of these apportionments by local churches is the first benevolent responsibility of the church.”

In essence, my decision is based on this statement that does not permit churches to pick and choose which apportionment items to pay. Churches are challenged to pay in full. Furthermore, to supplement that instruction, Paragraph 340 details the responsibilities and duties of our clergy. Included in that long list is this: “to lead the congregation in the fulfillment of its mission through full and faithful payment of all apportioned ministerial support, administrative, and benevolent funds.” From my perspective, it seems clear that the Disciplinary directive is 100% payment. For an Annual Conference to adopt a policy that gives permission to local churches to choose not to pay, or to choose to shift payments from one item to another, is a violation of the letter and spirit of our church law.

In this time, in our current social situation, we are filled with ideas of relaxing ideals, goals, and obligations. I mean we are in financial hard times, we have to cut somewhere. But then again in hard times our calling to live into the likeness of Christ doesn’t go away. The fact that we are in war doesn’t mean we loosen our morals. The fact that we are on vacation does not mean our actions have repercussions. Hard times are only hard times. They are times to put what is most important first.

Our apportionments are important. They are important because behind the dollar symbols are people. They are the people being helped by projects through our conference missions and outreach. They are the students of Africa University, learning how to be Christian leaders in the only United Methodist seminary on the continent. They are people who receive help during disasters and education through our own colleges and universities. They are the children who are having life transforming experiences at our camps this summer. They are people be effected by the ministries of the United Methodist Church and the gospel of Jesus Christ. And they are the first people cut off when we don’t pay 100% of our askings.

We are a connectional system and in being so, we need to look past ourselves. It is not only a United Methodist idea but a Christ idea. The bishop, in his email, goes on to tell of churches who have already paid 100% of their apportionments. I say, well done. My congregation will probably once again have to wait till December but we too will pay out at 100%. It is our duty, obligation, and privilege as a United Methodist congregation. We have to remember we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. We are the body of Christ and we need to support the whole body. Now we will see what the Judicial Council agrees with the bishop.

Economic Crisis Affects the Appointment Process

The Western North Carolina Conference received a letter from our Bishop today. It said that the cabinet was not yet finished with the appointment process. It seems with only a few retiring this year, people coming off of leave and back from extension ministries, plus the number of graduates from Divinity School there is an influx of clergy needing appointments. Then you add the fact that 18 churches in the WNCC have eliminated associate pastor positions. What you have left over is too many clergy with not enough pulpits. It seems after filling all the placements there are currently 24 clergy without an appointment. I’ll let Bishop Goodpaster explain in his own words.

We entered our work together aware of the anxiety and turmoil that fill our society and many of our churches during this time. We knew there would be challenges. Eighteen of our churches decided to eliminate an Associate Pastor position; others, because of the economy, had notified us that the compensation package of the pastor would be lower in July, many at substantial cuts. We have a dozen of elders who will be returning from either Extension Ministry appointments or various Leaves. With the downturn in the value of the pension funds, fewer of our clergy opted to retire this year. And, in response to the continuing call of God, we have a number of Western North Carolina students graduating from seminary and returning to serve Christ in their home conference.

We are not yet ready to notify any person or church about a projected appointment for the coming year. The reality: after working for more than four days, we arrived at an unprecedented moment. Having tentatively “filled” every open and available charge with a clergyperson, there were still more than two dozen clergy (most either full connected ordained elders or provisional elders) without a placement. That, of course, is unacceptable, and contrary to the principle of the itinerancy system that is part of our Wesleyan heritage.

There are been many stories of churches doing great work and money coming in despite the economic crisis. I have also heard of churches who finished thousands of dollars behind. Clergy receiving pay cuts or in the case of associates, losing their positions. The financial grip of the nation is affecting the UMC in the Western North Carolina Conference. My prayers go out to those who are on the move list and who are living with even more questions of where they will be placed.

Peace be with the cabinet, the churches, the clergy, and the clergy families.

New Bishop Appointment Announced


Bishop Larry Goodpaster assigned to the Western NC Conferenceof The UMC

Bishop Larry M. Goodpaster is the new bishop for the Western N.C. of The United Methodist Church. The assignment was announced Friday evening at the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference meeting this week at Lake Junaluska, N.C. He will succeed Bishop J. Lawrence McCleskey who retires Aug. 31.

Elected to the Episcopacy in 2000, Goodpaster has served for the past eight years as the Episcopal leader of the Alabama-West Florida Conference. Prior to his election, he served as a pastor and district superintendent in the Mississippi Conference. His pastoral experience includes a five-church rural charge, a new congregation and several larger membership churches. He has taught in a variety of settings and published in various denominational publications. His latest book, “There’s Power in the Connection: Building a Network of Dynamic Congregations” was published earlier this year by Abingdon Press.

In April, Goodpaster was elected to a two-year term as president of The United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops, which includes United Methodist bishops from around the world. He will take office in 2010. These duties are in addition to those as Episcopal leader in the Western N.C. Conference.

Goodpaster, 60, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Millsaps College, Jackson, Miss. and Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees from Candler School of Theology, Atlanta, Ga. He received honorary degrees (Doctor of Divinty) from Birmingham-Southern College, Birmingham, Ala. and Huntingdon College, Montgomery, Ala. He is married to the former Deborah Cox. They have two daughters and two grandchildren.
More information on Bishop Goodpaster may be found at the Bishop’s Page on the Alabama-West Florida Conference Web site: <>

Southeastern Jurisdiction Episcopal Assignments 2008-2012
Alabama – West Florida: Paul Leeland
Florida – Timothy W. Whitaker
Holston – James Swanson
Louisville Area (Kentucky and Red Bird) – G. Lindsey Davis, Jr.
Nashville Area (Memphis and Tennessee) – Richard “Dick” Wills, Jr.
Mississippi – Hope Morgan Ward
North Alabama – William “Will” Willimon
North Carolina – Alfred “Al” Gwinn
North Georgia – B. Michael Watson
South Carolina – Mary Virginia “Dindy” Taylor
South Georgia – James R. King, Jr.
Virginia – Charlene Payne Kammerer
Western NC – Larry M. Goodpaster

Don’t Change Anything Your First Year

A year ago tomorrow, on WNCC’s U-haul Day, I packed up the family and moved to Thomasville. Tomorrow, more families will uproot and head to their new appointments. One of my goals for my first year as the minister here was to follow the advice I had heard many times at Divinity School. That advice was: Don’t change anything for your first year. I thought there was no better time to attempt to do this and so I settled in, and changed nothing. And now that I am at the end of that first year, I thought I would jot down a couple of my observations.

Not changing anything can be difficult but I think the positives outweigh them in the end. There were two major challenges. One was the stagnate feeling. I didn’t change worship styles or order, major organizational structures or how they celebrated the holidays. This past year it feels like they have been going through the motions and lacked passion and zeal. This may be because of the hardships they went through before my arrival. Their minister was asked to leave the church and denomination the Thursday before Christmas of 2006. Two interim ministers took to the pulpit over the next 6 months. When I arrived I was the third minister of 2007, which anyone familiar with the UMC system knows this was a rare situation and can weigh heavy on a congregation. Whatever the reason, we have been still for this year which at times have felt like we have been dragging along.

Second, there are times when you feel like you are wearing someone else’s shoes. This, I think, is any new pastor’s feelings. We are walking into a congregation that has a history. They have existed long before you arrived and will long after you leave. As United Methodist ministers we are transient and floating authorizes who come and eventually go. When I arrived I slipped into the pulpit and church life but it felt like it hasn’t been my own. Not changing anything proves to be a test of will power and determination because it can be uncomfortable to do worship in a way you might not enjoy or celebrate holidays in a way that is unfamiliar. The first year feels like wearing someone’s shoes. It just doesn’t feel like your own.

These two negatives are outweighed by the positives though. Because of my congregation’s situation (although this would be true for every congregation) I needed to feel them out for a bit. I needed to see how people were feeling. I had to find out what the views of the church leaders were. What did they think about the health of the congregation and how and when we should move forward. I needed to understand who the players were and what games were being played. To walk into a new congregation and interrupt their history with your own version will create more problems for change in the future.

Not changing anything for that first year provided me opportunities to simply love on the congregation. I took this first year to get to know everyone. Who was related to who? Who has served on what committee and who hasn’t? Which people needed my fullest attention and which ones were simply a squeaky wheel looking for grease. At the end of this year I can look out at the congregation and know where people are in life. It is amazing, at the end of the year I do not see faces, I see people, souls, situations, struggles, and joys. I have fallen in love with the congregation and in turn they have fallen in love with me.

Not changing things has enabled them to know me for me, not my agendas or views I could have thrusted upon them. As we move into the second year I can start to get a picture of where God is leading us as a congregation. This year has allowed us to build trust. We are now at the point that they may listen to my reflections and feelings about where God is leading the church. They now trust me enough to know I care about this congregation and the lives of the people that make it up. I am not here to hurt and crush their history but for us to live into it and thrive by being the congregation God is calling us to be.

Whenever my next move is, hopefully years from now (hint, hint Bishop, like you’re reading this), I will probably do this again. I say that now as this year ends. The real results will be seen five years from now. Was the first year worth the trouble and inner struggle? Was it meaningful to the congregation to have them know me and me them before we took off on God’s adventure? Time will tell but I do know I feel good about where my ministry is. We are poised to do great things in Thomasville in the name of God. Not changing anything has something to do with it. Maybe those professors and ministers knew what they were talking about?