Have We Moved Beyond Gender and Race?

A friend of mine was a delegate to our Jurisdictional Conference this year.  I was asking him about his experience and he vented about some of his frustrations.  He said, “There was a point when people started to simply vote for minorities and not the candidate who had the gifts and talents needed by the church.”  He went on to tell me that he had a conversation with another delegate from his conference about this issue.  She called him out on his comment about gender and race.  She was an older black women and he is a white young clergy. 
His defense is, “For my generation we don’t see race and gender as the older generations do.  We don’t get caught up in that anymore and we need to vote for who has the best talents and gifts.”  I understand where he is coming from and agree with him.  I think the younger generations, GenXers and the Millennials, see race and gender differently than those who grew up in the 50s and 60s.  We have grown up being segregated and do not know a world without leadership of mixed races and with women in key leadership roles.
Have we moved beyond race and gender?  As I appoint local church leadership in my Nominations committee I do have an eye out making sure there is equal representation of gender and generations, but that is not my main focal point.  My main objective is to get people with talents, willingness and passion into the leadership roles that will move the local church forward and not prop up past agendas or “back to Egypt” mentalities.  But then again I am a white male who turned 35 this year.
I am a firm believer in equal representation but let’s face it in the next decade or two we will become an even more white denomination (at least in my conference).  Out of the 68 young clergy we have only one who is non-white and that person is Asian.  We have no representation in our young clergy demographic of African American, Native American, Hispanic, or any other race that plays a major part in our local communities.  In twenty years when one of these 68 young clergy is put up for nomination to Bishop they will have between 20-30 years of ministerial experience. They will have helped congregations through tough transitions and want the United Methodist Church to do what it can to be relevant and vital in this world.  BUT they will be 99% white.
Have we moved beyond gender and race and/or should we?  I would love to hear your thoughts especially if you are a minority in the UMC.  Do you feel the same way or does that mentality seem like a thought from the majority to make ourselves feel better about ourselves?

Moving…a reconsideration

There have been many changes in the itinerant system of the UMC over the years.  From what it sounds like, back in first and middle part of the 1900s ministers showed up at Annual Conference and learned if they were moving or not.  No prior warning.  Simply called out each appointment by name and then there was a frantic line at the payphone to call home and let their spouse know that it was time to pack.  Now it is different and there is a joy in that.  My wife and I would go insane if every year we had 1.5 weeks to pack before we moved.  Too much planning on our part happens to use to be that ready.

What I like now about the system is they do seem to listen to the needs of the pastor’s family.  They attempt to do their best to listen and work with what they have to take care of the needs of the minister and his/her family. I know this is not the case for everyone and I am sure you can find tons of people who would disagree with that sentence but it is true for me.

During the move process I received our first projected appointment.  It was not what I was hoping for or expecting.  I am sure that some good ministry could come out of that appointment but it didn’t tick off any of the boxes I was hoping for.  There were a laundry list of reasons why this would be a bad fit and so we started to look at our options.  My District Superintendent (DS) knew I would not be pleased with the appointment.  I could read it on her face when she told me.  But my wife and I prayed about it.  We did as much research as we could on the area and the church.  We did our secret ninja drive by to see the community, but in the end we  knew it wouldn’t really work.  And if we had to move there it would not be for the long appointment that we desired.

The option that presented itself was to ask for a reconsideration.  I was told to write a letter to the cabinet naming the reasons why the projected appointment wouldn’t work and what we desired out of an appointment. We set to work writing, rewriting, praying, rewriting, praying, sending it off to have people read it, and praying some more.  Finally we created a one page letter that we thought represented our situation the best and we sent it off.

After round two of appointment making meetings we heard about our appointment.  There was a change and the second projected appointment ticked off most of the boxes we were looking for.  I praised God because it seemed the Cabinet actually listened.

When we received our first projected appointment I felt let down, frustrated, angry, disappointed and for the first time truly doubted my abilities.  I thought I had accomplished some good things here at Trinity and that the cabinet could see that but after the first round I thought my accomplishments had fallen on deaf ears.  Then with round two I felt they had listened.  I do not understand what it is like during the frustrating, prayerful, and stress-filled appointment making process.  I truly feel the DSs and Bishop lose sleep over their  decisions and wonder if they are the right ones.  I don’t seem them as heartless or vengeful, although I am sure that there are others who do.  I feel the system worked for me and I may never know why.

So today, as I write my sermon and pack boxes, I am thankful that the system has seemed to work.  It may only have been for me and my experience and I have faith that the cabinet is doing their best for the sake of the Conference and the Kingdom of God.  I confess I didn’t feel that way in March but not in May I do.

Bishop and the rest of the Cabinet, please forgive me for my ill thoughts and frustrations.  Thank you for prayerful listening.

(Something I never found was a written guideline for what a Letter of Reconsideration should look like.  If you are in a place where you need to write one I am happy to email you a redacted copy of mine.  I am not saying it will work but I’m happy to share the format and structure of the letter.  Just send me an email at revjimparsons at gmail dot com)

Cutting Districts

The Western North Carolina Conference (WNCC) decided to move from 15 districts to 8 districts by January 2013. This move will save the conference $1.5 million dollars a year that Bishop Goodpaster (BG) would like to see go towards making our churches more vital in our area and starting new congregations. This is hot news among the denomination considering while I was at the School of Congregational Development I spoke to people from California to New Jersey who had heard of this decision. Some were excited. Others warned of the impending doom that will follow (ok a little harsh but I was told by a DS from another conference that we would lose 5-7% of our giving towards apportionments because of this decision).

The Disciple states that the Annual Conference (AC) is the one who agrees on the number of districts and that it is the job of the Bishop to set the boundaries and structure. Without a defined plan the AC gave permission for BG to move forward. I think that speaks highly of our trust and confidence in BG and that he will not lead us down the wrong path.

Last quadrennium we voted to add a district because the 14 current districts were too big for District Superintendents (DS) to handle, especially down in the Charlotte area. Now the DSs who make the cut and stay on will have double the amount of churches, clergy and area. how this will all be worked out will be handled by a team assembled by the Conference of equal representation of clergy and lay. They announced this list not too long ago.

I have to admit that I was a little disappointed when I saw the line up of the usual suspects. The conference took this leap with the hope to save money but also to become more vital in our conference. There was talk of making sure we are not doing the same old thing over and over again because they same old thing really isn’t working. That sounded exciting, promising and I truly believe it is what BG wants for our conference and our denomination as a whole.

Yet I believe some people are missing from this team that could help bring a new set of eyes to our conference to move us forward. I cannot speak about the laity on this team, only to the clergy. But as I looked at the clergy that will represent the conference and help it decide what this huge restructuring will look like there were no young clergy named. No one under the age of 40 (from the looks of it), forget the legal age of ‘young clergy’ which tops out at 35. There is no one who received their Masters of Divinity in this millennium or who has a congregation who averages less than 100 people in worship each Sunday.

It seems the usual suspects will make the decisions. The rural small churches, which makes up the vast majority of our congregations in our conference, will have no clergy representation. The young clergy, who are a small minority, are the same way. I think an opportunity to be really innovative and bring new eyes to the table may have been missed. I pray I am wrong.

I pray for this team as they meet to discuss what our conference will look like and act like for the next however many years. I pray that God will work through them to empower the UMC in WNCC to become relevant, to grow, and to be full of vital congregations doing life changing ministry through Jesus Christ for the people in our communities.

Top Court Holds Up Bishop’s Decision

Here is what was reported on our conference website.

Top court rules on financial, clergy issues
By Linda Bloom*
Nov. 2, 2009 | DURHAM, N.C. (UMNS)
Local United Methodist churches cannot arbitrarily choose which general church programs to support financially, according to the church’s top court.
The Judicial Council has upheld the decision by Bishop Larry Goodpaster that the Western North Carolina Annual (regional) Conference’s “Choice Empowerment” plan is a violation of Paragraph 247.14 of the United Methodist Book of Discipline.
That case was one of 21 docket items considered by the nine-member council when it met Oct. 27-31. Among other issues, the council addressed questions on the participation of retired clergy in local churches, pension and health insurance plans and representation to the church’s legislative body.
The Choice Empowerment plan essentially gives churches permission not to pay what is requested of them, the council’s decision said. The bishop had noted a “substantial decline in connectional support” during the five years the plan has been in effect.
“One of the basic principles of The United Methodist Church’s connectional system is to provide ministries and outreach in ways and places that individual churches are not able to do alone,” the council pointed out. “This philosophy is built upon a belief in shared responsibility for the extension of mission and ministry of the whole church to the world.”
Payment in full of these apportionments “is the first benevolent responsibility of the church,” the decision said. [Other Issues] [Decision]

Bishop Goodpaster on YouTube

Bishop Goodpaster of the Western North Carolina Conference has ventured off into an interesting use of technology. He is reaching out via YouTube. He sees this as the ability to network with the local churches, help pass on vision, and guidance. I think it is a very welcomed use of technology. It does leave some of the churches out that don’t have the ability to show this within the service but for those that do, it allows a one on one with the bishop. Very nice!

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.

Annual Conference – clergy session update

I may have been a little negative about AC in my last post. Stuart Auditorium was nice and cool last night at our clergy session, but we were missing the 1500 laity…so we shall see. This clergy session was actually enjoyable…the best one I have attended actually.

Bishop Goodpaster gave us a good message with some inspirational, obtainable, and realistic goals we, as a conference, will be striving for. Here is what he is proposing:

Before Dec. 31st, 2012 the Western North Carolina Conference will have: [updated]
300,000 members – making us the 3rd largest conference
30,000 more in worship on Sundays
3,000 mission teams sent
300 remissioned congregations
30 new congregations

What I liked about this that a bishop set goals. Now, this is only my third bishop since entering the ministry 7 years ago. In a time of financial trouble he looked forward and he did so in a positive matter. In the past I have been bashed over the head and slapped around but this time it felt like a coach in the locker room giving us a half time pep talk. “We will have 300,000 members, 30,000 in worship, 300 mission teams, and 30 new churches!”

After the meeting I am ready to do my part.
UPDATE: Bishop Goodpaster also has made a mandate that every church have professions of faith, not just one but 3% of your roll. What I did not hear clearly was if that was by the end of 2012 or each year. That means we, at Trinity, are to have around 6 professions of faith…time to get to work!