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)

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Moving…and the Suck

For months, which have felt like years, we have known we were moving.  The process starts so early that decisions are made as the new year begins.  Even before that my wife and I discussed whether or not to put my name out there.  Once we came to that conclusion the painful part begins.  Slowly our fingernails are pulled off as we wait, wait, keep quiet, and wait, and wait.

I wanted to write about our experience for a while now but with the amount of secrecy involved I could not.  I thought about writing and then posting later but I decided not to.  Sunday was announcement day for our conference and now it is public knowledge and legal to discuss.  So here I go.

What I need to get off my chest is the fact that this process just sucks.  I am not upset at the cabinet or anything like that.  It is the process.  I understand it, respect it, and have no better way to conceive of even doing it, but it still sucks.  It may be different when you are sitting at your desk and then the DS calls with the option of moving.  But for us we wanted to be proactive for the sake of our children and requested a move.  (Our son starts kindergarten in Aug. and moving now will potentially mean there may be only one move in our children’s school career, key word is POTENTIALLY).  It fit our family the best to request a move this year, so we did.

What sucks about the process is the secrecy and the waiting.  My wife and I have felt like we have been living in a lie for the last four months.  First as people asked if we were putting in paper work we had to dodge the question.  Then as fellow clergy, neighbors, church people, and even random people off the street asked and we once again had to dodge the question.  My pat answer has been “we’ll see.”  Since we United Methodist Clergy are only appointed one year at a time, that will probably be my answer from here on out.

I understand the part about secrecy too.  This is a “needs to know” process and the public doesn’t NEED TO KNOW.  But that doesn’t mean they won’t stop asking.  We have lived in the middle of demands to keep quiet and curious/anxious people.  White lies were told (*Lord please forgive me*).  Change of subjects were frequent.  And my wife and I dodged the question like prize fighters.  But every so often a punch would land and we had to do our best to not answer.  IT SUCKS!  It is simply part of the process though, so we have to live in the suckiness.

The waiting is hard too.  Actually that doesn’t do it justice.  The waiting is horrendous.  My wife and I are also planners, very detailed planners.  We like to know what is happening and when so we can best prepare ourselves and our family.  It is our nature and there is no escaping it.  But with that nature comes the need for information which is hard to come by in this process. We simply had to wait to hear, wait to see, wait to talk, wait to tell.  We had each other and we did let some close friends/family in on our journey, but the waiting was horrible.  Part of the process I know, but still it sucks.

There is more to come as we say goodbye to Trinity and hello to Indian Trail.  But I had to rid myself of the Suck and now that it has left my fingers and is on the screen, my soul feels lighter.  Confessing and professing is good for the soul.

Can I get an AMEN?

Willimon’s Words on Equitable Compensation

Last month Bishop Will Willimon had some interesting words on Equitable Compensation in his podcast called, A Word about Equitable Compensation. In the podcast he points to equitable compensation, or help from conference funds to pay a pastor minimal salary, as the root of some of our issues as a United Methodist denomination.

Some of his points are…

  • It breeds laziness, in some ministers, in some churches, and in some cabinets who use it as a tool not to make hard decisions about pastors and churches.
  • Millions of dollars are being spent by conferences to prop up churches that don’t need to be propped up.
  • It only holds the bar up to the minimal salary or in other words, it allows churches to do as little as possible, the bare minimum. (he states pastors should get paid more than they do and I would be curious what he thinks the pay scale should be but he doesn’t get into that)
  • Churches that cannot afford to pay the salary and benefits of an ordained elder should be put on charges/circuits

There are many issues within the structure of our denomination and I agree with Willimon that this is one. I know of churches within my own conference that accept equitable compensation to pay a minimal salary for their pastor but then they also have two other people staff. Priorities seem unclear here.

Willimon also mentions a couple of things that makes it seem like he would be in favor of dropping the guaranteed appointment and making the cabinets start to make hard decisions and have tough conversations with clergy and churches. (more thoughts at another time)

Is equitable compensation a crutch for congregations that should just be put on a charge? Is equitable compensation telling pastors not to try too hard because there is only so far you can fall? Your thoughts?

If you would like to subscribe to Bishop Willimon’s podcast you can do so by going here.

Changes

At our District Clergy meeting today we learned of some changes that are occurring in the cabinet. They are currently going through the Reynolds Leadership Course. Apparently they are learning a lot and because of this there are some changes coming for next year.

One of the huge changes is that now the elders of the churches will be in charge of the annual charge conferences. Presently, the District Superintendent travels around to the 93 churches in our district. Starting in September and through Thanksgiving the DS heads out for a meeting every night Monday through Thursday and then two to three on Sunday. The schedule is unreal and I could not imagine how any of them stay married with that type of schedules.

I do know that in some districts they have moved to group Charge Conferences, but the ones I have been involved in are a little blah and weren’t too impressive. I do like this idea of keeping them local but also freeing up the DS.

One reason is because the DS will still be making a visit to each of the 93 churches in our district but she will have a year to do them. Plus, instead of glazing over the 53rd time they hear a report, she can be freed up to really listen to what is happening at the church and how she can help them grow.

The second reason is no one comes to charge conference meetings. The past two CGs I have done at my present appointment we have had a total number of people of 15 show up. This doesn’t show the DS the vitality and energy of our congregation. I would much rather show off the congregation on a Sunday morning or afternoon than a meeting on the Sunday afternoon after Thanksgiving. The DS will get a much better and more hands on look at each church this way.

One last reason is that charge conferences can happen at the same time. We can have one due date, say Nov. 16th, that they are all due. This would eliminate CG meetings in September which have to be impossible. We will have a standard amount of months to get meetings in and decisions made. The conference will have a better time line on when to get information ready and out to the churches.

Bishop Goodpaster is making some changes in the way we are doing things in the Western North Carolina Conference. I think these changes are moving us forward into a new age of the church. I know there will be push back, the “back to Egypt Committees” will be out there, but with any change there is negative feedback. But it is worth it if the change is for the better and in my unimportant opinion this is.

WNCC Announces New District Superintendents

Here is an email I received today. Congrats to these new district superintendents, our prayers are with you during this ministry.

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Goodpaster announces cabinet changes

Bishop Larry M. Goodpaster announced he will appoint the Rev. Amy Coles and the Rev. Lyn Sorrells as district superintendents for the 2009-2010 conference year. The bishop will “make and fix” these appointments at the Western North Carolina Annual Conference held at Lake Junaluska, June 11-14.

Coles, currently pastor of Fairview United Methodist Church near Pinnacle, N.C., will succeed the Rev. Sanford “Sandy” Giles as the Albemarle District Superintendent. Giles will be appointed to a local church.

Sorrells, currently pastor of First United Methodist Church, Waynesville, N.C., will succeed the Rev. Patricia Lewis as the Gastonia District Superintendent. Lewis will be appointed to a local church.



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.

Cabinet Hiding Clergy

A couple of my friends from seminary and I got together recently to watch some basketball and to just hang out as friends. My two friends are members of other conferences and naturally when we get together we start to talk about events in our conferences. It is also appointment time, the annual job of the cabinet to try and make sense out of the Rubics Cube of open pulpits and available clergy. As we were enjoying the game on TV one of my friends shared a story that was happening in his conference. This has gotten me thinking these past weeks about this question: Is the District Superintendency a place where Bishops hide ineffective clergy?

I’ll go into more the story now and in order to keep things clean (and to avoiding conflict for my friend) I will keep all parties anonymous. In my friends conference there was a member of the clergy, we will call this person Clergy, who had a reputation around the conference. I am sure you know clergy like this in your conference. Clergy has been around for a while and has moved up the appointment ladder slowly but surely. Left in Clergy’s wake have been upset churches and people. Usually you will find two types of people by the time Clergy leaves, people who love and adore and people who dislike and loathe. It is a love/hate relationship that people have with Clergy. It was announced, before our little gathering, that Clergy would be appointed as a DS in June.

According to my friend this has sent waves through the conference and a love/hate reaction. Those who love Clergy, were happy for this appointment and saw it has a reward for a job well done. Those who dislike Clergy, saw this appointment as an unfortunate result of too high of a salary and no appointments willing to accept Clergy’s ministry. The result, in their eyes, was that the Bishop appointed Clergy there to get Clergy out of the system and put Clergy in a place to do as little harm as possible.

When I heard this I thought, WOW, Bishops and Cabinets do that? I was exposing my ignorance about the appointment process and the reality that the Cabinet has to make hard choices about the clergy within their conferences. I guess in a perfect world all clergy would be loved and adored by their congregations. All churches would hate to say goodbye when their minister had to move but eagerly welcome the new minister and his/her family. Yet we all know that is not the truth and that there are church killers out there.

I am not sure how much of the rumors me about Clergy are true. What I am quiet certain of is that there is probably truth to both sides, those who love and those who loathe Clergy. Let’s say for the sake of argument that the dislike side is a truer picture of Clergy’s ministry. Does this mean that the Cabinet is hiding Clergy? Does this mean that you can be bad at ministry but over time you will work your way up because of the pay scale that the appointment process follows? If this was the truly the wrong decision then what should have been the right one? Send Clergy to another pulpit for that congregation to love/loathe Clergy? Or is sending Clergy to a more administrative position and away from the weekly pulpit THE BEST option?

This has rattled around in my head for weeks now but no longer. What do you all out there in the blogosphere think? Clergy and laity alike, have you experienced this before? This too much of a taboo topic to talk about out in the open, because we know it happens in all the closed doors and lunch tables we as clergy gather around! Throwing it out on the table and would love hear some further discussion besides the echoing of my own thoughts.