Power of Listening

We have forgotten James 1:19; “Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to grow angry.” (CEB)

The stance of the United Methodist Church on homosexuality has been a hot topic for a very long time…ok that is probably a huge understatement.  As discussion of General Conference in 2016 start to ramp up and all the talk about schism, I have noticed, for a long time now, how horrible the internet has gotten.  We, as Christians, as United Methodists, as human beings, have forgotten how to listen to one another.

As a member of some Facebook United Methodist Groups, as I read posts, my heart aches because of the inability of my brothers and sisters in Christ to actually listen, to “be quick to listen.”  I find comment treads get derailed so easily that no real discussion happens.  It is only yelling with the hope that the opinion being shouted out sticks.

I completely understand how touchy and heated this discussion over homosexuality and the church’s stance is.  As I have wrestled with this issue and explored the scriptural basis on each side, I have realized there is really no discussion happening anymore.  There is no conversation, online at least.  Have we arrived at the place that we have moved beyond that now?  Are we at the place that now where people are only digging in their heels and trying to shout over each other?  Have we moved beyond discussion and holy conversation?

Proverbs 21:23 says, “Those who guard their mouths and their tongues guard themselves from trouble.”  Listening is learning to actually keep your mouth closed in order to let the other person talk.  Instead, many of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ have forgotten this and rely on being internet trolls instead.

If each side of the table has it all figured out…there is no conversation anymore.  If we have all the answers then who needs to listen to the other side.  There is no dialogue when we yell at how ‘unbiblical’ a person is for their interpretation of scripture.  There is no conversation when people are called ignorant, simple, closed minded, or heretics.

The joy I find in the United Methodist Church is that we don’t subscribe to one train of thought.  We have permission to disagree on things and still call each other United Methodist.  We can lean conservative or liberal (whatever the hell those unBiblical terms mean) and still join together to bring about the Kingdom of God.  Our connection is not based on agreement of social issues but instead is based on the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Maybe that is it.  In our haste to loosen our mouths and let our tongues flap without worry, we have convinced ourselves that we have all the answers.  We yell, “See it my way!” and will attempt to scream until every person follows suit.  We have forgotten the power of listening, hearing the other side, and understanding one another.

We have forgotten that we are to be like Nicodemus.  Even though he was trying to wrap his head around what Jesus was saying but couldn’t comprehend it, he eventually just shut up and listened to Jesus.  He stopped wondering “how” it was all to be and instead attempted to soak it all in.  My hope is that we will learn to be better listeners.  Through listening we will convey love and grace to our fellow brothers and sisters.  Through listening to Jesus we will gain understanding in what love and grace truly looks like.

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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.

Elders no longer have "Security of Appointments"

Below is a great article on the historic vote to end guaranteed appointments for ordained elders in the UMC.  Click here for the actual article’s page.

What have we done?!?

By: Amy Lippoldt On 5/1/2012
Once the word got out at General Conference this morning that removal of “security of appointment” for elders passed the plenary floor vote on a consent calendar, the twitter feed #gc2012 blew up with questions, concerns and incredulous comments.

I want to take a moment to explain some of what we accomplished in the Ministry and Higher Ed legislative committee, and why I think this historic change is not as scary as it might first seem.

A disclaimer: I am a white, young, clergywoman. I do not fear my Bishop. I have not experienced abuse by a Bishop or Cabinet, and I count myself as very fortunate that the itinerant system has worked for me. I’m not saying that I have had dream appointments, but God has enabled great ministry for me in every place the Cabinet has asked me to go. I have served in a church that was full of people very different from me politically. I did speak out on issues of justice in that church and suffered backlash.

I am aware of and value the concerns of clergy who have felt abused or who feel vulnerable in our system, be it for reasons of race, age, gender or theology. I cannot promise that “all will be well,” and I want to talk again in four years when we begin to see the implications of what we have done in removing this security.

I do think that before today, it has been quite possible for bishops and cabinets to punish, sideline or make miserable anyone they wanted to, even with the “security” of a job for elders. I honestly do not know how our action today at General Conference will play out. It will be up to the cabinets around the connection to use it for good, for the overall health of the itinerant system and the clergy within it.

Bottom line: I don’t believe as an elder that I deserve a guaranteed job. Deacons don’t have it. Local Pastors don’t have it. Laity who serve the church for a lifetime don’t have it. I don’t see how my ordination as an elder entitles me to something no other disciple in the church has (except maybe the 60-some U.S. bishops, but that’s a different conversation).

I have studied my United Methodist history. I understand clearly the importance of the “security” in 1956 to force bishops to appoint qualified and credential women, and in 1972 when we finally got rid of the sin of the U.S. Central Jurisdiction, to appoint persons of color. In 2012, we have not eliminated injustices or prejudices in the church, but we have come a long way. And I believe we have other mechanisms in place to safeguard as much as is possible against prejudice.

In the committee on Ministry and Higher Ed we added amendments to the recommendations of the Ministry Study that do the following:

  1. Create a task force of laity and clergy inside each annual conference that meets with the Bishop prior to appointment making to discuss issues related to “missional appointments.” Any smart Bishop will want this to be as diverse a group as possible so that concerns are heard as a Cabinet begins their work. This is about listening to the voices of others.
  2. Require every Cabinet to annually report to their Board of Ordained Ministry the people who are going on the new “Transitional Leave” or being appointed less than full time because of a lack of full-time “missional” appointment.  They will need to provide statistics for the age, gender and ethnicity of those individuals, so patterns may be seen. Cabinets also will report on what they are learning about appointment making in this new process. This is about transparency and accountability.
  3. Provide for every person asked to go on “Transitional Leave” an interview with the Board of Ordained Ministry. They can take to that interview an advocate (another clergy member in full connection from their annual conference) who can speak on their behalf. If a BOM feels the lack of appointment is unjust, they can refuse to grant it. In that case, if a Cabinet then refuses to appoint someone, they can start procedures for administrative location because the person is ineffective. If they don’t want to do that, no one knows what will happen. It will take a test case of such a stalemate and perhaps a Judicial Council ruling about such a test case to find out. 
  4. Explicitly requires the clergy session of an annual conference to approve the same “Transitional Leave” on the recommendation of the Board of Ordained Ministry (this is the same as all other leaves and changes in conference relations). Again if the clergy session feels it is unjust, they can overrule the BOM and the Cabinet. No Bishop will be able to unilaterally dismiss a clergy person for any reason. We remain a covenant order of elders that decides who is credentialed and eligible for ministry, and who is not.
While it remains to be seen if, or how, abuses of this system will occur, I think it also remains to be seen if it will really help cabinets. Someone can only stay on Transitional Leave for two years, and then if they are still around asking for a job and a Cabinet does not want to appoint them because they are ineffective, administrative location is the only option. Also with the required steps above there is still a high burden of proof on cabinets.

My hope is that this removal of security will help elders realize they are not permanently entitled to a job and a good pension just because they were ordained. I also hope it will help cabinets have the hard conversations they need to with our brothers and sisters who are no longer leading effectively in the church.

It will be up to General Conference 2016 to decide if we have done something disastrous or taken a step forward in changing the culture of leadership in our church. Whatever may come, I trust God will help us live into this new reality.

Rev. Amy Lippoldt
Kansas West

If you want to read the exact text of the petitions and amendments, look at UMC.org for these items: 
Calendar item #355 p 2178 DCA, about petition 20303, p 1428 ADCA
Calendar item #358 p 2178 DCA about petition 20308 p 1400 ADCA

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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GC Hits Home to WNCC

The Judicial Council released rulings on docket items yesterday. One was from my home conference. If my memory serves me right, this was brought up because we, as a conference, have a minitry that is on UNCG’s campus which also has clubs or groups that promotes homosexuality. I think I remember hearing this at annual conference and thinking that this is a far stretch and to pull the ministry would be to pull ourselves out of the secular or state education. I’m glad we can still have a UMC presence on UNCG’s campus.

Decision 1091 is a continuation of Decision 1081, in which the Judicial
Council asked the council of finance and administration in the Western North
Carolina Annual (regional) Conference to review whether the conference’s
financial support of the North Carolina Council of Churches and the campus
ministry at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro violates Paragraph
612.19 of the Book of Discipline, which stipulates that no conference funds can
be used to promote homosexuality. After receiving the conference council of
finance and administration report that it had reviewed the funding and it was
not in violation of Paragraph 612.19, the council affirmed Western North
Carolina Bishop J. Lawrence McCleskey’s decision of law.

Paragraph 612.19 of the Discipline says “no annual conference board, agency, committee, commission or council shall give United Methodist funds to any gay caucus or group, or otherwise use such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality.” “The conference council on finance and administration is authorized by the Discipline and has the authority to make such determination,” the decision states, going on to include a gentle reminder that annual conference expenditures cannot violate Paragraph 612

Scratch that Petition

Well the Mormons beat me too it. I had petitioned to the General Conference that to promote more young clergy we should put out a calendar of young and available male ministers. I think this would also have increased our overall attendance in these pastor’s churches. But I was too late. The Mormon church has beat us to it and we don’t want to duplicate their actions now. So attention General Conference, you can pull my petition!!!
HT: The Blingdom of God