In a decision that directly affects about 450 clergy members in the Florida Conference, the nine-member Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church has upheld security of appointments for elders and associate clergy members.
|Photo from UMNS|
The decision was made public with a UMNS report today, following four days of deliberations in Elk Grove Village, Ill., on a variety of issues. The council ruled that a General Conference move to eliminate guaranteed appointments for clergy, a tradition that dates to 1956, was in violation of the church constitution.
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Florida Bishop Ken Carter served on the Ministry Study Commission of 2008-12 that proposed the change to The Book of Discipline and saw it adopted at the General Conference in Tampa in May. He said Monday the Florida Conference will abide by the Judicial Council ruling.
“The Florida Conference Appointive Cabinet will, of course, exercise its leadership within The Book of Discipline, even as we live with the practical challenge of connecting superintendency and itinerancy to our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” Carter said in an email.
Some who had proposed the change had argued that it is difficult to move ineffective clergy out of leadership positions under the current guaranteed appointment system. Others argued that the proposed change could deprive clergy of the right to a trial and fair process, punish clergy for being outspoken on social justice issues, and jeopardize strides made in appointing ethnic minorities.
Rev. David Dodge, executive director of the Center for Clergy Excellence at the conference, said he was “profoundly disappointed” in the Judicial Council ruling.
“I don’t really agree with their logic,” he said, noting that guaranteed appointments came about in 1956, when bishops might have been reluctant to appoint ordained clergywomen and minorities.
“To me, it doesn’t follow that reverting back to the time when there wasn’t security of appointment … is a [constitutional] violation,” Dodge said.
“Those rules were put into place to protect clergywomen and clergy of color. If you look at the Council of Bishops in 1956 and the Council of Bishops in 2012, it’s a much different look.”
He said the change adopted by the General Conference was not so much to address ineffective clergy as to give bishops the ability to missionally appoint leaders who were best suited to the task at hand.
For example, a licensed local pastor might have language skills that were needed in a particular area, but ordained clergy might be sent there instead in order to meet the requirements of guaranteed appointment.
“Look at Florida,” Dodge said. “We have a vast array of missional needs, and not every elder is equipped to serve everywhere.”
He said commissions that studied the issue and recommended the change to missional appointments proposed language intended to protect minorities and church leaders who speak out on social justice issues, but apparently those safeguards were not deemed strong enough by the denomination’s high court.
Dodge said the current process of removing ineffective appointments is long and expensive, and in his 16-year tenure he has seen it happen only once. He said the Judicial Council’s ruling may lead to more cases of clergy members moved from leadership positions to “administrative location,” effectively losing their positions in the conference.
He predicted more scrutiny of clergy applicants by district committees and the Board of Ordained Ministry.
“Boards are going to have to step up and be willing to make hard decisions with applicants,” he said.
Florida Conference treasurer Mickey Wilson said Monday the Judicial Council decision essentially keeps the status quo for the way clergy members are recruited, appointed and reappointed. It likely won’t save or cost the conference any money.
“I don’t think it’s a financial issue,” Wilson said. “I think it’s a redistribution of resources issue.”
Susan Green is editor of the Florida Conference Connection.