By: Amy Lippoldt On 5/1/2012
Topics: General Conference
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:
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
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