O.K. I'm only the 100 billionth through the turnstile, but finally I overcame my hesitancy and have a place to have a say in web-world. Now the learning curve is WHAT to say. I expect it to be some journaling, some observations, some resourcing, and hopefully, some laughs. Anyway, here goes....
This first post is done as I begin to wrap up a two-week teaching stint at the Course of Study School at Emory U. The Course of Study is a program of the United Methodist Church for pastors, who because of entering the ministry at an older age, and other circumstances, choose not to become credentialed by attaining a seminary degree. They take four courses a summer over five summers to receive the basic certificate. And then there is the Advanced COS, for those who want to move to ordination. All Local Pastors in the United Methodist Church are required to complete COS.
I have been teaching courses on Evangelism and on Worship and the Sacraments for the past three years. Each year I grumble about leaving my church and packing up to go to Atlanta for the two weeks. Then I get here and meet the students, and start interacting with them in the teaching process, and I am delighted to have the opportunity to be a part of it. The people factor makes all the difference. But isn't that true about most things?
These are full-time local pastors from across the southeast. A couple of them in my classes are on the staffs of larger churches, but most LPs serve small and rural churches. I get inspired as I see their dedication to the ministry. They want to make a difference, even though they are appointed to places where little opportunity exists to try creative things or to motivate the church to outreach.
Right now there is a lot of anxiety among the LPs. There are proposals for the upcoming General Conference that may remove sacramental rights from the LPs, thus only leaving only the ordained Elders (a classification on ministry) with the right to perform the sacraments (baptism and holy communion). General Conference is the representative body that meets every four years to decide the rules of the United Methodist Church. Since I will be a delegate to the Gen. Conf. 2008, and serving on the legislative committee that deals with ministry matters, I have been having some group conversations about these issues.
Basically, as I understand it, the idea to limit the sacraments to the ordained Elders is proposed because our giving the LPs the ability to offer the sacraments in their place of appointment conflicts with our ecumenical efforts. Other denominations, with which we try to share ministry, have trouble with the way we allow non-ordained persons to have sacramental rights. That's even though we say the LP's rights is simple an extension of the Elder who oversees them (usually the District Superintendent).
Well here's my opinion. The Methodist movement has always adapted its form of ministry to the mission. Our founder, John Wesley, did this as he appointed Class Leaders and Lay Preachers. In 1748, while the Church of England continued to refuse to ordain ministers for the Methodist revival, Wesley began ordaining ministers so that the Methodists would not have to go without the sacraments. Our current formation of the orders of ministry allows us to serve the people and I for one, would be hard pressed to see a reason to change that.
The General Conference next April will be interesting. I hope to have more conversations along the way as we prepare to deal with a lot of issues. But for now, I give thanks for the Local Pastors and the way they serve Christ and the church.