Friday, April 11, 2008

Should we change Ordination?

One of the proposals before Gen. Conf. is to separate ordination from conference membership and to move it to the point where we now commission persons for ministry. The Study committee has asked for four more years to study this, but I believe that many of the things in their report will be dealt with at this GC.

The underlying desire for this and several other proposals is to streamline our process. It is the most cumbersome of any denomination, including the Roman Catholic (according to comments by some members of the Study Commission). Lovett Weems and Ann Michel report in their book, The Crisis of Younger Clergy, (2008) that the number of Elders under age 35 dropped from about 3200 to about 85o during the past 20 years. We must do something to reverse this.

So, help me out - what do you think? Some have asked, "If we ordain early, and then the person does not attain conf. membership for whatever reason, how do we 'un-ordain' them? Are we ready for a different understanding of ordination? Are there parallels to the way the Baptists ordain very early in local churches, leaving employment open ended?

I entered the UMC back in the days of the two ordination process, ordained first as a Deacon, then 2 years later as an Elder. We can't return to that process, but I do know that leaving seminary and going into my first full-time church apppointment as an ordained minister meant a lot to me, at a time when I was still uncertain whether I should be in parish ministry.

Any opinions or suggestions before the motions and votes start flying around at General Conference?


TN Rambler said...

As a licensed local pastor, I support the proposal to separate ordination from conference membership. Nowhere in our history or tradition do we see a precedent for the situation that we've saddled ourselves with in the UMC.

By licensing and commissioning, the bishop gives authority to perform the duties of an elder in the setting to which one is appointed. The one thing that is missing is the calling for the Holy Spirit to be poured upon the individual "for the office and the work of an elder." (BOW 696).

However, I also support the idea of an extension of the study. Through successive General Conferences, we have muddled our ministry structure into one fine mess. We need to find some way to fairly treat those who are called to and have been ordained to the office of Deacon. And there are other questions that could possibly be resolved by a study commission that could not be done at GC...that's how we got ourselves into the mess that we're in now.

klh said...

As a young person, whose husband is an under-35 year old commissioned pastor, I am opposed to separating conference membership from ordination as a means of increasing the number of young clergy persons. Frankly, I think it is a ridiculous proposal, although I would love to be proven wrong. My husband has experienced twice in the need to change conferences in the middle of the process. Even though he is young, graduated from a UM seminary, has a remarkable track record, is well-spoken and deeply committed to the gospel, and has been told "you are exactly the type of person we want in this conference," the problem is that he is NOT guaranteed an appointment in other conferences, and, with so many OLDER clergy persons who ARE guaranteed an appointment, he has been initially turned away with much regrets. In one conference, a person whose entire job it is to recruit young pastors into that conference expressed the frustration that he is suppose to be recruiting people... but because they are not guaranteed an appointment until AFTER commissioning, well, they just aren't commissioned or they are not welcomed into the conference when they appear. My point is that the problem with bringing younger clergy persons into the system will not be solved by taking away the younger clergy persons' right to an appointment while guaranteeing a 60 year old his/her appointment. As someone living through this process right now, I cannot even conceive of how someone might think that would be helpful. By all means, you can ordain them initially AND guarantee them an appointment at the same time - you don't have to call it "deacon" to do that. It was a system that worked. In any case, I think a LOT more study needs to go into this, and I think YOUNGER persons IN PROCESS should make up half of the persons on the committee making the decisions, rather than people who are removed from this in practical terms.

Jim Elder said...

I was ordained a deacon and then an elder in the Free Methodist Church, doing the required educational work and probationary time. I left the ministry for a number of years but maintained my ordination and membership in the Evangelical Methodist Church, which I transferred to when I pastored a church in the denomination.

When I was came back into the ministry, I chose to be part of the UMC, where I was and associate member of a local congregation. As I began the process I was told that they would not recognize my ordination, I guess, because I do not have a seminary degree. So now I am going the Course of Study route, with the intention of becoming an associate member, if that will still be available.

I have many questions and feelings about the whole process, which is confusing and seems to be different from conference to conference. I have even met ministers from other non-Wesleyan denominations (Baptist and Presbyterian, to name two)who have been ordained by those denominations but will have those orders accepted by the UMC when they complete the COS.

I believe higher education is important and understand, in part, why the UMC pushes seminary. However, I question if having a seminary degree automatically makes you a better minister. I have a M.Ed in counseling and education and I can attest to the fact that I have been made a better pastor as result of my training in those areas, far more than my brief time in seminary. But for the UMC, it really doesn't count toward anything, except not having to take three courses in the COS process.

I am content to be a local pastor. I have already been ordained and hold that moment as a very important and sacred time in my life, one that, even with all that I have experienced in life, played a part in holding my faith anchored when doubt was raging.

I do know that if the General Conference is not careful and limits or restricts the local pastor, they will loose many of those ministers, and may even find themselves loosing some congregations. And that would be a sad moment indeed.