How old is too old to join the clergy? –

United Methodist clergy and laity are reading this article How old is too old to join the clergy? –, and they are responding.  The Texas Annual (regional) Conference has proposed changing its minimum standards for clergy to discourage people over 45 from becoming candidates for ordained ministry. 

Being an Emory University Candler School of Theology graduate and an second career ordained elder, I graduated from seminary when I was 45 and was ordained as a full-elder in 2006, I read this article with interest.  I paid attention to Dean Love’s (Dean of Candler School of Theology) comments and to Rev. Lovett Weems, Jr.’s comments about this proposed change to ordaining clergy in the Texas Annual (regional) Conference.  I believe their comments are well thought out and balanced, and I can hear both sides of this discussion and certainly the reasoning for strategically looking at the needs of the United Methodist Church from a tangible, rationale view of planning for the future.

My concern lies in living as Christians that requires us to live in the world and not separated from the world.  Using the power of the Holy Spirit for discernment and prayerful decision making causes us to constantly assess and examine the ways others see Christ in us–Christ alive in the world.  Age discrimination is not legal in the U.S.  Yet, it still happens every day in firing, hiring, laying people off, and offering early retirement options so that organizations can strategically change, grow and meet the needs of the people the organization serves or meet the demands of the organization’s customers who purchase its product or services.  The reality is that the organization or institution of the United Methodist Church operates this way, too.

Yet, the mystery of God’s ways not being our ways, causes me to wonder about the message we also are sending out to the nation and the world when we deliberately work to limit what God is doing in the lives of people God calls to ministry.  Call me uninformed or naive, and I still believe that the church of Jesus Christ–the living breathing body of Christ–the one I happen to participate in as ordained clergy–the United Methodist Church–ought not in any way formally, informally or subtly participate in discrimination of any kind.  The truth is, Lord have mercy, that we do participate in all kinds of wrong doing because we are sinful people.

I believe the truth behind this strategy–the motivation for this strategic planning option–is the issue of guaranteed appointments in the United Methodist Church.  This is just another way of approaching this issue and conundrum without having to label it for what it is really addressing.

The truth is that as an institution and as an organization and system, the UMC fails to adequately and properly assess, evaluate and examine clergy in order to discern that clergy are meeting and continuing to meet the requirements of being full-elders in the United Methodist Church.  Too often the leadership of the UMC, not just in Texas, refuses to confront issues and to transform conflict.

Perhaps I am uninformed and naive, and yet if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck–it’s  a duck.  May God have mercy on us as we continue to struggle to follow Christ in all of its messiness in the United Methodist Church.

Marriage and Civil Unions: The “church” Needs to Confess and Examine…Christ Have Mercy

Perhaps the U.S. Supreme Court will help us out on this issue that the “church”–lower case “c” to mean the “universal church”–has completely and unequivocally turned into an unholy mess.  Let me explain the way I see it:

The early Christian church–the one we today now refer to as the Roman Catholic Church from which all brands and denominations, including none denominational churches trace their roots back to, once claimed marriage as a sacrament.  It was one of seven.  Theologians/priests/pundits/politicians and various others, I’m certain, decided that scripture mentions only two sacraments–acts that Jesus did and asked us, his followers, to remember and repeat–baptism and Holy Communion/the Lord’s Supper/Mass/the Eucharist just to cover the ground well for names for Communion.  Long ago the church gave over marriage to “the state” or government leaders to control and legislate, and so they have.

Marriage is a legal contract that requires a license and payment to the state/government with the signature of authorized clergy or a notary public, judge, or various other people that the state/government has the power to authorize as able to officiate a marriage.  As a United Methodist ordained full-elder, clergy, I cannot marry anyone without a marriage license to sign at the ceremony.  Without signing this license I am breaking the law, and I can lose my clergy credentials.

Covenant is the word used for marriage in the church–the universal church.  In the church we officiate over a marriage covenant for Christians who are entering that covenant among them and God, Christ and the Holy Spirit.  Here’s the confession and examine time:

How many clergy and congregations have held weddings inside or outside the church facility simply because the bride (usually) or the groom or their parents, grandparents or other influential or “loud” relatives insisted on a wedding in the church.  This insistence is not fueled by the daily practices of the bride and the groom being practicing Christians.  No, most often the wedding is held inside a church or on church simply because in name only, the bride and groom along with the influential or “loud” relatives consider themselves Christians and “spiritual but not religious” so they do not regularly if ever participate in a church/faith community.  Or, because the church building or grounds are a beautiful or nice atmosphere or setting for their wedding.  Please see Lillian Daniel’s latest book, Spiritual But Not Religious, for some of the best and snarkiest stories about this sad and sorry category or SBNR.

Clergy have gone along with this charade, including required pre-marital counseling, knowing full well that this couple along with most of their family will most likely never be seen again in the church once the “I do’s” have been said, the reception is over and the honeymoon has commenced.  Yet, some clergy and faith traditions/churches are so quick to quote scripture about marriage being set aside for a man and a woman.  I have participated in this charade so I’m calling myself out on this one, too.

Seriously?  We, the church, have not held up our end of marrying committed, practicing Christians–notice I am not saying perfect and holy Christians as I am fully acknowledging that we are all sinful people on our way and moving on to perfection with the help and power of the Holy Spirit within us–who have a thorough understanding of what a Godly, Christian marriage covenant includes.  No one learns this in a matter of a few pre-marital counseling sessions.  People learn this from participating actively in Bible study, mission and outreach, worship, prayer and living as a breathing part of a faith community–church.

Could we please beg forgiveness for the ways we have “mucked” this up, and then could we examine ourselves through asking God who knows us to search us with the holy light of divine wisdom to help us to have kind, loving and truthful conversations that address this issue realistically and from an informed viewpoint?

Creator and loving God, forgive us.  Christ have mercy on us for all the ways that we are so quick to quote scripture on so many serious life issues and refuse to have a thorough understanding of the scripture we quote and the holy life we are to live.  Help us, with the power of the Holy Spirt, to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.