United Methodist clergy and laity are reading this article How old is too old to join the clergy? – UMC.org., 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.