“Conference withdraws clergy age guidelines’ is an article from the United Methodist News Service, August 23, by Heather Hahn. It was this past Monday when I first read it. I shared it on my Facebook page, and several UM clergy who meet for a weekly breakfast discussed it this past Wednesday. I wanted to take some time to compose my response to this article as I shared the original article when the Texas Annual (Regional) Conference first received a wider United Methodist public exposure for this proposal. I think it’s bad policy, bad theology, and I agree with Rev. Jeremy Smith, who wrote in his blog “Hacking Christianity” about this proposal–that he does not support it and , “That’s their right and purview to steward the church’s human resources. And they have proved that they are (grudgingly) responsive to concerns about ‘stacking the ordination deck’ against those whom God has placed a call on their hearts, regardless of age.”
“He also wrote that he does not envy the board’s task. However, he also noted his fear that the original proposal might prevail in practice even if not on paper.”
Yes, I share the same fear for the North Georgia Annual Conference because I know that it is already in practice.
Survey after survey of UM clergy confirms that trust among clergy is a severe problem–as trust among clergy at all levels is minimal. Add in the overall poor physical and mental health (mostly brought on from bad if non-existent good health practices and stress) and you have the truth of what is really driving the desire for this policy. Whether it is a written policy or not, it’s being practiced because the reality is that unhealthy clergy (now being labeled as older clergy) cause a financial drag on the UM guaranteed appointed itinerant system.
“We never intended to hurt anyone,” the Rev. Carol Bruse, the chair of the conference’s board of ordained ministry, told United Methodist News Service.” Rev. Bruse’s comment is where the “Do No Harm” comes from–one of our UM General Rules from John Wesley, and a comment made from one of my clergy brothers at our weekly breakfast.
As a Myers-Briggs certified consultant, I use Myers-Briggs personality type as one of the ways to help me discern people and situations. In Myers-Briggs personality type language people make decisions as “Feelers” or “Thinkers.” Feelers prefer to keep harmony, avoid conflict, and ensure that everybody is happy as a base for making decisions. Thinkers prefer to rely on looking at available resources, and facts as a base for making decisions. The best decisions in any organization are made when both Feelers and Thinkers work together to balance each other in decision-making so that as many options as possible are considered in making a decision.
Feelers (F’s) are the predominate personality preference who become clergy. It’s the same reason that many UM congregations are not vital.
Do no harm requires that we face the reality that the “guaranteed appointment itinerant” system is failing because too many decisions are based on the preference of creating harmony and not hurting anyone. I liken it to moving the chairs around on the deck of the Titanic. We have a polity and system that is producing exactly what the leadership wants it to produce–and the harm and the hurt come from not being transparent and honest about the reality of ineffective clergy and an itinerant system that is itinerant for some clergy more so than others. The real polity is underground and unwritten and has produced mistrust and dysfunction.
It will take prophets fueled by the Holy Spirit to reverse this course. Meanwhile, the chairs keep getting moved around. Can you say Vital Congregations?