Ministry Study Plan Provides Peer Review Process

March 23, 2011

By Vicki Brown*

Concern in the church about protecting women and racial-ethnic clergy has prompted the Study of Ministry Commission to modify language on security of appointment for clergy so that if an elder in full connection does not receive an appointment for reasons other than ineffectiveness, a process will be in place for that elder to seek a peer review from the Annual Conference Board of Ordained Ministry.
Bishop Albert Gwinn, chair of the commission, said that many of the comments the commission has received from United Methodist lay and clergy centered around open itinerancy – protecting the rights of women and racial-ethnic clergy to continue to be appointed if security of appointment is eliminated.
The Rev. Ken Carter, a commission member who is also the chair of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry's Division of Ordained Ministry, said that responses from the Church about this issue led to changes to the proposal which the commission is preparing to submit to General Conference 2012. The changes mean a modification of the continuing appointment process.
Commission members, meeting in Nashville March 14–16, fine-tuned proposals and set a tight schedule for completing their report. In addition to modifying the security of employment for clergy, the commission proposes legislation that will further streamline the candidacy process. Changes include a proposed vocational discernment coordinator who will work through the Board of Ordained Ministry and in consultation with the district superintendent, to recruit and train people as leaders for candidacy group mentoring – which will expedite the mentoring process and foster peer reflection and learning. Group mentoring will also allow particularly gifted mentors to work with more candidates.
A redesign of licensing school will offer a Ministry Preparation Orientation for all candidates for the purpose of building collegiality and understanding among local pastors, deacons, and elders, as well as preparation for licensing in each of these ministries.
In addition, the proposed legislation allows ordination and provisional membership to occur earlier in the process, following certification, completion of theological educational requirements, and other requirements. The practice of commissioning would be eliminated, and following a minimum two-year provisional membership period, the ordained clergyperson would be eligible for full Conference membership.
The group also drafted a new section on transitional leave of absence that would guide Annual Conferences in working with clergy who are not appointed to a church or extension ministry post because of missional reasons, or because there were not enough jobs for clergy in the Conference. The Rev. Aslam Barkat asked the group to consider how grace entered into the proposals, noting that much of what was being done was pragmatic, but adding that the Church must consider more than that. Bishop Grant Hagiya responded that the Annual Conferences have a moral obligation to provide transitional benefits such as health coverage and job counseling.
Gwinn said the proposals move the Church toward a cooperative, shared ministry. "The commission has seen the wisdom of our tradition to have the areas of set-apart ministry –elders, deacons, and local pastors – depending on one another, which is really a return to our traditions. We have seen the wisdom of how the early Church modeled shared ministry," Gwinn said.
The Rev. Sharon Rubey, interim associate general secretary of GBHEM's Division of Ordained Ministry, said the commission also plans to present the legislative proposals in such a way that each piece may be considered on its own merit.
"We want General Conference delegates to see how all the pieces fit together, but if some of the changes are deemed less beneficial to the Church than others, we hope they will consider each on its own merit and not discount the entire report," Rubey said.
Commission sub-groups will continue working on the report and figuring out how the proposals fit with other reports that will be before General Conference, including the Call to Action report, and proposals from the Faith and Order Commission and the Church Systems Task Force.
*Brown is associate editor and writer, Office of Interpretation, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.