On the second day of plenary sessions, General Conference delegates made a major change to the long-standing United Methodist itinerancy system when they voted in favor of ending guaranteed appointments for ordained clergy.
By ending guaranteed appointments for ordained elders, provisional members and associate members, bishops and cabinets will be allowed to make less than full-time appointments. Proponents say removing ineffective pastors will be easier.
The petition focused on paragraph 338 in the Book of Discipline, which states, in part, “Full-time service shall be the norm for ordained elders in the annual conference.”
The approved amendment to the paragraph includes, “The bishop may appoint an ordained elder, provisional member elder, or an associate member to less than full-time service. The clergyperson shall be notified at least 90 days prior to the annual conference at which the appointment shall be made. Special attention shall be given to ensure that the values of open itineracy are preserved ...”
The legislation also permits bishops and their cabinets, with the approval of their boards of ordained ministry and annual conference’s executive session, to place elders on unpaid transitional leave for up to 24 months.
Each annual conference will name a task force to develop criteria impacting full time missional appointments.
“Even though the security of appointments has been eliminated, this process will not be something that will be taken lightly,” said Dr. Ben Martin, Statesboro District Superintendent and General Conference clergy delegate who served on the legislative committee for ministry and higher education.
“I think it’s a good piece of legislation that speaks to our laity who have continued to offer concern about the effectiveness of clergy leadership,” Dr. Martin said. “I think that clergypersons are protected and that the importance of the success of our ministries and our pastors in local churches is enhanced by it. The accountability that comes with this is a critical piece for all of us who serve the church.”
The petition, which easily passed through the Ministry and Higher Education legislative committee, was approved as part of a large number of proposals on the assembly’s May 1 consent calendar. The consent calendar is used to expedite legislation wherein recommendations from legislative committees with no more than 10 votes in opposition are grouped and approved together.
An effort to remove the item from the consent calendar failed when a duplicate name appeared on the request, thus keeping it on the consent calendar. While no opposition was presented prior to the vote on the consent calendar, a motion to reconsider was brought before the body after opponents realized what action the conference had just taken.
The motion to reconsider did prompt debate, though, with some arguing that guaranteed appointments help protect women and minority clergy and give clergy the freedom to preach prophetically without fear of reprisal. The effort to reconsider did not garner a majority of votes, failing 564 to 373.
The opponents of this legislation continued to express their disappointment for the remainder of the week, seeking to point out what they considered unintended consequences. On the final day of General Conference, a motion was made to request a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council to review the constitutionality of this new legislation. The motion passed and the Judicial Council has placed this on their fall agenda.
Earlier in the week the assembly voted down a proposal that would have allowed elders and deacons to be eligible for ordination as soon as they complete their educational requirements and after serving a minimum of two years as a provisional elder or deacon.