Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Clergy are like a box of chocolates…

…you never know what you’re going to get. We were in worship planning today with the new senior pastor who will be coming to our church on July 1, and this is maybe the funniest thing I said. Forrest Gump was on TV the other night, but this comment came after our new SP said something about him being “plug and play.”

I’ve been keeping my head down when it comes to General Conference. It’s a paradox in my mind – there’s so much at stake / there’s so little at stake. How will things that change in that stratosphere of polity really affect the day to day life of ministry and mission that I know best? This is the first General Conference to occur since my ordination last summer, so I thought I would be more engaged, not less.

But in this information age, I feel myself glutted and gagged by the constant influx of information via Facebook, Twitter, and even the weekly United Methodist Reporter that lands in my physical inbox. It’s just so much to process, changing by the second, and all second-/third-/fourth-hand from folks who know more than I do. I feel paralyzed in the land of unknowing, fearful to put a toe in the riptide of legislation.

I broke this relative silence today when I saw a couple of Facebook friends (read: not real friends, not people I would call in the middle of the night with a problem, or even during the day for a ride to the airport – really colleagues, one of whom is being considered to be a bishop…) posting about the guaranteed appointment legislation. Apparently, the more acceptable way to talk about it is in regard to the security of appointment for elders. While this made good sense a few years ago, to keep bishops and cabinets from benching ordained women and persons of color, it is now keeping ineffective clergy shuffling around from church to church, leaving a trail of dysfunction behind them. Or so that seems to be the thought process to one who, admittedly, is not following the news closely.

This morning, legislation was passed that means that ordained elders, who have agreed to go where they are sent by the bishop of their conference (i.e. that they will itinerate), are no longer guaranteed an appointment. Of course, since we are Methodists and still fearful of the human element of divine discernment, there are a couple of checks to balance and affirm the process of putting an elder on transitional leave, approval by the Board of Ordained Minitsry and clergy session of the annual conference.

I don’t know how I feel about all of this. I still wonder how “effectiveness” is measured – “in daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee, in inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife. In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes, how do you measure a year in the life?” I wish it could be measured in love. During the last round of annual evaluations, I was teary-eyed as I told my SPRC chair that the best ministry I do is stuff that no one usually sees. And I’d love to tell a story here, but most of it is also held in holy confidence between the parties involved, me, and a loving God.

I guess the worry I have is that we, as clergy, at least as elders, are expected to be “plug and play.” While what we do is deeply relational ministry, at least if you’re doing it right in my mind, you’re supposed to be willing to be uprooted for the sake of the Gospel and bloom in unfamiliar, perhaps even hostile, soil. It’s scary. I’m watching as our current SP untangles his life from the life of our church. It’s not overt and it’s not wrong, but I can see the leaning away as conversations drift to the time in just a few weeks when he will not be playing a part in this family of faith.

A few weeks ago, we met with our new SP for the first time to begin planning worship for his first few Sundays with us. Afterwards, my clergy sisters and I were reflecting on the time together. They have seen senior pastors come and go before, at this church and others. This is new to me. I was baptized at a Wesley Foundation, but didn’t join a local church until 2003. My first appointment was set in 2009 at the church I currently serve. So maybe I was the one struggling to navigate the unfamiliar waters the most as I said it felt like trying to do marriage work when you’re on your first date. Here we were, trying to collaboratively and creatively plan worship that would glorify God even as I realize this relative stranger across the table doesn’t know anything about me. Not that it matters, I guess, but it feels weird all the same.

I was talking to a confirmand today, a 7th grader who has completed 2 years of study and has come to the point to decide wheter or not she will join our church. We went over the renunciation of sin and confession of faith in the liturgy. I asked her what each section meant, as though she were explaining it to a 3rd grader, which goes something like this: 1)  Don’t do bad things; 2) God gives us power to not do bad things; and 3) We believe in and follow Jesus, along with anyone else who wants to be a part of the church. We went over the 5 parts of the vows of membership – prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.

At the end of our time together, I asked her if she had any questions and she thought a long time before asking me when our current SP was leaving. I gave her the date of his last Sunday. She asked me if I knew who our new SP was. I told her his name, his current church, his wife’s name and profession, his kids’ names and the schools they attend. I stopped there, figuring that was probably more than she would remember and less than she wanted.

Then I told her the same story a very wise district superintendent, who is now a bishop, told me. This was the DS I met with the share my call to ministry. He told me that in some churches, the people center around the pastor, which usually doesn’t end well when that pastor is no longer there, for whatever reason. Our church, the United Methodist Church, is structured so that the people (hopefully!) center around God and the pastor circles the outside parameter, encouraging and redirecting.

All I can figure is that clergy exist in paradox. We engage in deeply relational ministry to build the trust necessary for growth in holiness. And yet we must be “plug and play” components, possessing the deep personal reserves to serve a variety of appointments with grace, spreading scriptural holiness across the land. Clergy are as clergy do. I pray we do well, no matter the under/over-lying structure.

1 comment:

  1. This is beautifully written Jessica and I am praying for you in this time of transition!
    Judi Brandt


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