Judicial Council upholds security of appointment

Oct. 29, 2012

By Neill Caldwell and Heather Hahn*

ELK GROVE VILLAGE, Ill. (UMNS) — The top court of The United Methodist Church has upheld church rules that ensure security of appointment for elders and associate clergy members, striking down legislation passed by the denomination’s lawmaking assembly last spring.

A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

The church’s General Conference, meeting in Tampa, Fla., had approved on May 1 a much-debated piece of legislation that would have deleted language in the church’s Book of Discipline ensuring security of appointment. The legislation also would have added steps for discontinuing elders and associate members from receiving an appointment. A churchwide Study of Ministry Commission had proposed the changes as a way to replace ineffective pastors.

However, the church’s Judicial Council, meeting Oct. 24-27 in Elk Grove Village, ruled that the General Conference action was in violation of the church’s constitution.

Security of appointment “has long been a part of the tradition of The United Methodist Church” and “abolishing security of appointment would destroy our historic plan for itinerant superintendency,” the nine-member court said in Decision 1226.

The General Conference action was in violation of the church’s third and fourth Restrictive Rules, which ban changes that would destroy that historic plan and do away with clergy rights to a trial and appeal, respectively, the court said. That right to trial and fair process is “absolute,” the ruling states, and it has been upheld repeatedly in previous decisions.

Left untouched were revisions to Paragraph 338 in the Book of Discipline that allow bishops — with two-thirds support of the conference’s clergy members — to appoint elders, provisional member elders and associate members to a less than full-time appointment. The Judicial Council was not asked to review the constitutionality of those changes and thus did not specifically rule on them.

‘Itinerancy is the cornerstone’

Frederick K. Brewington, the General Conference delegate who had asked that the matter be referred to the Judicial Council, argued in favor of overturning the legislation during an Oct. 24 oral hearing before the court.

“Itinerancy is the cornerstone of the whole structure,” said Brewington, a lawyer and lay member in the New York Annual (regional) Conference. “This action shifts power from the annual conference to the episcopacy. There would no longer be a need to bring charges against an elder, just fail to appoint them. …

“Elders make a contract, a covenant, to serve where the bishop sends them,” Brewington said. “This turns things into a mish-mosh — and that’s not a legal term. It will take away our ability to attract new and young clergy, who will go elsewhere.”

Reached by phone afterward, Brewington was pleased with the council’s decision.

“We need to be all thankful that we have a church that allows us the opportunity to be able to have these important issues decided clearly and in a fully articulated fashion as the Judicial Council has done,” he said. “I think this is an important determination for over 30,000 clergy who basically would be left without recourse if indeed there were determinations made that were not just. That’s really what we — my team and I — were looking at as we put this together, the justice issue.”

The Rev. John Feagins, director of San Antonio United Methodist Campus Ministry and member of the Southwest Texas Conference, helped Brewington argue for keeping job guarantees for elders and associate members in good standing. He said he expects the Judicial Council’s ruling will help clergy be more focused on ministry.

“The clergy can be motivated by their love for Christ and their love for the church and their love for the mission field rather than by fear of arbitrary denial of appointment,” he said. “I think it makes a tremendous difference for our clergy to have questions about their character and status determined in the open forum of the annual conference (clergy session) … rather than in the secrecy of a cabinet room some place.”

Conflict within lawbook

The ruling restores Book of Discipline Paragraphs 337, 321 and 354 to their 2008 language.

The decision tracks the security of appointment language since it was inserted into the Book of Discipline in 1956, and cites several previous Judicial Council decisions in which security of appointment was upheld. In Decision 380, the council said that “there is no directly stated Constitutional right to an appointment. However, it is implicit in Constitutional provisions. …”

The ruling also mentions a conflict in the 2012 Book of Discipline, noting that Paragraph 334 retains similar language that was deleted in Paragraph 337.

The Judicial Council acknowledged in its ruling that the phrase “guaranteed appointment,” while not used in the Book of Discipline, has become commonly used around the denomination for the idea of security of appointment.

Arguing for additional authority

At the oral hearing, recently retired Bishop Alfred W. Gwinn Jr. represented the Council of Bishops and argued to preserve the legislation.

Episcopal duties have not changed in any way, said Gwinn, who served on the Study of Ministry Commission. “A bishop recommends a person for transitional leave to the Board of Ordained Ministry; the Board of Ordained Ministry must recommend that leave to the clergy session, which has the final decision. Where does the bishop gain additional authority beyond what already exists?”

In an Oct. 29 phone interview, Gwinn said he was “disappointed, of course.”

“I feel like the Judicial Council looked at the issue very narrowly, and they speak of historical precedence of security of appointment and refer to 1956 as being historical,” he said. “The church is 230 years old, and they seem to try to establish the theory that it’s a historical precedent in the church by using 1956.”

Itinerancy should not be linked to security of appointment, the bishop said.

“Itinerancy is related to call and commitment — not to security of appointment — and I think (Bishop Francis) Asbury and (Thomas) Coke would be very disturbed by the idea of itinerancy being connected to security of appointment.”

Looking ahead, Gwinn said he thinks boards of ordained ministry should concentrate on recruiting “superb candidates” for ministry.

“The bishops can deal with people who make the grades E or F,” he said. “There’s a system to exit totally ineffective people, and we are very grateful for B and A pastors. What is killing the church is C- and D pastors with no way to exit them. The removal of security of appointment could have moved out the C- and the D pastors.”

Newly elected Bishop Kenneth H. Carter, who also served on the Study of Ministry Commission and now leads the Florida Conference, said his appointive cabinet “will of course exercise its leadership within the Book of Discipline, even as we live with the practical challenge  of connecting superintendency and itineracy to our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

Across the theological spectrum

Groups across of the United Methodist theological spectrum that often disagree had joined in expressing concern about the removal of guaranteed appointments before General Conference and celebrated the Judicial Council’s ruling on Oct. 29.

“The Judicial Council ruling opens a door to broader discussion about faithful calling, training and support of clergy in a two-way covenant system,” said a statement by the progressive caucus Methodist Federation for Social Action.

Similarly, the Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, vice president and general manager of the evangelical caucus Good News, cheered the decision for preserving itinerancy and fair process.

“There is a fair process in place for addressing pastoral ineffectiveness,” his statement said. “Let’s use it.”

* Caldwell is editor of the Virginia United Methodist Advocate magazine. Hahn is a United Methodist News Service reporter.

 News media contact: Linda Bloom or Heather Hahn, New York and Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.


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  1. Steven Marsh


  2. willrev

    I am a 42 year old pastor with a wife and two kids. I was one of Bishop Al Gwinn’s victims in his push to rid the church of ineffective clergy. I am white. I watched as he also helped one of my black friends who had come over from the A.M.E. out of the ministry who went back to a secular job. I had been appointed to a string of churches in discord, some were even fighting internally. There were systemic psychological issues in all of them. The one we were serving when I went to sit down with the bishop looking for a mature, knowledgeable man to guide me in my career choice of ministry was abusive to our family. My two year old daughter’s bed was full of rat feces every night in the parsonage. The church said, “Welcome to the country, BOY!” They did nothing. We were beaten down. The anxiety caused my wife to throw up every Sunday before church. Finally she quit going when a counselor told us that was ok. Instead of the bishop taking his staff and beating off the wolves, he beat us. There was no compassion. We only got shamed and blamed. It was one of the most difficult experiences of my life. It hurt deeply. I was told that my physical appearance was repulsive and I could not be appointed certain places. I went wearing my best suit and cufflinks. I was told I was ineffective and would be helped out of the ministry. You see, the issue is not the clergy in many cases. The bishops want the money of the laity, not their holiness. There is not discipline for the un-regenerated and unsaved laity often in leadership positions. They should be removed and people with clear spiritual fruit should be the leaders. This does not happen because the UMC needs their money worse than holiness. Holiness does not come without discipline. The truly spiritual laity often want no part in leadership because they are afraid and ill equipped to do spiritual warfare with the dark side. Then entrenched dark side leaders shut out new people and keep them outsiders until they are apathetic or leave local churches. The UMC is the most difficult place to become an insider in a local church. Yet that is the model in Acts. Everyone becomes and insider in the family of God. People hunger for genuine relationship but leave when they aren’t allowed in. As for my family, we left the local church. Extension ministry is a blessing. We aren’t left struggling with student debt the church refuses to help pay with its low salary. I make a working wage. We own a home and have a place where we can have some peace away from the work of ministry. We have spiritual health. As for ineffective, I have only gotten the highest job evals and make $83k a year. So apparently the bishop failed to see the gem of a worker he had sitting in his office that day. That’s his loss. Not bad for a 42 year old who does not mind hard work. Rid the structure of its nepotism and insider politics and you might attract some of the best and brightest. Reward them with a living wage and help pay off student debt. Then give them the real authority to discipline and restructure the leadership locally and rid it of un-regenerates and to actually fight the darkness rather than make friends with it. Then the church might actually grow. Someone needs to start truth telling in the UMC. But the fear is the loss of money. Money to run the structure has become the god of Methodism, not the holiness of heart and life that Wesley preached.

  3. Richard T. Reinhard

    Rules posted by UMC Clubhouse door: 1. Club members cannot be removed from the club except through the worst possible behavior. 2. All new club members must be relatives of existing club members; no non-family members allowed. 3. Anyone under suspicion by club leaders to be a non-family member must use the secret family code word at all times to gain entrance and remain a member. 4. Club leaders who used to be deemed non-family members will lead in enforcement of these codes. 5. Club members and especially leaders must repeat club founder’s motto that club welcomes everyone.

  4. Richard Wade

    I find it hard to believe that this has become such a decisive issue. We were discussing in Disciple Bible Study last night how ungodly it is to think of only oneself. Most previous comments have done just that. Being e a lay member of a UMC which spent two years being ripped apart by a monster, who after being picked up for DWI, and admitting to being an alcoholic was appointed to another congregation, as Sr. Pastor, I certainly see the need for stronger District Superintendents, and Conference Bishops who will listen to lay people.

    1. Rev. Dr. Richard W Jenkins Jr

      Mr Wade:
      I know only too well the pain and suffering the “monster” inflicted upon the referenced congregation. However, were the issues that the “monster” was dealing with ever addressed by either party? How many Bishops, D.S,’s, or PPR. committees know the 12 step program ? Did the Pastor in question go to at least a 30 day rehab program? Further did the D.S. seek out a trained professional to help the congregation heal and was the new church informed of the circumstances regarding their “new” pastor’s need for support and understanding?

      It is my belief that our church(UMC) is facing the internal crisis of decay and decline because we simply have left to many dead and wounded congregations and pastors
      to rot on the “Jericho Road” because we just don’t have TIME to tend them and we must
      get those appointments paid! Hang in there Mr. Wade and be ready offer to be one that will
      assist in taming the “monster,” and check out the story of “Beauty And The Beast.”

  5. Rev. Dr. Richard W Jenkins Jr

    I find it somewhat difficult to imagine Jesus as a Bishop and the Disciples as a Cabinet seeking
    to “grade” a pastor with an A B C D or F classification. Do you really think any one of them could make it through Seminary or a Board of Ministry interview? Furthermore, none of them
    nor Paul had a decent savings account
    and seemed to always be “in the red” at the local bank ! Seems to me the United Methodist Church has lost it focus about what Jesus and the early followers of the WAY were really trying to do–Lift up the fallen, feed the hearts and souls of the down trodden, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, give those who had lost hope a light in the darkness. Personally I find AA to be more spiritual than the UMC! At
    least they are honest and more spiritual than most of those I know in the UMC today! We truly need to “Let Go and Let God…” If we can get over our EGO problems we might become a true fellowship again!

  6. Rev. Kathleen McCafferty

    Rev Kathleen McCafferty
    Re: Judicial Council overturns General Conference action regarding Security of Appointments
    This has been an intriguing conversation! I am a clergywoman, called by God to ministry during a Lay Witness Mission in 1973. I pursued my education with that one goal in mind: to serve God and others by responding to God’s call. I began as a youth pastor in 1977 and ordained elder in 1983. I was disabled following an accident a few years ago. Now, the world is my parish! I entered ministry solely for the love of Jesus Christ. I didn’t even know anything about salary, appointments, itineracy. I didn’t even ask, it didn’t matter.
    Over the years, from the age of 15, I had the privilege of serving all sizes of churches, and to be a member of many Conference ministries. Annual Conference, the Dist. & Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, mentoring over 20 new clergy, Area Co. on Episcopacy, some bishop’s taskforces, the Conference Co. on Ministries, Conf. Administrative Co. Campaign for Church Growth and Development, and a member of The Bishop’s Cabinet as DS. I was a member of the NCJ School for Local Pastors, instructor for 9 years. All along, I met many amazing persons giving it all up to serve Christ–so very inspiring! I have a wealth of experiences with our clergy in a wide variety of aspects. All of these pastors I regard with respect. I truly believe they came here for the same reason as I–in answer to serve God faithfully with their lives! I rarely met a pastor I thought was primarily influenced by the security of appointment. It is a tool that serves the connection well in most situations. When I first learned about this, I thought it was like the “New Deal’s” “a chicken in every pot”: a pastor in every church, every church with a pastor. Other denominational churches who are left “searching” for a new pastor for months and sometimes years, regard our system with envy.
    Yes, there are sometimes a few who do not measure up to the task, or have lost their wind or their energy for ministry or who have become truly ill. . The one troubled time of my life was largely of my own making! But to call anyone an Ineffective Pastor is like branding them — their whole being– as ineffective. And the thought of labeling pastors as A,B,C,D,E,F I find appalling. I was a member of a BOM who struggled very earnestly with difficult issues, and Cabinet who sincerely prayed for God’s guidance in joining gifted pastors with churches where their gifts could best be used. From the Cabinet aspect, I have wrestled with churches who had a history of being at odds with their clergy. And a few clergy who keep creating chaos wherever they may be. But let us all remember the ideals, the beauty, and the grace of our calling and our gifts. Of course things don’t always work well!! We are only humans. But when a pastor is hurting, it is often a much larger issue than just that one clergy because we are a whole BODY, a system that is hurting.
    I attended a seminar on this topic of appt security. One of the newly-trained clergy brought things to clear perspective. She left her successful career as an attorney, went to seminary, incurred major financial debt, sold her home and left it all behind. Seminary training is very specialized– you are not prepared for any other career. She said how can the ministry demand this sacrifice of herself, and then be told, “We may have an appointment, or we may not have an appointment for you. Just hold on and see—but don’t go anywhere else!” Security of appointment helps to ease that terrible anxiety. It’s about the basic trust in itineracy: God through The Cabinet will send you, and you will go where and when you are sent. I experienced this in every appointment, and I still believe in it.
    Security of appointment is also tied to the itinerant system, which I believe is beautiful in its purity, but is confronted now by the reality of spouses who also work and have careers, with children of sometimes divorced parents, a family member with special medical needs, or addictions, or needs of elderly parents. And so, we do the best we can–for the love of Jesus and the Glory of God!
    Being a pastor is one of the most fulfilling vocations in life. It is also very demanding of one’s Time, energy, spirituality, money, relationships, personal vulnerability, and privacy. Everyday there is another opportunity! Every night there is just one more thing that should be done. At the end of it all, I ask myself this—Am I still in Love with God? Have I helped another person today—made a difference in their life? How can I make tomorrow better, by the Spirit and the Grace of God?

  7. Rev. Kathleen McCafferty

    I also thought that perhaps this proposition came from those Conferences
    who were shrinking in size, and now found themselve with too many clergy, and not enough churches! I remember in late 1980s, we were worried about the upcoming retirement UMChurch-wide of an est, 20% of our then active clergy, and the projected shortage of pastors for ministry. Hmmmm.

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