Wednesday, October 31, 2012

It Isn't About The Church, Either

N.B.: If you aren't a United Methodist, you might want to skip over this one.  Then again, it does have importance beyond our denomination, as the title suggests.

A cornerstone of my own thinking about pretty much everything is that most of the Universe has little to nothing to do with me.  The world doesn't exist for me; other people are not the source either of my misery or happiness; things that occur in the world do so without either my consent or my approval.

I extend this idea to other areas as well.   Speaking as a United Methodist Christian, I cannot help but wonder why it is people seem to insist our Church exists to fulfill their needs.  It doesn't.  The Church is the gathered, called people of God, those who believe the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ has meaning for the world, and want to share that with everyone.  For all its faults and failures, the UMC is still an effective tool used by God to spread the Word that Infinite Love is more powerful than death.

This past April, at our quadrennial General Conference, legislation was approved that removed "security of appointment".  Now, if you're not clergy, or worse, not UMC, this means that, prior to this legislation, once a person went through all the hoops and over the hurdles to reach full clergy membership as an Elder, the Bishop had to appoint you to a church.  Usually referred to as "guaranteed appointment", that system was overturned in Tampa.

Our Supreme Judicial Council has overturned that legislation, saying it violates what are known as "the restrictive rules" of our Constitution.  In other words, they took solace in legalisms, even as they made a clear statement that our denomination understands the many processes that lead to full clergy membership in an Annual Conference are not to be tampered with lightly.

I saw much commentary about this decision, both for and against.  I howled with laughter at the number of people who were outraged, because "something has to be done."  As John Meunier says in the simplest statement of this position, "I do fear that our systems are so dysfunctional that any solution would be impossible to actually implement."

There are many things wrong with the United Methodist Church.  The matter of security of appointment, however, just isn't one of them.  All those folks who carry on about "ineffective clergy" make me wonder - have you read an evaluation of your own ministry lately?  Are you willing, in prayer and humility, to be honest about the many faults and failures in your life of service?  Every single person moaning about "something needing to be done" about "all those other ineffective clergy" should really, really worry because these same sentiments might be harbored about their own ministry, then it's here's your hat what's your hurry.

Also, for John and others like him, what, precisely is "dysfunctional" about the United Methodist Church that could be fixed by some Administrative, Legislative, or Judicial Action (apart from removing the horrid language about "homosexuality", and opening ordination to all God's people)?  Everyone says that, you know: "The UMC is broken!"  All my life, most especially my adult life as a theologically educated clergy spouse, I've been hearing that, and I keep waiting for someone to tell me in what way, exactly.  How's our denomination different than any other, if the criteria is failure of faithfulness and top-heavy, maze-like bureaucracies?  You remove what we have, it won't be too long before it's replaced by something under another name that operates pretty much the same way.

The best argument for security of appointment isn't a practical one.  I've been around clergy for over 20 years and I'm waiting to meet one who became a United Methodist because of it.  I've known clergy who were outstanding, then moved to another appointment and flopped miserably.  I've known clergy who were lazier than my dog, yet still had effective ministries.

BECAUSE IT ISN'T ABOUT US, PEOPLE!  Effectiveness is a horrible word, one of those meaningless terms from management theory that can fit anyone's set of ideas about "what's best".  Except, alas, clergy don't serve "anyone".  They serve God by serving the people of God.  Sometimes they do it really well.  Sometimes they make a dog's breakfast of it.  They keep plugging away, and the denomination keeps sending them forth not because they're ideal.

Because they're called by God.

The things that are wrong with the United Methodist Church do need to be addressed.  We aren't as loving or open as we claim in our ad campaigns.  Our denomination still reeks of racism and sexism even as we struggle to be faithful to our members who are sexual minorities.  Our local churches can become toxic holes of bitterness over petty slights and money and bad interpersonal relationships.  These aren't things that are either unique to us or that can be "fixed".

Stop making it about us.  Stop thinking there's a solution out there.  Be faithful, serve as God calls us all to serve, in the way first set up by John Wesley who got people out in the streets and the mines and in to homes to read the Scriptures and be with one another to uphold one another in the faith.  

Virtual Tin Cup

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