Methodist court reaffirms guaranteed appointments

The United Methodist Church is struggling with the issue of job security for clergy. The Wall Street Journal has the story.

The United Methodist Church’s highest court halted a plan by church leadership to essentially end job security for 31,000 “elders,” or ordained clergy, in a Sunday ruling.

The judicial council of the nation’s largest mainline protestant denomination, with 7.9 million members, said “abolishing security of appointment would destroy our historic plan” and upend a long-standing “tradition of the United Methodist Church.”

“I’m frustrated, I’m saddened, and I’m disappointed,” said Bishop Al Gwinn, who argued on behalf of 200 bishops, after Sunday’s ruling. “The church is upside down in that we are so focused on clergy, clergy rights and clergy security that the church can’t be in mission.”

The council overturned a May decision by the church’s main legislative body to end so-called guaranteed appointments. The policy calls for giving ordained pastors in good standing a ministry assignment until mandatory retirement at age 72.

As mainline denominations shrink, a loss of job security and a diminishment of the economic prospects of our clergy is probably unavoidable. How is this issue likely to present itself most forcefully in the Episcopal Church? Can we continue to expect clergy to incur significant debt to train for a vocation that may not offer them an opportunity to repay that debt? Can cash-strapped parishes with average Sunday attendance in the 50s or 60s afford a full time clergy person who receives a 17% pension? Can someone point us toward people who are considering these questions in brave and though provoking ways?

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