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Thoughts on the Ministry Study – Tom Popp

April 3, 2012

So what about the “Ministry Study,” whose proposals would “streamline” the process toward ordination of elders in full connection, remove their security of appointment, move ordination to the time of provisional membership, and restrict some of the authority of licensed local pastors, among other things? A few thoughts.

More questions are raised than answered by the “Ministry Study,” in my opinion. We are left to wonder how it would all work. Although a change of direction may be necessary, to take a new road without a good map could easily land us in a worse place than where we would have gone. Who knows? Confusion won’t help get us to get where we want to be.

While it is desirable, for example, to find a way to deal with “ineffective” clergy (not defined), would the elimination of security of appointment give bishops and cabinets too much latitude with good clergy when “political” issues arise, as they so often do? And how would clergy be protected when conferences are over supplied with elders in full connection? For that matter, would the meaning of the phrase “in full connection” change, and if so, what would it become? Would such a change make the clergy covenant one-sided and unfair? Young people considering the ministry in our denomination face years of schooling and huge debt; what message would we be sending to them if we were to remove the security of their future appointments?

As for “streamlining” the process of becoming ordained, I can only reflect that your Wisconsin Board of Ordained Ministry has considered this question more than once and has consistently concluded that shortening the time makes no sense. It takes years to form pastoral identity. And even after years of preparation, some candidates are still not ready, a situation which is very difficult for all. This proposal does not serve the church well. However, the proposal within this topic to establish a candidate orientation process strikes me as excellent, provided it is implemented in a way that is appropriate for each conference and thus truly useful for the candidates.

One of the profound responsibilities of the Board of Ordained Ministry in every conference is to say “no” to candidates who are not well-suited for ordination. This is virtually always a deeply troubling, traumatic decision. The goal of your Wisconsin Board is to make this decision, if it has to be made, at the earliest possible opportunity, to spare the candidate and everyone involved the pain of having to make it at a time when even more years have been invested. Even so, it is sometimes necessary to make this decision at the time of the final interview before full membership. To move ordination to an earlier stage, specifically to the time of provisional membership, would only make things that much more difficult for all. My opinion is that ordination should be at the time of full membership, not earlier, as the “Ministry Study” proposes.

I would oppose the idea of reducing the ability of licensed local pastors to serve the sacraments. There are many United Methodists who are served by licensed local pastors, and to restrict access to the sacraments for these congregants seems to oppose, not enhance, the mission of the church.

Overall, while I endorse several features, like the culture of call, I oppose the adoption of the “Ministry Study” as it has been proposed.

Tom Popp

  1. Wesley White permalink

    Thanks, Tom –

    You have put your fingers on several significant and problematic issues that would lead one to not support this proposal in its current form. You have also indicated some nuggets within the proposal that need to be positively dealt with. Blessings on folks as they work their way through affirming the helpful and dismissing those over-reactions trying to use an impersonal structural approach to deal with personnel matters.

    • Tom Popp permalink

      Good to have your response here, Wes. Thanks are especially due to you for all the hard work you have done to sort and winnow the proposals that will be before the General Conference, work that is extraordinarily useful to the delegation as it seeks faithfully to determine how to vote on so many issues.

  2. dave werner permalink

    Thanks, Tom, for your comments! While i have not read the proposal–and in my retired state probably will not, i do think you have some very helpful questions and comments. i certainly appreciate any possibility of “saying ‘No'” sooner rather than later and agree that licensed local pastors need to be able to share sacraments.


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