As the 2012 General Conference of The United Methodist Church (UMC) began its work on legislations and petitions, Upper New York Area Resident Bishop Marcus Matthews was one of the bishops who convened the legislative committees on Wednesday afternoon, April 25, that will work on the proposals before they get to the plenary session.
Bishop Matthews, who is also president of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, was responsible for convening the Higher Education committee and supervising the election of officers for the committee.
Those elected to lead the Higher Education committee were David Bard as chair, Anthony Dioh as vice chair and Lisa Garvin as secretary. Nathaniel Bishop, Laura Merrill and Amy Gearhart were elected as subcommittee chairs.
The Rev. Michelle Bogue-Trost, co-pastor of the Saratoga Springs UMC, was nominated for one of the subcommittee chair positions but was not elected. Bishop Matthews called on colleagues from the Upper New York Cabinet to lead the organization of the Higher Education committee. Mohawk District Superintendent Sung Ho Lee and Director of Communications Maidstone Mulenga were both asked to lead prayers before the elections.
The Rev. Nola Greig Anderson, who pastors West Avenue and Grace United Methodist churches in Rochester, was one of the vote counters during the Higher Education committee elections. Rev. Anderson is volunteering as one of the pages and marshals at the General Conference.
The main task of the Higher Education committee is to look at legislation pertaining to ministry, ordinations and other clergy matters. Top on the agenda for the committee is the 2008–2012 Commission to Study the Ministry list of recommendations. Chief among them is eliminating appointment guarantees for ordained elders, while retaining the ability of bishops to move clergy to different assignments and churches.
Guaranteed appointments are a major contributor to mediocrity and ineffectiveness, the ministry study commission said, and guaranteeing all elders an appointment restricts the flexibility of bishops to appoint the most effective person for each congregation. As some churches struggle to survive and some conferences have an oversupply of ordained clergy, guaranteed appointments have become a barrier to achieving the church’s mission, according to the commission.
While the Book of Discipline does not use the phrase “guaranteed appointments,” it states that elders in good standing, who honor their covenant to the itinerancy, effectively fulfill their ministerial duties and attend to continuing education requirements “shall” be continued to be appointed. The proposal changes the language to “may” continue to be appointed.
The commission recommends each annual conference determine a clear definition of clergy effectiveness and a method for evaluating effectiveness and the mission needs of communities.
The Higher Education committee will also consider proposed procedures to address concerns about clergy ineffectiveness. Under the proposal, a corrective plan between the bishop and the clergy person will be initiated after concerns are identified. If that plan is not carried out as directed or fails to produce the desired result, the bishop and district superintendents may place the clergy person on “administrative location,” which removes the clergy’s conference membership.
To help ensure that women and racial-ethnic clergy are treated fairly, the commission proposed that the jurisdictional committees on episcopacy meet annually to review and evaluate the commitment of the bishops in their jurisdictions to open itinerancy.
Also for consideration by the Higher Education committee are recommendations for streamlining the candidacy process. If approved by delegates, candidates could be eligible for ordination as soon as they complete their educational requirements. After serving at least two years as a provisional elder or deacon, they would be eligible for full conference membership.
*Maidstone Mulenga is the director of communications for the Upper New York Annual Conference.