There’s so much to talk about today that I just can’t do it all in one blog. A couple of bullet points will give you a hint:
1. Although today is the Lord’s Day, we didn’t break for the day. We had worship in the morning and then carried on with business.
2. Saw a video of the 40 year anniversary of the ending of the Central Jurisdiction (African-American) with the creation of the UM Church in 1968.
3. Growing Central Conferences (outside the USA) are really putting the pressure on US United Methodists to share the power.
As a reserve delegate, I got to spend the whole day subbing for somebody, first in the plenary session, then in a legislative committee. It happens to be the one I’m most interested in: higher education and ministry. One of the pieces of legislation we approved, which is very exciting is the formation of a new mission conference in Malawi. The church is growing!
The big news out of this committee today was something that might not seem so big, but it is…and it’s never a done deal until the whole General Conference (plenary session) votes, later in the week. The committee voted to approve a constitutional amendment that would give licensed local pastors the right to vote in the election of General and Jurisdictional Conference delegates. This is a big deal and it provides me the chance to give you a little window into United Methodist clergy that is something like a dirty little secret.
In our church, there are basically two tracks for meeting educational requirements: (1) Course of Study and (2) seminary. People who go to seminary are on the track to become elders and full members of annual conference. ‘Scuse the church jargon. The point is that there is a decided political advantage to being an elder/full member. If you’re a licensed local pastor (Course of Study, not seminary), one of the most potentially frustrating meetings of the year is our annual conference. There’s quite a bit of stuff local pastors can’t vote on; only elders/full members get to vote – like who can be ordained, which clergy represent the annual conference at General Conference and constitutional amdendments. If you’re a licensed local pastor, you can do everything an elder does in your local church, BUT at annual conference, you cannot vote on those issues I just mentioned.
I’ve long been sensitive to this two-tier system. My Dad was an Associate Member of annual conference. Today, he’d be called a licensed local pastor, full-time. If he were alive and active in the annual conference now, he would not have been able to vote for his son (and elder and full member) or anyone else as a delegate for General Conference. Lay people vote on lay people. Elders vote on clergy. Licensed local pastors don’t vote on anybody.
If the constitutional amendment gets approved, this picture will change. Politically and practically, it will spread the power more evenly. But it raises some interesting questions (I guess I’m in a numbering mood):
1. What does this move do to orders? What does it mean to be “ordained” to the order of elder? What is implied in this order beyond just practical matters about conference membership and voting?
2. What does ordination actually means? Am I holier, more mature as a Christian, more skilled, more anything, than a licensed local pastor? I say “no” without hesitation. There’s nothing that automatically sets me apart just because of my academic credentials. So, the only difference between me – an elder – and a licensed local pastor (I’m leaving out some important qualifications, but I don’t want to get too technical) is education. I have more formal education that my friends who are licensed local pastor.
3. So, does ordination have to do, at the end of the day, merely with educational level? Of course not. Well, what?
I don’t know yet. Stay tuned.