So, I listened to a little punditry about what that outcome holds for the future. It made me think of gridlock. Which made me think of General Conference 2012. And the recent Judicial Council decisions, especially the most recent involving “guaranteed appointment.” Feelings about “guaranteed” appointment seem roughly to parallel the vulnerability people feel about health care services and social security in our wider society.
Christian or not, United Methodist or not, we share the anxiety of an uncertain future. We Christians/United Methodists hold this sense of personal and social fragility in common with people of all, any and no religious faith.
As spiritual leaders have said so often because it is so true and wise: the problem is not that we suffer the same slings and arrows as other folks. We do. Being a follower of Jesus does not protect us from harm or tragedy. It’s how we respond to the tragedies that is supposed to set Christians (United Methodists) apart. It is part of how we bear witness to the goodness of the Good News, to the steadfast love of the Lord. Not what happens to us, but how we respond to what happens.
I have lots of opinions, but I worry when I’m offering an opinion about a topic for which it seems I have no skin in the game. And “guaranteed” appointment is one of them.
Although I am under appointment, I serve in a ministry beyond the local church. I’m “out of the rotation” of clergy in congregational appointments. I have a great job. I have wonderful colleagues and enjoy the comforts of a middle class life.
Now. It hasn’t always been this way. The first 1/3 of my ministry, while Joni and I were having kids and I was in and out of school, I made essentially minimum salary. At nearly age 40, as an ordained elder with pastoral experience, with four children in school, after returning to the annual conference following Ph.D. studies, I served a rural, minimum salary appointment. We counted pennies every month. We paid the bills, but saved no money.
I’m not complaining. We loved every one of the places we served. They are filled with wonderful people and good friends. I’m trying to show that I know firsthand what it feels like to be financially exposed and vulnerable, unsure if the system will allow me to feed my family and do my ministry at the same time.
So, hopefully, I have enough “street cred” to say a hard, but true thing. However the system treats us, it is secondary to The Call. It is secondary to the One we serve. If we really believe that Jesus is Lord; if we love the Triune God and have given our lives to the Call, then we must trust the One who promises to uphold us with that steadfast love. It means loosening our expectations for security while we serve God’s purposes. Isn’t this what we promised in our ordination vows?
Young people, you need to know this, too. If you’re thinking about going into United Methodist ministry, you are going to be inconvenienced and stressed. You are going to have to live with and love and serve with people who are older and different in viewpoint, who don’t understand you, even while they’re happy to have you as a “young minister.” Any sort of Christian ministry has its challenges, but especially in these days, in many places within United Methodism, if you serve, you will have a very, very hard job. And yes, the bishop can tell you where to go. You need to know going in that you are called by God(!) to that particular ministry. And if you are, you need to be willing to suffer.
We older clergy need to make it not so hard for young people to serve. That’s a topic for another post. But more importantly, right now, we older clergy need to model faithful Christian witness in our vocations. In other words, we need to stop complaining about getting a raw deal from the system.
We United Methodists have to regain some perspective. We have to stop complaining about all the bad things. (I don’t mean that we have to stop criticizing in order to get better! Constructive criticism and clear-headed analysis is crucial for positive change.) Jesus is Lord. Period.
I try to say these words at least once a year and every time I do, I choke up: “Put me to what thou wilt. Rank me with whom thou wilt. Put me to doing; put to me suffering. Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee, exalted by thee or laid aside by thee… I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal…”
United Methodist clergy: we’ve all prayed this prayer. May we live it. God bless us all.