The Itinerant Clergy System of the #UMC is evil

Stripped image of John Wesley

Stripped image of John Wesley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As many of you know, I now attend a United Methodist Church, a place that has become our home. To say we enjoy it, or like it, are both understatements. Further, you know where we have come from – the dank, musty hiding place of superstition and cult behavior, fundamentalism.

When we first stepped foot into the doors of Christ Church United Methodist, it was during the annual conference, meaning the pastoral staff was away. The second time, the former associate pastor was preaching his final sermon. The next time, we were introduced to the Rev. Shauna M. Hyde. This was our first encounter with a “woman preacher.” To be honest, I didn’t know how I was going to handle it given that I was raised to believe women were better in front of the stove or behind their husband rather than behind the pulpit.

To shrink this story to where I can make my point quicker, we came to enjoy Shauna and know Shauna quite well. Further, my daughter came to really like Shauna and has spent several days helping her at Tent Town or this or that. In other words, Shauna became a leader for us, a mentor for Abigael, and frankly, someone who helped blossom us. Shauna is one that embodied for us the communal (awareness and responsibility) expression of Christianity we were looking for.

We had to tell Abigael that Shauna would be moving sooner than we thought. And with several buckets of tears washed away, I get to turn introspective for a moment. My fear with hearing that the lead pastor was to ever leave — although he has already established an expiration date for himself — was to wonder if I would still like Christ Church. I know this is the same feelings some of my family have about Shauna. The simple answer is, of course, sure we will. I guess.

This is not the pastors’ church. Even with the episcopal system in place, this is still very much the congregation’s church. Previously for us, it was the pastor’s church. You didn’t cross the pastor, you had no free will, nothing. What the pastor said, was what the congregation did and believed. So, when you lose a pastor, you’ve lost your church, or as with the case of one parishioner at the former church, you lose your mind. But, what about here? If we lose a pastor, is Christ Church still the same?

Have we lost the heart and soul, leadership, drive, and the like, if we lose a pastor?

No… no of course not. Some of us will be rather mournful for a while, and others may not care, given that this is the however-many-it-is-now pastor to come and go. And others may mourn with each passing of the pastor. They are not ours to keep, but God’s to send where he so pleases. But, coming from the fundamentalist church where a great fear was what to do if you wake up one morning and the pastor is dead (because pastors don’t leave usually because no one kicks them out), having to face this soon into our new residence the changing of the guard is a rather emotional thing.

So, I bid Shauna well into her new role as senior pastor in a church somewhere else and I know that she will continue to bless Christians, the United Methodist Church, and us (also, she’s an Energion author). Further, I bid Darick, our present youth leader, success as well. As Kathy who has retired, and the others… July 1 will mean big changes for our congregation, with new faces, and new leaders, and new directions. We’ll survive because we are Methodists now. We don’t follow the leader, we follow Christ. We do not have dictators, we have pastors who will come and go, and shepherd us along the way.

No, the itinerant program is not evil. Today, I am not a fan of it. But, it serves its purposes to insure that the Church is not a social club where we can join the cult of a pastoral personality. Instead, we go to our church to a part of the wider community. We entrench ourselves there and will outlast pastors and others who must by necessity come and go. I am saddened at the expression of Methodism today, but I am reminded that this is what has prolonged Methodism, that we focus on Christ, rather than the pastor — that it is not the pastor who is supposed to be the heart and soul of the congregation, but the Spirit knitting us together.

So, no. The program is not evil, but welcomed.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Post By Joel Watts (10,059 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Website: → Unsettled Christianity

Connect

3 thoughts on The Itinerant Clergy System of the #UMC is evil

  1. Thanks for this wonderful reflection on Methodist itineracy – speaking as someone on the other side of this dilemma – it can be really hard leaving a congregation you love and handing over the reigns to another pastor, not knowing what might happen. It’s also hard coming into a new church having to learn all the new names, faces and old traditions, while also challenging the congregation go grow faithfully in new directions. For both clergy and lay, itineracy is a experience of grace knowing that God’s power and presence extends far beyond our attempts to be “in control.” Prayers for your family, your congregation, and for the clergy (outgoing and incoming) in the midst of this transition.

    • Thanks, Mark, for the reply to the post. The ‘tween’ time is especially hard for both clergy and laity. But thank God for the grieving–it reminds us how valuable was that time in our lives together; and thank God for the anticipation–the hope, the excitement in the new adventures ahead. Both are wrought with stress, but indeed, as Joel pointed out so well, the itinerant system helps us remain Christ-centered, rather than fraught with pastor-centeredness. The going out and the coming in are tender times for all involved, and Christ himself calls us to be compassionate in all things.

Leave a Reply, Please!