Drew McIntyre, the (un)official leader of the non-existent non-caucus group officially known as Via Media Methodists, writes,
There is nothing sacred about itinerancy, as best as I can tell. It is an organizational habit that is no longer effective; like a post for tying up horses, it is frontier architecture to which the United Methodist Church of the 21st century has no need to retain.
Drew has three points.
- Itinerancy has changed
- Itinerancy primarily benefits single men
- Itinerancy is designed for short-term service
There is very little I need to do since experts in the area have spent some time destroying Drew’s premises.
Some background. I am a lay person. I will never go into the ordained ministry. However, I am a lay person in the United Methodist Church and as such, I have a pastor. I know pastors. I know people who have pastors. I have written before on how I feel about the itinerancy system. My opinion has changed very little, even when we have suffered the loss of our very beloved senior pastor. I do feel like my home church has changed considerably in presence because of itinerancy. And I have considered leaving.
But, getting rid of itinerancy is not the way to do it.
Instead, we need to look at the system of guaranteed appointments, that clause that requires the United Methodist Church to have a job ready for ordained elders in good standing. We’ve tried this once, in 2012, but it was overruled by the Judicial Council.
Under this new legislation, bishops and cabinets will be allowed to give elders less than full-time appointment. The legislation also would permit bishops and their cabinets, with the approval of their boards of ordained ministry and annual (regional) conference’s executive session, to put elders on unpaid transitional leave for up to 24 months. Clergy on transitional leave would be able to participate in their conference health program through their own contributions.
There is, I think, some merit to that. There are simply bad pastors – not bad people — in the ministry. You can spot them. They are emotional bullies, staying very shortly, and roaming from town to town, person to person. We have those who have forsaken their vows. We simply have some who became a minister for the wrong reasons. Frankly, there should be a way to move unhealthy people out of the ministry.
How would you protect conservative and orthodox pastors from being systemically driven out of the Western Jurisdiction? Or the progressive and liberal pastors from having to leave the Southeast? Not sure. I’m sure there is a way. Or, maybe that hasn’t happened and internal politics are never at play even in our current system.
What would this solve? I think it would free the bishops and the cabinets up from having to move people around simply because one pastor is killing churches. There is never just one pastor moved. There will have to be two or more moved. Maybe, and just maybe, you get read of the unhealthy pastor and you won’t have to move as many. This creates stability. This creates a healthy system. I believe that a longer appointment is healthy for the church — if the pastor and congregation mesh. But, sometimes appointments can be too long leading to interdependency.
Also, I would be in favor of longer appointments, more say from the Staff Parish (but not full control), and some sort of official acknowledgment that some pastors are church killers. In short, Drew has something important to say. I do not agree with him, but I do think he is on to something; however, I think we can find better ways of fixing our polity than ditching the itinerancy system.