By Jessica Connor
In one of the more significant actions of General Conference 2012, the body voted to end guaranteed appointments for clergy with no discussion in the least.
The decision, which came the day after a great deal of discussion about lifetime appointments of United Methodist bishops, caused a flurry of reaction
Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites were swarmed with stunned comments by pastors and laity who seemed to say the same thing: no matter how you felt about guaranteed appointments, no matter your concerns about clergy effectiveness, ending the legislation with no debate left many in the body in stunned disbelief.
Not all of the hurt comes from loss of guaranteed appointment. It comes from the fact that we didn t even get to discuss it, one woman tweeted.
Until now, United Methodist pastors were guaranteed an appointment in their conference. But legislation to end security of appointments passed the Ministry and Higher Education Committee. The legislation was placed on the GC2012 consent calendar for Tuesday morning, and many assumed the legislation would get pulled off the consent calendar for separate debate and vote on the floor. But a double signature made that request invalid, and instead, the legislation remained on the consent calendar and was voted in with the rest of the items in a chunk.
Just like that, there were no more guaranteed appointments.
Reeling from the speedy action, clergy and laity were posting one after another on Twitter, Facebook and blogs expressing support and fervent disagreement.
Late Tuesday morning, a delegate made a motion to reconsider the legislation in order to give full voice to those with concerns.
But in a surprising decision, the body voted overwhelmingly not to reconsider the legislation. Guaranteed appointment is now gone.
I m stunned that the vote was so large for not reconsidering the legislation, said the Rev. Ken Nelson, South Carolina delegate who served on the Ministry and Higher Education Committee. We had such a long conversation yesterday about lifetime appointments for episcopal leaders, but we re not willing to have any conversation about security of appointments.
Nelson said while he knows there are a significant number of people concerned about ineffective clergy leadership, he does not think the reconsideration was voted down because people are overwhelmingly against the issue.
Rather, he said, People are concerned about finishing legislation and getting onto other matters like church restructuring.
Nelson said the ministry study commission has been looking at doing away with guaranteed appointments for the past four years. While it stems from concern about clergy ineffectiveness, many were also concerned whether bishops would fairly appoint women and persons of color.
I was one of those persons who had real reserves about whether we had put in measures to guard against episcopal leaders who (might not appoint women and people of color fairly), Nelson said.
Nelson worked on the committee to be sure there was a monitoring system in place to be sure no group was singled out in the appointment process “ what he calls a starting point.
What the change means for South Carolina, Nelson said: Pastors will now need to demonstrate effectiveness, which could bring a great deal of anxiety for pastors and churches.
He said the church will have to monitor appointment-making faithfully to be sure there is consistency across the board and clergy are given the opportunity to demonstrate fruitfulness before they lose their appointment.
Simply throwing the baby out with the bath water is not the solution, Nelson said. How do you define what is ineffective? I don t think it s quite clear.
The Rev. Tim Rogers, another S.C. delegate, said the church will likely not know for a couple of years exactly what it did with this legislation.
It s not clear to me that we ve done away with security of appointment, said Rogers on his reading of the legislation. We ve adjusted the process and made it easier to remove people from the process.