By Thomas Lambrecht –
As might be expected, the proposed adoption of the Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation by the 2022 General Conference has provoked anxiety among clergy wanting to understand its implications for their future service in the church. This article aims to bring clarity to the multiple options clergy will face if the Protocol is adopted.
Clergy Remaining in The United Methodist Church
Clergy who desire to remain within the UM Church may do so. If the clergy person’s annual conference also remains in the UM Church, the clergy person would automatically remain UM.
If the clergy person’s annual conference votes to realign with the Global Methodist Church or another Methodist denomination formed under the Protocol, the clergy person would need to notify their district superintendent they want to remain United Methodist. Such clergy would then be reassigned to a different annual conference within the UM Church that covers the same geographic area as the separating annual conference. (The UM Church will have to redraw annual conference boundaries and/or create new annual conferences where existing annual conferences separate.)
If the remaining clergy person’s local church also desires to remain in the UM Church, that clergy person’s appointment could continue uninterrupted. Both the local church and the clergy person would remain in a continuing UM annual conference or pass into a new or different annual conference (if the current annual conference separates).
If the remaining clergy person’s local church separates from the UM Church to align with the Global Methodist Church or a different denomination, there would be two options:
1) The clergy person could be reappointed to a different congregation that desires to remain United Methodist, either in the current geographical area or (by transfer) in another annual conference.
2) With the agreement of the clergy person’s UM bishop and the bishop supervising the separating congregation, the clergy person could continue to serve that congregation on an interim basis, until a suitable appointment is found within the UM Church. Such clergy would have to abide by the provisions of the new denomination as long as they serve a congregation within it.
A clergy person remaining in the UM Church would continue their pension program with Wespath without interruption. Health insurance and other benefits would be provided through either the existing annual conference (if it remains UM) or through a new or different annual conference within the UM Church (if the existing annual conference separates from the UM Church).
Clergy Transferring to the Global Methodist Church or another Methodist Denomination
Clergy may elect to transfer to the GM Church or to another Methodist denomination formed under the Protocol. By default, the clergy person’s membership remains in their current annual conference (whatever that is), unless the clergy person requests a different affiliation.
If the clergy person’s annual conference votes to separate from the UM Church and align with the GM Church or another Methodist denomination, the clergy person would automatically have the same change of alignment without the need to make a request.
If the clergy person’s annual conference remains within the UM Church, the separating clergy person would have to request a transfer into the GM Church or another Methodist denomination. The GM Church is currently working on a vetting process to ensure that clergy desiring to transfer agree to the doctrinal standards and the social witness statements as required for all GM clergy. That vetting process also will include examination of background checks and other personnel information held by the UM Church’s bishop or district superintendent. Once the vetting process is completed and the clergy person approved, the transfer can take place.
If the clergy person’s local church also votes to align with the GM Church or the same other Methodist denomination as the clergy person, that clergy would normally continue to serve that congregation during the transition. There would be provision to appoint that clergy to a different congregation if necessary, but changes in appointment during the transition will be discouraged.
If the separating clergy person’s local church desires to remain United Methodist, that clergy would have two options:
1) The clergy person could be appointed to a different church in the new denomination under that church’s appointment process.
2) With the agreement of the clergy person’s new bishop and the UM bishop supervising the remaining congregation, the clergy person could continue to serve that congregation on an interim basis, until a suitable appointment is found within the new denomination. Such clergy would have to abide by the provisions of the UM Discipline as long as they serve a UM congregation.
A clergy person transferring into a new Methodist denomination would end their pension plan under the UM Church, while retaining all the benefits accumulated up to that date. There would be no loss of pension due to the transfer. The clergy would participate in a new pension plan sponsored by the new denomination from the date of transfer. Health insurance and other benefits would be provided through the new denomination, as well.
Retired clergy can choose to remain in the UM Church or transfer into a new Methodist denomination. Either way, their pension would continue under their current plan with Wespath. There would be no change in their pension. Any other benefits (e.g., supplemental health insurance) would depend upon what is offered by the annual conference of which they remain or become members.
Licensed Local Pastors
Licensed local pastors desiring to remain in the UM Church would be treated in the same way as other clergy outlined in the first section above.
Licensed local pastors desiring to move into the GM Church would be moving into ordained ministry, based on the level of education they have achieved in the UM Church. If their level of education through Course of Study or a seminary program meets the requirements for Deacons, they would be ordained a Deacon. If it meets the requirements for Elders, they would be ordained as an Elder. The GM Church is working on a vetting process that would approve LLP’s for ordination.
If a licensed local pastor does not yet meet the educational qualifications for Deacon’s orders, they would be grandfathered in as a licensed local pastor while they continue to work on meeting those requirements. Due to the lower educational requirements for Deacons in the GM Church, they should be able to meet those requirements relatively quickly.
Licensed local pastors ordained as Deacons would continue their educational progress through Course of Study or a seminary program until they meet the requirements for Elder’s orders. The GM Church would supervise the remaining educational program for clergy transferring to it.
Candidates for Ordained Ministry
Candidates for ordained ministry desiring to remain in the UM Church would continue in their current process. If their annual conference separates to align with a new Methodist denomination, they would request to remain United Methodist and be assigned to a new or different annual conference.
Candidates for ordained ministry desiring to align with the GM Church will be received in that church at the point in the process where they are. They would not have to repeat steps they have already taken. If their annual conference also aligns with the GM Church, they would continue with the same process under the new provisions of the GM Church. If their annual conference remains in the UM Church, they would be assigned to a new annual conference and resume their process with that new Board of Ministry. Given the lower educational requirements, they might be farther along in the process with the GM Church than they were previously in the UM Church.
Clergy Supply and Demand
At this point, it is only possible to speculate about the potential need for clergy in the denominations after separation. There is no hard data.
In many parts of the U.S., there may be more GM congregations than clergy interested in aligning with the GM Church, so there should be a healthy demand for clergy in the new denomination. This need for clergy should allay any fears occasioned by the fact the GM Church will not have a guaranteed appointment. During the transition, the appointment process will be very similar to what it currently is in the UM Church, but with greater required consultation with churches and prospective clergy.
The GM Church is also putting mechanisms into place to ensure that women and ethnic clergy will have fair and equitable treatment in the appointment process, even without the guaranteed appointment. In addition, any bishop deciding not to appoint a particular clergy person must give their written rationale for that decision. The GM Church hopes to make cross-conference appointments easier and more common, as well, spreading the supply of clergy where the needs are greatest. Finally, the GM Church intends to prioritize planting new churches, providing many new opportunities for clergy.
The United Methodist Church will continue to have a guaranteed appointment, at least in the short term. How the need for clergy will balance the number of clergy desiring to serve in the UM Church is unknown. Worst-case scenario, the need to appoint ordained clergy guaranteed an appointment could squeeze out licensed local pastors. Best-case scenario, the high retirement rate due to the age of current clergy could swiftly open up slots for younger clergy to serve. The impact of separation on whether congregations continue with full-time clergy or reduce to part-time is also unknown at this time.
For clergy desiring to remain in the UM Church, good sources of information include district superintendents, conference benefits officers, and Wespath. For clergy desiring to align with the Global Methodist Church, the Rev. Angela Pleasants (firstname.lastname@example.org) has the responsibility of overseeing the transition of clergy and congregations into the new denomination. Information is also available on the Wesleyan Covenant Association and Global Methodist Church websites.
Moving through a denominational separation could prove to be a chaotic experience. On the other side of that experience, however, there promises to be greater unity of belief and mission and greater certainty about what the future might hold. Leaders from all aspects of this situation are seeking to avoid harming individual clergy. All are determined to make a good-faith effort to move through this transition in a way that is respectful of clergy and celebrates God’s calling on each one’s life. It will take patience and perseverance to work through the many options and permutations to get to a better place. We are convinced that such efforts will put both the UM Church and the GM Church in a much better position to fruitfully carry out the mission with which God has entrusted them.