Some churches have a “call system” for their clergy. Members of the church, or a committee within the church, will seek out resumes of pastors who may be open to a move. They will do interviews. They’ll let the clergy preach a Sunday or two…to “kick the tires.” Then, when a decision is made they’ll call the best candidate to be their pastor. This way the church gets who they think is the best of the bunch for their perceived needs. It’s not perfect. Sometimes churches, just like any organization, wrongly understand their needs. And it also means that, when things go badly, they are forced to “fire” their pastor and start again.
United Methodists do it differently. This is partly because of that whole “United” part of “United Methodism.” It’s because United Methodists are a “connectional” church, where the perceived needs of the local congregation–while still important–are secondary. Instead, the perceived needs of the larger church or the conference of churches, must be taken into consideration. We’re “connected” to each other. Therefore, instead of a “call” system, United Methodist are “sent.” Our Bishop (with a lot of guidance from a more local Superintendent, the local church, the clergy, and GOD) sends clergy to the churches where vacancies exist. The assignment is called “an appointment.” It’s not perfect. But, when things go wrong, there is the freedom to move a clergyperson to another church and try again, perhaps taking new things into consideration.
Traditionally, this “sending” happened frequently.
“Back in the day” Methodist preachers moved around every quarter or so. There were no five-year appointments to particular churches or charges (more than one church). Every three months or so, they’d be assigned someplace new. This was torture for any pastor who had a family. (But it had to keep things exciting.)
But as the church grew and got more settled, pastors started staying longer in appointments. Every year at annual conference (usually in the summer months), a list of churches and the clergy assigned to them for the coming year would be read. It was a yearly ordeal. And it was often a surprise to the clergy and their families. I’ve heard tale of the reading of appointments at the close of annual session in the old days. The Bishop would read the list of names and the churches where they were going. Sometimes there would be cheers or sighs of relief. In other instances, as the Bishop read “Rev. John Scott — appointed to First Church Nowheresville” there would be a shriek of agony from the balcony as the spouse learned they were headed to a horrible town or or horrible region or far away from family.
Even this past Sunday I was chatting with the son of a United Methodist preacher from the 1950s. He said that his dad was often aware of a move before annual conference time, but was often unaware of where he was going. He might have known three places where he might be assigned, and he had his favorite, but he wouldn’t know for sure until it was read.
We don’t work quite this way anymore. Bishops are much more attuned to family needs now. Spouses often work and need to stay by jobs. It’s just mean to pull kids out of one school and into another at times. Sometimes there are medical concerns that keep persons close to certain areas. And the general consensus is that longer pastorates are better for churches as well. So, while stays tend to be pretty short in Alaska, we move around a lot less than we used to. So far, I’ve had appointments of 3 years (Frankfort, Indiana), 3 years, (Kenai, Alaska), and 12.5 years (Girdwood, Alaska).
All this is to say that, as of Saturday night, I’ve officially been appointed to the churches at Seward and Moose Pass for another year. I knew this was coming. It’s what I want. It’s what the churches want (but you’d have to ask them to be sure). It’s what my family wants. And I’ll assume that, since we have church and pastor and Superintendent and Bishop on the same page, that it’s what God wants as well.
There were no shrieks from the balcony on Saturday night.
I’m ready to begin a new year as the pastor in this place.