aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Methodist shoptalk

I have heard it said that when the Methodist Episcopal Church -- ancestor of The UMC -- was organized in 1784, they modeled their governing structure on the American constitution; the problem was, the constitution then in effect was the Articles of Confederation, which is why we have such a strong legislative branch (General Conference) and such a weak executive (the bishops). This is twaddle. A Methodist bishop was, and is, possessed of more executive power than any other similar officer in any other Christian church. It's just that back in 1784, we only had one bishop and one conference. (Well, two bishops, if you're counting Coke.)

Within that Conference, Bishop Asbury was supreme in his executive authority. Even after we found distances too much to have only one conference, the bishop(s) would itinerate among them, which tended to keep the number of bishops low and their personal clout very high. What changed was the not the power of the bishops, but their desire to have their cake and eat it, too. Even as pastors got tired of riding circuit among multiple congregations, so bishops wanted to have to preside over only one annual conference each. When North and South Indiana merged to form the Indiana Annual Conference, our bishop finally got to have a "station" appointment instead of a "two-point charge." As far as I can make out, that's the only improvement anyone can boast of having achieved in the whole muddle of the last five years.

In addition to the expansion in the number of conferences, the creation of General Agencies has given us a perpetual bureaucracy with a) interests which are capable of differentiating themselves from that of the church at large, i.e., the people in the pews, and b) thirteen General Secretaries, each of which wants the independence and power of a bishop over his or her little fiefdom. The whole kerfuffle over restructuring we've been going through has been an attempt to increase the power of our already powerful bishops and reduce the power of General Secretaries. Those of us who toil in the hinterlands like the latter idea, but think the former a dangerous thing.

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