I don’t suppose I could hope for a denomination that reflected my desires perfectly. But a document written by those who have suffered under and/or tried to work around the existing order of things is likely to go for novelty or restrict supervision according to the predilections of those writing it. I’m different. I’d like to go back to the pre-1996 clergy system and reform that.
It may be a vain exercise, but allow me to say what I would do, if I had the power to set our course in a renewed Methodism.
First, I would make a distinction between Conference Membership and Ordination. We have had a bad habit of writing union shop rules when we should have been doing theology. With that said, I would have three classes of Conference Members.
Full Members of Conference would be both lay and clergy. Lay Members would be elected by their home charges or by Districts as Equalizing Members for the quadrennium. Clergy Members would be the fully-qualified clergy, and their membership would continue lifelong, even on sabbatical or special appointment and in retirement. All Full Members of Conference would be allowed to vote on all matters properly before them, including constitutional amendments and election of General Conference delegates; Clergy Full Members would also be allowed to vote on the character and credentials of other clergy. All Full Members would be eligible for election to General Conference; Clergy Full Members would also be eligible for election to the Board of Ordained Ministry.
Some clergy would be Probationary Members. These are those who have their minimum schooling for their positions. They would have to serve a period under intense supervision before applying for Full Membership. They would be time-limited; that is, they would have a maximum number of years to achieve Full Membership or be dropped from the process. Probationary Members could vote on everything except constitutional amendments, election of GC delegates, and the character and credentials of other clergy.
All Local Pastors serving churches under a license would automatically be Associate Members. Associate Members could vote on everything except constitutional amendments, election of GC delegates, and the character and credentials of other clergy. They would not be time-limited, but their membership would be contingent upon their serving under appointment.
Certified Lay Speakers/Ministers serving as supply pastors would NOT be considered clergy, and would have no vote at Annual Conference. They could, of course, be elected as Lay Members by their home churches or as Equalizing Members by their Districts. In those cases, they would be Lay Full Members of the Conference.
This may seem like I am privileging Full Members more than we do these days. I am. But hold on, and you’ll see that by separating ordination from membership I would create a more fluid and just set of relationships than we have now.
So, let’s talk about ordination.
The ministry of an Elder is that of Word, Sacrament, and Order. It includes Preaching and Teaching; indeed, the presbyterate in our system is the primary teaching authority, not the episcopate. (We keep exalting bishops as if they were Catholic metropolitans, but that’s not our model.) Elders also have unlimited sacramental faculties; most also concentrate on the cure of souls. Elders also have a ministry of supervision of other clergy; this is what “order” refers to, above, not the fact that they are members of an order. Elders can serve as Presiding Elders and District Superintendents. Elders can be elected Bishop. Elders are the majority of mentors and BOOM members.
Bishops in our system are modeled after John Wesley, not Ignatius of Antioch. They appoint the clergy to their places of labor. The preside over Conference (and trials, and other things). The travel the connection. They ordain at the direction of the Conference. Bishop is not a separate order of ministry; a bishop is an elder with special responsibilities. They retain all the abilities of elders (e.g., sacramental faculties).
Historically, Deacons have fulfilled several purposes. Some are ordained to specialist ministries, especially with the poor. Others have concentrated on liturgical service (our nearest equivalent would be a Minister of Music). Others have concentrated on Christian Education. Prior to 1996, Deacon was also a transitional status on the way to Elder: the Deacon was ordained to assist and understudy the Elder. Deacons used to be authorized to baptize; all are authorized to preach. I would give to all Deacons, whatever their particular calling, the same status and ministerial privileges. Those serving under appointment as pastors would be allowed to celebrate the sacraments within their parish.
Licensed Local Pastors are unordained clergy. At the Bishop’s discretion (which is usual), they are allowed to baptize and celebrate communion within their “parish”; that is, for those who are their parishioners. If they give up their appointment, they lose the ability to perform ministerial functions. They are clergy-by-courtesy. Most are pastors, but a few are chaplains. We have allowed this category of clergy to multiply and to become institutionalized. I would make it a much more transitional status.
How it would work, in practice:
Any lay member of a local church could attend training and become a Certified Lay Speaker/Minister. These persons could serve at the Presiding Elder’s or Superintendent’s discretion as a supply pastor, without sacramental privileges.
A lay member of a local church of two years’ standing or more, could apply to become a Ministerial Candidate. Being a CLS would not be a pre-requisite. The Charge Conference and District Committee on Ministry would both have to approve this person to enter candidacy. The approved candidate would then commence working on one’s educational requirements. For some, the initial education requirement would be completion of Local Pastors School, followed by Course of Study; while working on the COS, the Local Pastor could serve a charge and be an Associate Member of Conference. Other candidates might find it more convenient to go straight to seminary or other professional schooling (for specialists). A seminarian could serve as a Student Local Pastor and be an Associate Member. Someone working on other professional schooling could serve as a Student Minister in one’s specialty and be an Associate Member.
Upon completion of COS, an MDiv, or other professional schooling for one’s specialty, one would be eligible for election to Probationary Membership and Deacon’s Orders. A period of supervision and evaluation would follow. At the conclusion of that time, all three sorts of Probationary Members would be eligible to be elected to Full Membership. Those who went the MDiv route would be eligible to be ordained Elder; the others would remain permanent Deacons (but with Full Membership). Full Deacons who went the COS route would be able to complete the Advanced COS and apply for Elder’s Orders; furthermore, the Advanced COS would not require the completion of a full bachelor's degree to begin it.
I have a high view of ordination, but not an elitist one. I think we would benefit from a clear teaching on ordination. And I think we would do better quality control if we moved people along to the where they need to be. And if you are going to give your whole life to the pastorate, and we recognize and employ you in that endeavor, then you and we together need to figure out how to move you to the status you should have.
Summary of Process
Membership in local church > Charge Conference approval > District Committee approval > Candidate > one of three tracks
Candidate > Local Pastors School > Service of Local Pastor w/ Associate Membership in Conference > Begin COS > Complete COS > Probationary Membership, Deacon’s Orders > Full Membership (> Option to do Advanced COS > Elder’s Orders)
Candidate > Begin seminary (> Option to serve as Student Local Pastor w/ Associate Membership in Conference) > Complete MDiv > Probationary Membership, Deacon’s Orders > Full Membership, Elder’s Orders
Candidate > Begin other professional schooling (> Option to serve as Student Minister w/ Associate Membership in Conference) > Completion of professional schooling > Probationary Membership, Deacon’s Orders > Full Membership