But part of what we talked about is how my sense of calling and responsibility -- my "orders" (in the ecclesiological sense) -- intersect with our private plans. So we wound up rehashing what I had posted earlier about my place in the UM ministry: Going? Staying? Retiring?
Herewith, some thoughts on the United Methodist clergy, and my plans within that group.
1. As a UM elder, I have two primary areas of responsibility, neither of which is to be neglected for the other. First, I have a responsibility to the people in my appointment. Second, I have a responsibility to my colleagues in the covenant community (the "Congregation of the Clergy," the Executive Session of Annual Conference, call it what you will).
2. My current appointment is to a pastorate. But it could as easily be to an administrative/supervisory job, to a chaplaincy, to the mission field, to a teaching appointment, etc. That depends, in part, on my sense of call. But it also depends, explicitly, on the bishop appointing me to that job. Even if I'm an ABLOC ("Appointment Beyond the LOcal Church") and secure my own position, as an elder and full member of the Annual Conference, the bishop must appoint me to that position.
3. My responsibility to my fellow clergy as an elder and member of AC is to mentor new clergy, to vote in Conference (and the Executive Session thereof), to serve at the Bishop's or Supt's nomination and my fellows' election on the Board of Ordained Ministry, the District Committee on Ministry (a subordinate body), a Committee on Investigation, a Trial Court, etc. I am responsible for voting on the character and credentials of new clergy, even if my vote is only one of hundreds. And I have a responsibility to seek out new clergy, and to fulfill my personal ministry as an ordained minister.
4. It follows that when I retire, I keep my orders -- and my responsibility to my colleagues. I just step out of my current job. My new appointment would be "retired." I could serve in various part-time positions in the Church; I could even seek secular employment; or I could just loaf. But the important thing is that I remain a full voting member of the Annual Conference (and the Executive Session), and am expected to exercise my ordained ministry in appropriate ways.
5. Retiring early is therefore not the same as resigning my orders. Nor would it be a retreat from the fight for orthodoxy within The UMC, since the main arena of that fight is within the clergy. It would mean giving up many pastoral privileges that I have treasured, such as teaching confirmation and receiving new persons into membership on profession of faith or transfer. Without a pastoral appointment, I could no longer do the pastor's job. But I could still do ministry, and I could still relate professionally to my colleagues.
6. What I'm thinking is that I'd like to retire in a few years -- leave the job, with its never-ending tasks and worries. What I would do instead is, primarily, write -- curriculum, commentary, sermons, liturgics, apologetics, polemics (as well as maybe some fiction for fun and royalties). I could also do some helpful developing and conferencing with other people -- a ministry of formation and hospitality that I am currently too busy for. It would be exchanging one lever for another, but perhaps one which I am better suited for as my body ages, but a lever nevertheless.
For, as Archimedes said, Give me a lever long enough, and a place to stand, and I will move the earth. May it be so, Lord.