A word about consultation and itineracy

City Road family and friends,

Earlier today we published an announcement from our Staff Parish Relations Committee sharing that it was the time of year when we start the process of evaluating our pastors and communicating with the District Superintendent about our leadership needs for the future. The wording of that announcement has raised some questions about what is happening, and I want to take a moment to explain the process we use in The United Methodist Church to deploy pastors.

While in some church traditions pastors are hired and fired by the congregation and or a board of deacons or elders, in The United Methodist Church we have a system by which pastors are appointed by a regional bishop based on the needs of the congregation and the broader needs of the annual conference. This system of “itineracy” has been around from the earliest days of Methodism, and is a unique characteristic of our tradition. The early Methodist leaders (both John Wesley in England and Francis Asbury in the United States) believed that congregations should be connected together in a way that pastoral gifts should be shared throughout the broader church. This “connectional” system involves clergy who submit themselves to the leadership of a bishop and are willing to go where sent and congregations who submit to the leadership of a bishop and are willing to accept the pastor that is appointed to serve them. Our church believes that this system allows a better matching of gifts and needs through the discernment of our bishop and his “cabinet” of district superintendents who are better able to evaluate the overall missional needs of the annual conference.

Every year, starting in December or January, a process called “consultation” begins. This involves the appointed clergy, the staff parish relations committee, and the bishop through the district superintendent entering into a conversation about the ministry of the church, the needs of the congregations, the needs of the clergyperson, and the matching of gifts and graces to make a recommendation to the Bishop regarding the ministerial needs for the coming year. The bishop in consultation with the cabinet reviews the needs of all the congregations in the annual conference (and these days the full episcopal area, which includes the Memphis Conference) and then after much prayer and conversation deploys clergy throughout the conference. It is a process that takes several months, and appointments are never fully “official” until the bishop sets the appointments at the annual conference session in June. If a transition happens, the new pastor will usually start the first Sunday in July.

There is some confusion about when pastors are moved, with some thinking that we are on a set schedule. The fact is, however, that pastors are appointed on a year-to-year basis. While a bishop may have a personal policy regarding allowing a pastor to remain for a length of time to allow for adequate time for the growth of ministry, all pastors are evaluated every year. It is this process of evaluation and consultation that the staff parish relations committee announced, asking for feedback for their process of discernment. This is a fairly standard request each year and in no way represents that any decisions about been made about a transition for the Sr. Pastor’s position this July.

Some folks have expressed concern about the ending of Emily’s position this July, worrying about her employment prospects. Emily and I are both ordained elders in The United Methodist Church which comes with certain rights and privileges. One of those is called “guaranteed appointment” which requires the bishop to find a ministerial setting for us to serve (similar to tenure in an academic setting). Thus Emily and I are both in a process that ensures our continued employment somewhere in the annual conference (basically Middle Tennessee) should we move from City Road Chapel.

There is a lot more that can be said about itineracy, consultation, and pastoral transitions so we have prepared an FAQ about pastoral transitions. Click here to check it out. Don’t hesitate to ask Emily or me about the process if you have other questions.

I encourage you to be in touch with Emily Stinson or the other members of the Staff Parish Relations Committee about your sense of the needs of our church.

May God’s grace and peace be with you in a special way.


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