Somewhere deep in the catacombs of West Tennessee in November of each year, the SPRC meets under candlelight. Once the sacrifices are made, they cast lots to determine whether the leader of the church will stay or go. They gaze into the reflections in a pool to discern what other pastors may be available. Then they mind meld and let the Bishop and his cabinet know what will take place in the upcoming new year.
Spring comes and the Bishop and the cabinet dance around the Maypole, wreaths of flowers in their hair. They fall in exhaustion and sleep visionary dreams. When they wake, in complete silence they determine the paths of those in their conference through examining tea leaves, watching the stars and playing Ouija.
Or not. Usually the SPRC gets the general consensus of the church, discusses the needs of the church, and makes the best decision they can. This, despite the fact that in the case of a recently appointed pastor, they may only know the person they’re discussing for a total of a 5 months.
The Bishop and the cabinet take those things into consideration, look at who’s retiring, who’s available, which big churches will get to pick someone outside the conference, and then fill in the gaps as best they can.
I know that everyone, from the members of the SPRC to the Bishop, is a less than perfect human, a Christian doing what they can to discern God’s will while trying to make the people happy. So why does this become such an ordeal every time it’s obvious that some sort of change is needed in a local church? Why does it have to be cloak and dagger secret society sort of work? Can the local church not handle it? I think they can.
We have got to do something to make the appointment system work better. From what I can tell of the votes at General Conference, that something is study the topic for another four years. Frankly I don’t think that’s good enough.
Can we, on the conference level, say that here you’ll get three years when you go to a new church before you have to worry about such thing? I know, that means technically you have three years if the new pastor doesn’t work out, but how can you even know that it’s going to work out without one cycle through the lectionary?
Can we say that at least we won’t make a decision during the first November that a pastor has been at a church? Would pastors be a bit more patient and observant when they arrive at a new church if they knew that they had time to get to know these people before they were going to have to look at moving again?
Of course, I have more questions than answers. I’ve not served on SPRC, and I doubt that my gifts would benefit that committee. I’m not a pastor. I don’t know what that’s like either. But as a church leader, I know that the current system, which doesn’t allow the majority of the church to know much of what is going on until weeks before a new pastor arrives, does not work. We need to be more open; open in discussing the problems we may have with pastors, open to how the SPRC and Bishop’s cabinet make their decisions, and most importantly, open to how the Holy Spirit may lead guide and direct us in the work of God.
One thought on “The Secrecy of Bishops, DSs and the SPRC.”
I was lucky enough to be in a church that was very open about their feelings for me. Of course, that may have been a completely different story if they hadn’t like it. But really, I had the easiest job in the world as I came in after a pastor that they couldn’t stand. The bar was pretty low.
But when I got the questionnaire from the conference office in November about my intentions, I went directly to SPRC and told them that my intention was to stay another year. They said that they were also going to request that I stay. It was pretty simple. But I know that’s not how things work all the time.
I think what the UMC really needs to do is start using interim pastors like the PCUSA does. Interim pastors come in, clean up, and prepare the congregation for a new pastor. The interim is able to be the “rebound pastor” as it were, and can eliminate the “one and done” appointments that seem to happen after a particularly awful or particularly amazing pastor leave.
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