Tuesday, June 14, 2022

UMC Clergy Staff Pastors (1)

Has the Associate Pastor's role changed meaningfully in the last twenty years? An observation offered by one District Superintendent was that the larger UMC's are looking for solid preachers and teachers more than talented equippers and organizers. If a Lead Pastor is looking for a gifted communicator, then the conventional wisdom is that a volunteer or lay staff is more cost effective to run the equipping ministry. 

That being said, Clergy serving as staff members are a present reality moving forward. The Discipline gives Elders access to the SPRC (staff parish relations committee).* Precious little about this leadership role, leaving to the Lead Pastor and Associate to define in concrete terms, what the functional relationship between you and the SPRC actually is and will be. 

The SPRC is under the direction of the Lead Pastor and your meetings with this group are under the Lead's direction and discretion. In light of this, I recommend staff clergy take some initiative in the interpretation, support, and evaluation of their work. Try to avoid the phenomenon of being left completely out of the discussion of your performance on the SPRC. 

1. Request an assigned member of the SPRC to meet with you, at least 8 times over the next year.  Their job is to pray for you, get to know you, and your job description, your ministry area's current goals, as well as intermediate and long-term objectives. 

2. Request an 8-10 minute in-person meeting with the SPRC, every 6-8 months. This would allow for a non-threatening way to share your hopes, dreams, and current efforts. They can ask questions, etc. Have your appearance be entered in the minutes of that meeting. 

3. If you come up empty with both #1 and #2, asking the Lead Pastor for an annual meeting with the SPRC is not out line, but perfectly acceptable. It's in the Discipline and further, it is good stewardship of this committee's time. If you still meet with resistance, keep a record by noting it and signing. 

4. Before, you act on any of the above, there's one caveat: has trust been well-established between you and the Lead? If not, work on this important area first. If more work needs to be done, see if a mini, face-to face meeting is possible. Take the initiative. Failing an in-person meeting, communicate your updates regularly. Let them know progress toward your stated goals. Too, invite them to check and recalibrate any existing goals. 

Functionally, staff clergy have extra levels of accountability: 1) Staff Supervisor 2) Lead or Senior Pastor 3) District Superintendent 4) Bishops. These forces all have their own particular stake in appointments and clergy staff positions. Not written is the hegemony of Senior Pastors. Although the word "church" is used in making appointments, in reality, it is not the church that determines whether or not an associate is invited or leaves. 

Consider this an encouragement to cultivate trust and honest communication at all levels by taking the initiative now. Your efforts may prove beneficial to you in the future. 

*The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (2016), Paragraphs 425-429.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

White, Mainline, Suburban: Doing Justice Ministry

If White, Suburban, Mainline, Protestant congregations are rarely asked to employ critical reflection, then there's no wonder why gaping holes exist in witness, ministry and mission. How does nice Sunday morning church-talk of neighbor love matter when it comes to mutual relationships and enduring action for justice with others?

White privilege, when confronted, not only exposes hidden bias, but also backlash. The object is not paralyzing guilt., but to listen to those who suffer the ongoing, generational and institutional effects of White supremacy. We are not aware of what we don't know or have never experienced. Entitlement is the belief that I have deserved blessings because I have earned them, not because I was born on third base. 

Dualism pits the material world against the spiritual realm. This does not come from Jesus' Hebraic faith, but rather, through Greek thought. God's creation of everything we can see (and beyond) is "good." All of us, male and female, are created in God's own image and "very good."  Because of that, we are capable of covenant with God and each other- including doing good. We are created for both love and justice.

Hyper-individualism infects every facet of life, including church. Our salvation, however, is tied to one another (Matthew 25: 13 ff, Luke 16: 19 ff). The Gospel is often presented just as the eternal life of my separate soul. More than that, faith and hope supports me in doing what is my power to do by joining with others, not by fixing others.

Conflict-avoidance is an overriding factor for leaders. Teaching and equipping for justice ministry will meet opposition and resistance. It probably will not be widely popular or add to your numerical measurements. It may be criticized as simplistic, idealistic, or of no effect. 

Ideas to consider?

1. Identify and invite allies in justice ministry. Start a group, a community, a self-sustaining cadre who will begin a holistic justice ministry. A small group made up of clergy and parishioners can create an enduring ministry from a simple spark. 

2. Educate. Engage the group in a study of justice throughout the Bible, especially, but not limited to, the Torah and Prophets, the teachings and ministry of Jesus Christ in the Gospels. Justice is shalom. Justice and mercy are two feet of the same faithful action. Education for peace and justice will include the whole of study, action, and reflection. 

3.Coalesce congregations or community groups with a similar vision Plan carefully. Study, reflect and go out into the field to discover. Take your team with you. Together, listen, learn from and work with, not for, others. 

4. Many churches have a grant committee that provides limited funding to projects that are deemed worthy by church peers. Grants have limited funds and durations, whereas justice ministry invites us to form relationships that are formative and sustainable for long-term change.

5. Too, short term works of mercy can look good on social media and church reports. Justice asks why the suffering? The long, hard work of harmony in communities starts and continues by talking with each other. 

6. Read other voices not your own. Learn from them. I suggest Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, Michael Eric Dyson. I especially recommend "Benediction," pp.195-212. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

The Call to Repair

In Reparations: A Christian Call for Repentance and Repair (2021), Duke L. Kwon and Gregory Thompson present the biblical witness to fully and finally to own, renounce, and repair from the evils of White supremacy.  White supremacy is identified as multi-generational theft: theft of Black identity, history, physical, social, and moral agency through the abduction, chaining, transportation, commodification, forced labor, deprivation, whipping, and hunting of Black bodies. After Reconstruction, the theft included lynchings, shootings, and burnings and the "photographing of these mutilated bodies surrounded by smiling White faces." p. 83. Finally, White supremacy continues to steal from African Americans through extraction of and obstruction to truth, wealth, and power.  

White supremacy was never a "weed in the garden of American democracy," it was a "native species that grew into and flowered out of every institution that the American founders created, in every region of the nation." p. 63  

The American church's culpability in the thefts of  White supremacy is a large part of the story. There was the creation of a slave catechesis, and the practice of buying and renting the enslaved by churches, sometimes to pay for clergy salaries. p.118-119.

Meaningful repentance begins and continues with the ethic of restitution, argue Kwon and Thompson. We discover this ethic in Zacchaeus' story in Luke 19 and move to the key passages in the Law, such as Exodus 21:33-22:15, Leviticus 6:1-7, Numbers 5:5-8. There is a surprising lack of references to the Prophets. The authors unearth the forgotten wisdom found in Christian church tradition. 

There are three recipients of restitution: original owners, their heirs, and, in the absence of the first two, the poor. In light of the ravages of White supremacy, "[ ] reparations is not less than the logic of restitution, but it is undoubtedly more. We believe that the Bible commands us to return our neighbors' stolen things when we are guilty of their theft, and we believe that the Bible also commands us to restore their stolen things even when we are not." p.161 

The Christian call to restorative, neighbor love is an essential response to the multigenerational, cultural theft of White supremacy. Love is restorative, as in Luke 10:25-37 Church communities are given a possible framework for reflection: churches have "the responsibility to bring our various forms of vocational, relational, and financial power to our Black neighbors...in deliberate and equitable collaboration so that our power is both under the direction of others and used for their good" pp. 201-202. 

There's an impressive breadth of cited sources. We meet a plethora of witnesses, past and present, White and Black, who dedicated themselves to the Christian work of reparations. These include the Quaker teacher John Hepburn, who, in 1715, wrote The American Defense of the Christian Golden Rule; Levi Coffman who housed over 3,000 fugitive slaves as a part of the Underground Railroad We are introduced to Memphis community organizer Anasa Troutman, Clayborn Temple, and the Center of Transforming Communities, a multiethnic, multi neighborhood coalition.

This volume provides a fertile ground for reflection, study, and action. There is a noticeable and refreshing absence of partisan political categories. Reparation is presented as a Christian call to repair Christian theft. Could it be that reparations could be the reason the White Christian church still exists. 

UMC Clergy Staff Pastors (1)

Has the Associate Pastor's role changed meaningfully in the last twenty years? An observation offered by one District Superintendent was...