The itinerant system is a viable way of deploying clergy
Celebration and disappointment were experienced all across the conference this past week. After completing this year's appointment making, the district superintendents contacted pastors and staff-parish relations committee chairs with the results of those prayerful deliberations.
Approximately 100 churches will receive new pastors and those clergy and their families will begin a relationship with a new parish. Congregations and clergy families have anxiously awaited the announcements. Some of them are pleased with the news they received and some are disappointed. But time and experience has shown the itinerant system of the United Methodist Church to be a viable way of deploying clergy and providing leadership to the church.
Not every appointment is perfect. No preacher is perfect. No church is perfect. But with the help of the Holy Spirit and the right attitude, every appointment can be a good one.
I remember when one of my friends was not happy with the decision of the bishop and cabinet. He had served faithfully and effectively for several years and he felt like his new appointment did not reflect a respect for his work and the gifts he possessed. The church to which he was being appointed was not at all what he had hoped for.
My friend's remarks made it clear that he felt that he deserved better. But he concluded our conversation by saying, "I don't like it, but I am a United Methodist preacher. I'm going there and I'll be the best preacher they have ever had!" After nine years in that appointment he left with a deep love for the people and a profound sense of gratitude for the privilege of serving with them.
Last week the Atlanta Hawks fired Mike Woodson. He had been the coach for the past six years. During those six seasons the team increased their wins fourfold--from 13 to 53. Their winning percentage improved from .159 to .646. They made the first round of the NBA playoffs last year and advanced to the second round this season. When the Hawks general manager announced the decision to replace Woodson, he said, "The shelf-life for coaches in the NBA is very short. We just think we need a change."
There are many reasons to change leadership--of a basketball team or a church. Tenure and ‘shelf-life" may be factors, but just needing a change is probably not enough.
Bishop Watson and the North Georgia Cabinet seriously considered the needs of every congregation and the gifts of all the preachers involved in this round of appointments. They prayerfully sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit and carefully attempted to place persons for the good of the Kingdom of God.
Most folks are satisfied with the place to which they are appointed and most congregations are pleased with the pastor they will receive in a few weeks. There are some people who will question the integrity of the process. Some will doubt the wisdom of the decisions. Everyone will not be happy. Although most appointments will prove to be "good"ones, there will be some appointments that will not work out.
This is an imperfect world and all of us are imperfect people. However, after 38 years of serving under episcopal appointment I am convinced that the attitude of the people involved, laity and clergy, makes all the difference. I believe that God guides those who have responsibility for making the appointments. And I believe that same God is present in every parish to assist the preacher and the parishioners as they seek to spread the Gospel and faithfully serve their community and world.
If each of us determine that we will utilize all the gifts we have and will allow God to empower us for the work we are called to do, transformation will take place in every heart, every congregation, and every community in the North Georgia Conference.
[Taken with permission from "Monday Morning in North Georgia," May 17, 2010, North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.]