Staff from United Methodist boards and agencies discussed General Conference 2012 legislation that affects the work of district superintendents and directors of connectional ministries Wednesday morning during the orientation for new DSes and DCMs at Lake Junaluska, N.C. Shown, from left: Julie Hager Love, director of Connectional Ministries, and Dale Jones, managing director of Education and Plan Sponsor Relations, General Board of Pension and Health Benefits.
Bishops or district superintendents can initiate part-time appointments for clergy, and annual conferences can choose not to pay pension benefits for part-time clergy under legislation passed by General Conference 2012.
“Our proposal to General Conference removed pension benefits for quarter-time clergy. General Conference apparently felt that we did not go far enough and made pension benefits mandatory only for full-time clergy,” said Dale Jones, managing director of Education and Plan Sponsor Relations, General Board of Pension and Health Benefits.
Staff from United Methodist boards and agencies discussed General Conference 2012 legislation that affects the work of district superintendents and directors of connectional ministries Wednesday morning during the orientation for new DSes and DCMs at Lake Junaluska, N.C. The orientation is sponsored each year by the Council of Bishops, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, and the General Board of Discipleship. This year, 64 new district superintendents and four new directors of connectional ministry are attending.
The Rev. Gwen Purushotham, associate general secretary of GBHEM’s Division of Ordained Ministry, and Jones both spoke about legislation revising the specific responsibilities for DSes listed in The Book of Discipline.
The legislation, which came from the Church Systems Task Force, condensed six paragraphs into one, retaining the same basic functions but removing many specific detailed requirements, with the goal of making the DS the chief missional strategist.
However, Purushotham cautioned that many of the specific responsibilities no longer listed in the Discipline must still be carried out by someone in the district — for instance, making sure that local churches have required audits and evaluations. She said those responsibilities still fall to the DS even if not explicitly spelled out.
The Rev. Meg Lassiat, GBHEM’s director of Candidacy, Mentoring, and Conference Relations, said that in conjunction with the removal of security of appointment for elders and associate members, General Conference approved legislation adding a new condition for the status of transitional leave. This would apply to associate members, provisional or full connection elders for whom “a missional appointment is not available.”
She noted that the Judicial Council is considering the constitutionality of the removal of security of appointment in their October session.
There is also a new voluntary transition program for clergy choosing to leave ordained ministry. Jones said that legislation provides for severance pay and health insurance for up to six months, depending on length of service.
The panel was questioned about what changes the boards and agencies are making that reflect deep and adaptive change in the wake of Judicial Council’s ruling that the church restructuring passed by General Conference was not constitutional.
Darryl Stephens of the General Council on the Status and Role of Women, said COSROW is now responsible for addressing inequities globally, not just in the U.S., but with the same staff and a lower budget. He said that was adaptive change.
Karen Greenwaldt, GBOD’s general secretary, said that before General Conference, the general secretaries had been finding ways to work together and streamline services.
“We have ramped that up,” she said. One example is an effort to create a UM portal where everything churches need from the boards and agencies will be available in one place. And she said the role of agency staff now is to “find the bright spots of ministry and shine a light on that.”
The Rev. Janice Virtue, executive director for Leadership Development at the United Methodist Foundation of Western North Carolina, told the group that change does not mean wholesale change in the DNA of United Methodists.
“The key is that small changes lead to incredible adaptions. Keep disturbing the status quo. . . . Change will never take place because somebody or some conference says it should. Real change happens when hearts and minds and habits are changed,” she said, adding that it takes time for those changes to really take root.
Bishop Elaine Stanovsky, resident bishop of the new Mountain Sky Area created from the Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone Conferences, said some bishops are going to try to initiate conversations about how the bishops who serve on the boards of directors of general agencies can use those positions to carry forward the work from the Call to Actionreport.
“That doesn’t require legislation, it just requires cooperation,” she said.
The Rev. Anita Wood, GBHEM’s director of Provisional Membership, Deacon Support and Certification in Specialized Ministries, said General Conference passed legislation that deacons will now be ordained to “Word, Service, Compassion and Justice” and there will be a single Disciplinary paragraph (¶331) for everything related to appointments for deacons (new paragraph 331.) Formerly, deacons were ordained to Word and Service.
Other legislation of note included:
- Administrative and judicial complaint revisons
- The $7 million Young Clergy Initiative Fund
- Legislation that any changes in a church incorporation must be approved in writing by the pastor and the DS. Rick Rettberg, general counsel of the General Council on Finance and Administration, said that stemmed from situations in which some churches had modified their incorporation papers to remove references to The United Methodist Church, then attempted to leave the denomination and take the property with them.
- Julie Love, director of Connectional Ministries for the Kentucky Annual Conference, reported that a change in ¶610.1 will allow annual conferences the flexibility to design their conference and district structures in ways that best support the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ in an increasingly diverse global community and that place secondary any prescribed structure, except for the mandated entities.
*Brown is associate editor and writer, Office of Interpretation, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.