Has the ‘big sort’ come to the UMC?

Rev. Jen Stuart of First UMC in Austin, Texas, explains her decision to leave Texas and seek ordination in the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Methodist Church. The short version: She wants to be ordained in a conference where she does not have to conceal her opposition to the Book of Discipline.

Several years ago, a book called The Big Sort made a splash. The thesis of the book was that Americans were clustering together into like-minded enclaves, which was leading to increased division and the polarization we’ve been seeing in our political system for a number of years. (Here’s a short article that captures the idea.)

Is the United Methodist “big sort” already underway?

How would you rebuild ordination?

A reader raised a good question in the comment thread about ordination.

That being said, the blog I read called for the UMC to not just make tweaks, but to completely overhaul the ordination system. So, at the risk of highjacking John’s blog since I don’t have one of my own, I have to ask what a new system of ordination would look like. If we stripped everything away and started from scratch, what would our priorities be?

Another way of asking the question is, what do we have to do to provide a pastor with basic formation? What priorities do we want that pastor to have and how will we equip that pastor to live those priorities out in the life of the church?

What do you think?

Things you won’t read in the clergy candidacy recruitment brochure

After blogging about David Watson’s thoughts on the ordination process, I found two more interesting things to read relating to ordination and being a clergy member in the UMC.

Willie Deuel writes about his own painful experience in the ordination process and has some strong words about the need for reform.

The United Methodist Reporter interviews a pastor who left the UMC when faced with an unwanted move. The comments section is particularly eye opening.

Is the ordination process too arbitrary?

United Theological Seminary dean David Watson recounts his ordination experience and asks a question that many clergy and candidates would give a quick answer to.

Is the UM Ordination Process too Arbitrary?

Since my ordination I have served on the District Committee for the Miami Valley District of the West Ohio Conference, as well as the West Ohio Conference Board of Ordained Ministry. I’ve reflected a great deal on the ordination process and the proper work of committees and boards who have oversight of the process. I have much more to say about this matter, but there is one item that I want to highlight in this post: the biggest problem with our ordination process is that it is not undergirded by a clear theology of ordination.

A foolish consistency?

Two recent comments have me thinking hard about the meaning of ordination.

Dean Snyder engaged me in an exchange about taking ordination vows in a church that is not perfect. It is a place of saints and sinners and its polity, doctrine, and discipline reflect that. Snyder pointed out ways that our history has been filled with problems. If we won’t take ordination vows in a church that is sinful, then we will not get ordained. If we think the church’s current doctrine is without error, then we forget the principle that the church is always in need of reformation. (Morgan Guyton commented in the same vein, I think, when he testified that he feels strongly called to lead the United Methodist Church toward new doctrine and practices.)

In another vein, Holly Boardman commented on her own disillusionment with the UMC. She wrote of coming to see a church in the thrall of riches and too prone to let democratic values trump gospel holiness. These convictions led her to retirement. She came to see too large a gap between what the church claimed it believed and how it acted.

I am grateful that so many people share their own stories about how they have come to balance the competing tensions that are at the heart of ordination and appointment in the United Methodist Church. I am finding that there are really two different questions when it comes to a calling. The call of God is one thing. The living out of that call within a particular church is another.

I have been working under the influence of something Will Willimon wrote somewhere. He said preachers are not called to preach their own faith. They are called to preach the faith of the church. This has set in my mind — certainly in a place that I am inclined to go anyway — in the direction of trying to discern what the faith of the United Methodist Church actually is and what it is I am being called to preach and teach.

I wonder if that is a misplaced thought. Is looking for doctrinal integrity and coherence in the church a kind of idolatry? At the very least, it seems naive.