One thing I admire about Methodism is its itinerant ministry. All Ministers are appointed by the Conference to preach and exercise pastoral charge in the Circuits on behalf of the Conference as set out in the Standing Order 700 (7). In so doing they shall exercise their particular responsibilities in conjunction with those of the appropriate courts and lay officers in the Circuit to which they are appointed and in the constituent Local Churches of that Circuit. In simple terms, Ministers are first and foremost appointed to the circuit.
I am in a Circuit of 7 churches. It became 7 churches after the Conference decided few years ago that we should join with other nearby circuits. After lots of protest we agreed to this enlarged circuit. Prior to the enlargement, 2 of the 7 churches were one church circuit. It was quite obvious that we will have some difficulty along the way but we were prepared to take the bull by the horn.
I knew there were some tension but I was shocked by what I witnessed at one Circuit Meeting last year. We had met to discuss the recommendation for the extension of one of the Ministers. This was the first of its kind in the new enlarged circuit. The support from the Minister’s local church was great and so was the opposition from some other churches. Most of the objections were put down to the Minister not known by the other churches. They complained that the Minister had always been in his local church, and not preached in the other churches. To them they have not had first hand experience of his ministry and therefore they can’t vouch for him and vote for his extension. This was happening after the second birthday of the new circuit. In presence were two new Ministers who have joined the circuit. In the end the Meeting voted for the second motion which was reduced years of extension.
When calm was restored, many people including myself suggested and in fact well recorded that to prevent this agitation happening again, Ministers should be planned widely across the circuit for every local church to get to know them. In effect, they should not become one local church Minister.
Sadly, it appears those laudable ideas haven’t been put into action. Any time a question is asked about it, the answer has always been “some churches prefer to have their Ministers around”. That is why by the end of this quarterly plan, i.e. August 2011, we would have some Ministers in the circuit who have never preached in some churches at all for a whole year. I bet the Methodist Conference would never vote for individual churches to decide on who becomes their Minister or their length of stay. It will still be the business of the Circuit Meeting.
Are we sitting on a time bomb ready to be exploded in 2-3 years time when these Ministers extension times are due?