It is interesting being at Annual Conference and not being able to vote on General Conference delegates. This issue had not previously occurred to me, because I hadn’t thought about it. But now that I am here, it is a weird feeling. In case you don’t know what I am talking about, every four years annual conferences throughout Methodism elect lay and clergy delegates to represent their conference at General Conference, which is the official voice of the United Methodist Church. Lay members of Annual Conference vote for lay delegates. Clergy members of Annual Conference vote for clergy delegates. The catch is that probationary members and local pastors are not members of Annual Conference. Therefore, they have no voice in who represents the church and they also cannot be elected to go to General Conference.
Why can’t people who are pastoring churches vote on General Conference delegates? We are the only group of people who officially have no say in the future of the church, at least for the next 4 years. This year it has really felt like probationers and local pastors are second class citizens. It it hard for me to understand why retired ministers have more of a say in the future of the church than do the pastors who are struggling along the road to ordination and are literally the future of the church.
I would love to hear your thoughts about this or your explanation of why this is an important policy.
Hi – as one of the newly ordained, I hope I do not lose sight of this issue. For the past several years I have often wondered about the reasoning behind it. I have to admit most of the time those thoughts were centered upon me, but perhaps an even bigger issue is in relation to the local church. Many churches will only have local pastors or probationary ministers and because of their size will not have a voice or connection with the clergy issues. Now of course they will have a lay vote – but they are losing out on being connected to the clergy issues.
Kevin Watson said:
thanks for your thoughts, and congratulations on your ordination! You make a very good point – I probably would not have even been aware of the lack of voice that probationers and local pastors have if I had not been one of them myself this year. The balloting just isn’t quite as exciting when you can’t vote…
But you also point out the deeper issue. I found myself thinking more about this when an appeal was made several times to elect delegates that would represent rural or small membership churches. (To the best of my knowledge 1 of the 25 clergy delegates was from a small church… but I am not sure about that.) The main reason, I think, that more pastors were not elected that represent small or rural churches is because they are not electable, as they tend to be local pastors or probationers. It has made me think, especially how we treat our local pastors, many of whom have been serving the church far longer than I have been.
Thanks again for your contribution.
I can’t really come up with a good reason to keep local pastors from voting, and Wendy noted that the restriction reduces the voice of smaller churches in this process. So we should at least look at the whys, wherefores and hows of what it would look like if local pastors had a vote in the delegate elections.
As for probationary elders and deacons, well, I guess I fall back to the idea that the probationary process is a means to an end, not an end of itself. As such, there are things one will be able to do once the process is completed, and those are things that the church wants to keep an eye on. One of the ways it keeps an eye on them is by permitting them to be exercised only after a period of training or under specified circumstances.
That doesn’t mean the church sees delegate voting as having the same importance as, say, communion (I fervently hope it doesn’t, anyway), but it does hold voting as one of the things we do when we’ve completed our probationary period.
Is there a reason for that classification? Probably, although I didn’t know what it was when I was caught by this issue in 1999 and I don’t really know now. Maybe someone else has a fuller understanding.
Blessings on your week,
Kevin Watson said:
Thank you for your comments. Your thoughts as well as Wendy’s have helped me to better understand where we are coming from. Ultimately, I think you make a good point, it is a bigger issue for local pastors than for probationers. Thanks for taking the time to contribute!