I took United Methodist Polity in the Spring of 1988.
It was the last set of courses being offered at Scarritt College, in Nashville, in cooperation with the Divinity School at Vanderbilt.
As an institution dedicated to the teaching arts of Christian Education, it was a jewel for the Church. Money, of all things, or lack thereof, brought on, in part, by the changing climate of where the Church was moving in the field, meant that Scarritt would no longer be viable as it was. There was talk that some Japanese company was going to buy the campus and do something with it (the sentiment was that whatever it was, it wasn't going to be good - but that was based on the fear of change more than reality - plus, what are "they" going to do with "our" beautiful campus?). Thanks to the United Methodist Women, another way emerged.
Monday, I'll spend 5 days at Scarritt-Bennett Center, what used to be Scarritt College, dealing with the retrospective and evaluative component of the end of The Office of Pastoral Formation.
The OPF, a dream of Bishop Ken Carder, and directed by David Lowes Watson, sought to instill a sense of mission and purpose for the Church's clergy that pastoral leadership is expressed not through the exercise of power, but the willingness for the pastor to understand that above all else, he or she is first a disciple of Jesus Christ with a call that has been sanctioned by the Church.
I share all the back story to say this -
Only today was I reminded of that polity class. That's one of the classes a ministerial candidate must take. It talks about how the church works, what the Discipline of the church is, how to run a church, stuff like that.
For me, it was pretty boring. I figured, I knew all that anyway. But I'll never forget one thing the teacher said on the day we were talking about church membership. We were dealing with how to fill out the church roll, and you have to keep a record of who joined and when, and whether it was a Profession of Faith or a Transfer. We talked about if someone seeks to be discontinued and how to record it if someone dies. It was all just so much systemic maintenance for me.
"Oh, yeah," I thought. "Gotta keep the Man informed."
Blah, blah, blah.
But then it happened, something said I didn't know, and something I've never had need to recall, until today.
Somebody in the class asked,
"Can the preacher take anybody off the church roll?"
An interesting question. To think that one person could singularly determine who could be removed from the roll of the church.
The answer from the professor was, "No." "The minister cannot, on their own, remove anyone from the roll of the church." "But the minister can restore anyone who seeks to renew or reactivate their membership."
To be sure, our Church government provides a means by which a member may be removed from the Church. Church rolls are revised by this means.
Somebody's on the roll.
Nobody's heard from them for years.
A process is started that lasts up to three years. Their names are read at the Charge Conference...efforts are made to contact them.
If no contact is made, the names are read the next year. And then, at the third year, if no one can establish their whereabouts, they are removed.
But all it takes is one person to say, I know where they are, or I know what's going on with them, and they are restored.
Yes, there are also "chargeable offenses" that could technically get someone removed from the church. But even the provisions for that are blanketed in grace.
It always seeks restoration.
Seems like clergy ought to be focused more on restoration, wholeness and renewal, than, say, making judgments on who should be allowed to join in the first place...
Don't ya think?