There is a vacuum of leadership in our Conference.
For an order charged with "Word, Sacrament and Order, " most Elders stink at the "order" part. Sadly, we've got a few who hit the trifecta of ineptitude, but most of us get the point to what we've promised. And, if we're not great at any part of of our order's expectation, we, at least, give a faithful effort.
The Memphis Annual Conference has been blessed over the years with profound and relevant leaders. The ones I have known are those who helped raise me. They were among those who were in leadership in the church when I was little more than "Johnny, Jerry and Ann's boy."
In those days, the connectional church looked different than it does now. There was belonging tied to mutual value in each other's vocational work.
These days, we are a mess.
As it is in the life of most systems, there comes a point when the message, the impetus that drives the engine is no longer "the first love," but rather, doing what is necessary to keep the engine running, regardless.
There's another issue at play, too. We aren't connected as we used to be. As congregations have become more localized outlets for their ministry, so, too, have the clergy. We are concerned less by the needs of the many and much by the one (thank you, Mr. Spock), or, to be more honest the "one" is me.
The disparity between those, in our conference, who make near $100K, and some, who make more, and those who make significantly less is glaring. To make matters worse, consider the plight of those who make on the lower end of the scale.
Any Elder in full connection and in good standing, is obliged to make a minimum salary - the low $30'sK and change. You don't have to like the guaranteed appointment, and it something that needs to be rethought, but as it is now, it stands.
Within the last few years, the General Board of Pensions of The United Methodist Church has changed to formula for what the Annual Conference pays in for each of its clergy. It used to be the case that a contribution was made for us by the Conference that was uniform. We all got the same benefit - based upon a percentage of the denomination's average compensation. As it is now, the percentage is based on what the individual clergy person makes.
Disparity abounds, I say.
An editorial change as of 6/26/07 - I would have never thought that I'd be dealing with question so directly as events have pushed me into in the last couple of weeks, but I understand now that I am in error on the interpretation of the Pension formula - the amount contributed to the the GBOP on behalf of the Conference for the Elder is based now on the demoninational average. I stand corrected - but the case for disparity is not harmed that much by that correction, is it?
Some of us, like me, serve churches without parsonages. We have housing allowances to purchase our own homes.
I'm able to do in the active part of my ministry what my father couldn't do until he retired.
I don't judge that - I'm just observing it as another factor in our dis-connectedness. How? Two notable ways - I'm building equity in a property. Those who live in parsonages don't have that benefit. Two? Motivations for where a clergy person moves are now influenced by the desire to remain in our homes, if possible.
Thus, the itineracy is vitiated even more.
The void in our leadership resides not just with who is bishop, or who is superintendent, it resides with us all. When within any covenant community, the assessment of blame is always in the hands of the "other," and not each of us, then we are nothing more than cowards who do not love each other enough to tell the truth for the sake of making the covenant whole by grace.
As it is, we're in covenant, but we don't trust the covenant we're in. For some it's a contrivance. For others, an annoyance. And for others, still, it's a dream sought but never fully realized.
Because "nature abhors a vacuum," the sad to truth to acknowledge, and the even harder truth to speak aloud, is that there are some among us who have manipulated the confusion and inequity of the system to meet personal ends - even at the expense of the covenant community of which they are a part and the congregations they are called to serve.
I don't question the temptation to do that - for any individual in any system that's always present. That's why the covenant community "watching over one another in love" is the critical component for all other actions.
In our day and time, however, these manipulations are going unchecked and unquestioned (at least systemically), and people's lives are being hurt. And such moves are not even covert anymore.
So bold. So audacious.
Daring anyone to say or do anything about it, and knowing that no one will.
Within the body of faith, there are those whose fidelity to their call stands as a beacon for the recovery and re-formation of the Church.
At the Memphis Annual Conference this year, the singular highlight was observing it happen, and, in some small way, helping it along.
A leader rose among us last week and spoke the Truth to the clergy.
His name is Randy Cooper.