The report from the Stationing Committee makes for interesting/depressing reading. As expected, the number of successful matches in each round remains extremely high, since there is more choice in the appointments to which ministers may be sent. But the anticipated loss of another 100 presbyters in the active work in the next two years, and a decline in active deacons, means that the crisis in ministry for the Circuits continues.
Reading the first and last sections of the report, you would be forgiven for thinking that two reports had been wrongly conflated. The opening paragraphs speak of the current situation offering 'increasingly challenging circumstances' and the lack of available ministers as a 'major concern and is likely to remain as a concern in the future'. The reader is left with the impression of the 'urgency' of a situation that has reached crisis point.
Skip to section 8, 'Moving Forward', and there is an altogether more relaxed feel about everything. There is talk of more work and conversation, shaping policies and a calling 'to examine the nature of presbyteral and diaconal ministry in a changing Church and a changing world'. The idea of a 'significant challenge' seems remarkably absent and there are no substantive proposals to map a way forward or manage the crisis.
I wrote a blog on stationing towards the beginning of the process back in October outlining some concerns. This prompted a conversation in which I was assured that 'work was being done' to address the current difficulties and implement short, medium and long term solutions. If this report is anything to go by, we seem a long way from any of those. This blog comes by way of encouragement to those who are working behind the scenes.
I want to suggest that the current system for the deployment of ordained ministry is broken and needs an urgent and thoroughgoing reform. It is predicated on a myth, namely that the appointments that become vacant in any one year will match with the available ministers' gifts and strengths. When there were enough ministers to go round, that wasn't true, and it is certainly not true now. As a Church, Methodism spends a great deal of time convincing candidates they must have a personal call and must maintain it right through to ordination. 'Are you as convinced of your calling...?' is a question asked just before the moment of ordination. That kind of focus on the particular calling of the individual raises expectations that no system of deployment can meet. At the same time, too many Circuits still live with the notion that ministers are much of a muchness and that, therefore, a like-for-like replacement can be found for the one moving on.