British Methodism is currently in the first stages of the annual Stationing process. Each year, ministers (presbyters and deacons) and Circuits seeking a move or replacement put in their profiles and waiting for the phone call. This year, the Connexion is experiencing a shortfall in presbyters of a third. Looking at recruitment and retirements in the short to medium-term, this gap is unlikely to shrink.
Having said that, there doesn't seem to be much of an appetite at the moment for whole-scale reform of the system. This puts extraordinary stress on the shoulders of those who operate the system - Chairs and Lay Reps - and may lead to a crisis of confidence in Circuits desperate for staff.
I have a sense that major reform is required but, in the meantime, may I offer one or two suggestions that might help to make the current system work better?
Profiles of Stations and Ministers to be kept on file and updated annually.
At the moment, there is a certain amount of panic sets in when putting together profiles. Ministers and Circuits alike often see the process as akin to pulling teeth and dread the day it needs to be done. I wonder whether always having a 'live' profile would ease the pain of the process by insisting it be done little and often.
It would also allow for unfilled stations to be kept 'on the books' whilst the needs of clergy and Circuits would be better understood by those engaged in the process.
If this were to happen, the current forms would probably have to amended to allow for a more manageable way of updating the information annually, but that is a small price to pay.
Profiles to become tool for Development Reviews of Ministers and Circuits.
A suitably amended profile could be invaluable for ministers reviewing their development each year, and/or undergoing supervision. Enabling presbyters and deacons to record their annual development in ministry on their profiles allows for a fuller one to be available when it comes to moving to a new appointment.
For Circuits, each profile could be assessed against (or become the basis of) Circuit Mission Policies. This would allow for an annual update and there is nothing to stop Circuits publicising these profiles on their websites. Although appointments will inevitable change, because every appointment in the Circuit will need a profile, changes will become much more manageable. It would also allow profiles to become records of past progress and development as well as aspirational about the future.
All ministers involved in process.
At the moment, profiles are only received from those seeking a new appointment. In this new system, all ministers, including active supernumeraries and those in appointments outside the control of the Church, or without appointment, would be expected to keep a profile up to date. This gives the Connexion a much wider picture of the ministry resources at its disposal when it comes to deployment.
In addition to the information currently gathered, it might be useful to a Connexion with a shortage of ministers to ask individuals to indicate whether they would consider direct stationing or moving mid-year should that become necessary. It looks likely that we will have to pull more and more ministers out before their invitation is up. Knowing who are more likely to respond willingly would be a positive thing, I expect.
This is a system that could be rolled out in any one year, starting with those currently in the process. Instead of consigning the profiles to the bin at the end of the year, why not keep them 'live' and see what happens? Just a thought ...