As I have a long train journey ahead of me, it gives me the time and space to think aloud. Some of the stuff I write now has been kicking around inside my head for some time and perhaps now is the time to give it an airing. I recognize that reforms in the Methodist Church in Britain will not appeal to everyone who reads my blogs and for this I beg your indulgence. For the rest, please feel free to comment and critique.
This is the first of what I hope will be three separate posts about aspects of life in the British Methodist Connexion. This one relates to leadership and how we appoint those who lead us. Up to now we have had two quite separate processes. For lay positions, what we term ‘Connexional’ posts and Districts Chairs, we use what most people would recognize as an job application and interview process. For other posts – mainly diaconal and presbyteral – we use a stationing matching process. Whilst the jobs in the former category were reasonably rare, the anomaly wasn’t significant. However, now we have lots of lay posts and jobs open to lay or ordained, it begs the question about our understandings of vocation and the processes of discernment we use to place people in posts. Can we any longer sustain the distinction between presbyters and deacons in Circuit appointments on the one hand, and lay workers, District Chairs, tutors and Connexional staff on the other?
In terms of lay ministry, it seems to me that we undermine it if we suggest that those who engage in it in the Methodist Church treat it like any other job. Yet we are confortable to use the term ‘employment’ with regard to lay people that we fought not to use for the ordained. Surely lay ministry requires the same sorts of attention, discernment and equipping as ordained ministry? If so, let us pay serious attention to how lay vocation is discerned (is a simple interview for a lay worker job enough?), how it is remunerated (why do Connexional posts carry a much larger salary for lay candidates than ordained?) and how it is equipped (what are the minimum training requirements for lay ministry?)
I also want to say something about District Chairs (and Superintendents of some of our larger Circuits). Why do Chairs apply for their posts when others are stationed (by District Chairs?) It is no secret that the range of candidates applying for Chairs’ posts has been diminishing in recent years and it has sometimes been difficult to appoint. A possible solution to this anomaly would be to have a kind of extra candidating process for significant leadership posts. In this case, presbyters could apply to become a member of the pool from which senior Superintendents and Chairs are drawn. It might be that a qualification is required to join the pool (as is now the case with School Leaders and Headteachers). Through a process of discernment, individuals would be admitted to the pool and those overseeing the process could ensure that there is a balance of people from which to draw. Being in the pool would not guarantee being stationed but simply registers availability and gifting.
In terms of stationing,a separate round of stationing would be held between January and April of each year to match candidates with posts becoming vacant in the eighteen months’ time. A suitable match could then be brought to the Spring Synod or Circuit Assembly and to the Conference of that year for stationing a year hence. This would also then mean that the candidate’s current station could go into the following round of matching as normal.
This is not a revolutionary idea but one used to appoint suffragan bishops in the Church of England in recent times. It seems to me to offer more time for discernment for individuals and the Church and to ensure that the Church draws on the talents and gifts of a wide variety of people. I wonder would it work ….?