This spring, as the Cabinet continues to make new appointments for pastors, it struggles with some real challenges due to a rapidly declining number of positions for full time elders. In the United Methodist Church, elders are seminary graduates who tend to serve larger churches and who must be given an appointment at least at a minimum salary level.
“One of our consultants helped us to see that an average attendance of 125 adults is required for a church fully to support an elder and carry on a full range of mission involvement,” said Bishop William Willimon. “We were disheartened to see that we have about fifty elders who currently serve churches with average attendance below that number. Additionally, we lose more than a dozen churches per year that slip below the ability to pay even the minimum elder’s salary. Add to this the number of churches that decide not to fund an elder’s salary for an associate position and we have a real crisis on our hands.”
“North Alabama already has the largest number of Local Pastors serving churches of any Conference in the connection,” says Rev. Ron Schultz, Assistant to the Bishop and District Superintendent of the South Central District. “Our churches are shrinking in size and income much faster than the number of our elders who require pastoral appointments. “
Rev. Sherill Clontz, Secretary to the Cabinet and District Superintendent of the Cheaha District projects that, considering the number of elders who are eligible for an appointment, and factoring in the new elders coming into the Conference, the Conference will have a deficit this year of nine positions.
“Also, I am projecting at least half a million dollars in salary losses just among the churches that are coming open due to a change of pastors,” said Clontz. “While this is typical of what neighboring conferences are reporting, it’s very discouraging.”
“All of these cuts and this deficit in the number of elder positions in our churches are due to our continued shrinkage as a church. This also makes urgent our emphasis on evangelism and reaching a new generation of United Methodist Christians,” said Bishop Willimon. “There is one answer to the decline – the establishing of new congregations. Currently we are losing churches capable of funding elders at a rate about ten times faster than we are planting new churches.”
“Hope is found in focusing our efforts and resources in new and emerging congregations,” Schultz adds.
For an explanation of the Clergy Appointment process, go to www.vimeo.com/21604333 and watch the online video. The video features District Superintendent of the Northeast District Rev. Dale Cohen and District Superintendent of the Cheaha District Rev. Sherill Clontz.