This past week I had the privilege of attending the North Alabama Conference Annual Pastors’ Prayer Summit at Sumatanga Camp and Conference Center. When several participants requested prayer for the 2014 appointment-making season, I was reminded of how anxiety often accompanies this time of the year for United Methodists. This is understandable - because appointments have a deep and far-reaching impact upon all involved.
How good and right it is for us to bathe the appointment-making process in prayer. I take encouragement in knowing that, in addition to those at the Prayer Summit, many people across North Alabama are lifting up the Cabinet and the appointment-making process during this time.
It helps churches to know that much prayer surrounds appointment-making. Also, it helps reduce the anxiety of moving clergy and receiving churches to know the principles behind the appointment-making process. Below are some of the principles and the timeline that the 2014 North Alabama Appointive Cabinet is using in appointment-making.
1) A Year-round Process: Effective appointment-making is a 24/7, fifty-two weeks a year endeavor. The appointive cabinet and I are continually assessing how matches are working . . . what gifts and graces are needed for particular situations . . . and the strengths/growing edges of individual clergy and churches. In addition, when we begin our Spring appointment-making, though we will focus on 2014 appointments, we will also be thinking about 2015 and 2016 openings that we anticipate.
2) Consultations: The Fall consultations are the starting point for appointment-making. District Superintendents have already been in consultation with every clergy. The purpose of the consultations with clergy is to hear their discernment about staying or moving and to assess the health of the church.
District Superintendents have also been in consultation with pastor/staff-parish relations committees that are requesting consideration for a pastoral change or whose pastors are anticipating a change in status or a possible move. The District Superintendents have developed an understanding of the clergy leadership needed for those churches.
3) 3 Major Considerations: The clergy and local church consultations give District Superintendents additional insight into the 3 major factors we consider in appointment-making: 1) what is best for the church or (in the case of extension ministries) other ministry context; 2) what is best for the clergy person and 3) what is best for the Annual Conference. One factor is not given greater priority than the others. Rather, they all combine together in determining whether a clergy person moves to a new ministry setting or continues in their current one.
4) Itinerancy; United Methodist elders take a vow that we will itinerate as needed. The Cabinet and I will be sensitive to spouses and their jobs, children in school, aging parents and other factors that make it difficult for clergy to itinerate. However, when a clergyperson places limitations on their itinerancy, it is more difficult to make effective matches. Every qualifier a clergyperson places on their capacity to itinerate decreases the number of possible ideal appointment matches for them and increases the likelihood that they will be appointed to a setting where they are less than fully able to utilize all their gifts.
5) Kitchen Cabinet: Most Annual Conferences have a “kitchen cabinet.” This is an informal group of clergy who guess at the appointments the Bishop and District Superintendents will make. Sometimes they circulate these projections with their friends. Persons with a “kitchen cabinet” mentality often begin conversations with their friends, especially in the springtime, with this question, “What do you know?”
Kitchen cabinet talk is usually intended as a harmless activity. However it can inadvertently become hurtful and destructive. This is particularly true in instances where appointment information circulates to churches and pastors from persons other than their District Superintendents. What is worse- a kitchen cabinet can be so good at the game of guessing appointments that some of their projections turn out to be accurate. When the rumors they circulate become reality- it can appear that the Cabinet is breaking confidentiality. This creates trust issues between District Superintendents, churches and clergy.
Last year the clergy and laity of this Annual Conference honored beautifully my request to avoid kitchen cabinet talk. Thank you for that. Many of you expressed to the Cabinet and me that the lack of “kitchen cabinet talk” during the appointment season helped to increase your trust and diminish your anxiety about appointments. I ask that you again refrain from participating in kitchen cabinet projections. Also, please remember that your District Superintendent is the only reliable source for definitive information about you or your church’s appointment.
Yes, it is appointment-making season in North Alabama Methodism- a time that tends to raise anxiety. May those clergy and churches anticipating a move find peace in knowing some of the appointment-making principles of the Appointive Cabinet. Also, may all of us gain confidence in realizing that many prayers are being prayed for God’s guidance throughout this process.
As always, it is a privilege to serve as your bishop.
Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett