More LLP Conversation

25806_picture2If you look down the main page, you will see that my previous post was one where I proposed some ideas for reforms on how Licensed Local Pastors are viewed, utilized, and treated in the United Methodist Church. I went to bed thinking that, as usual, relatively no one would notice my musings or care. Oh boy, I was wrong. The last thing I was expecting was for the post to receive well over 2,000 views (and counting), and several comments. A couple of days ago I found out that the post had been shared to a Licensed Local Pastors group on Facebook and there was a good bit of conversation happening there as well. I have also been contacted by a few people who want to discuss ways we can work together to find a way forward for Licensed Local Pastors.

Sharing this news is not to brag but rather to show my appreciation for the fact that a conversation has begun and that people are taking notice. One person shared with me that their bishop made the statement that LLPs should have a say in constitutional amendments and be able to vote for JC and GC delegates. The DS I serve under in Kentucky had this to say in a tweet to me:

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For the record, I completely agree with Rev. Williams. LLPs who are making the effort to participate in the connection should be allowed to have more of a say in how the connection is governed. Clearly, this is a conversation that has needed to take place and may have more support for change than many – including myself – thought.

The comments I saw were overall positive. There were some who say that I didn’t go far enough in my proposal because it did not call for full equity. Frankly, full equity (whereby LLPs and Elders are truly treated as equals in all ways) was not what I was going for. I began to realize that I needed to clarify some things that I had said and positions that I hold. It is that which I will try to do right now.

  • Let me say this plainly and clearly: I am not de-emphasizing ordination. Quite the opposite. Recall that I intend to pursue ordination as an Elder myself. The callings for LLPs and Elders overlap in many ways but there are also distinctions in each of their callings which I feel should be preserved. Elders are appointed to a congregation but they are avowed for life and are submitting to itineracy. LLPs typically are not subject to itineracy (though in cases like Mississippi most full-time LLPs and some part-time LLPs are often part of that system, mainly out of necessity), LLPs and their license is not truly a permanent form of clergy association. Having said that, LLPs are nonetheless clergy and are nonetheless members of the United Methodist Church. As such, LLPs should be given the same voting rights as their other clergy colleagues and the laity to which they minister. LLPs should also be allowed to have a vote in matters of licensing, continuation of candidacy, and other matters that are not directly dealing with ordination in the clergy session. LLPs are clergy and should be given voice and vote.
  • Let me also say this plainly and clearly: I am not de-emphasizing seminary education. How in the world anyone could think I was doing this is beyond me as I am a student at Asbury Theological Seminary. I do feel that regardless of whether one wants to pursue COS or seminary they ought to be able to complete their studies completely online. However, this should be done in consultation with one’s DS and/or DCOM and BoOM. One of the concerns raised by a colleague was that the spiritual formation aspect of education may be neglected by allowing one to complete their studies online. The candidate ought to be expected to participate in covanent groups and the like and should be held accountable for this. One’s participation in such groups should be taken into account when their annual consultation takes place.
  • I am not calling for full equity of LLPs and Elders. Going back to what I said above, the calling of an Elder is different from that of an LLP in several ways. I am not advocating for and am not in favor of LLPs serving as district superintendents and bishops. Such ministry is outside the purview of the LLP and should not even be considered as a possibility. I’m aware that there are some who will not agree with my stance on this but so be it. Such is simply not the role of an LLP.
  • I meant exactly what I called for actual enforcement of the current standards for LLPs. LLPs who refuse to make adequate progress on their education within the prescribed timeframe, who refuse to participate in continuing education, who preach doctrine and practices contrary to that of the UMC, or who otherwise are not in-line with what is already expected of UMC clergy per the Book of Discipline should be discontinued, period, full stop (and for the record, I feel the same about Elders).

Here’s the reality: The UMC already heavily relies on LLPs. LLPs already outnumber Elders in several annual conferences (including Kentucky). This is a trend that appears to be increasing in spite of young clergy and other initiatives by annual conferences and the denomination at large. I do not feel that Elders will completely go away, rather that there just will not be as many. As we race toward the future, the reality is that many of the current full-time appointments will likely become part-time appointments sooner rather than later.

The trend continues to be that pastors will more and more be bi-vocational. Given current UMC structure, Elders are not even allowed to serve part time/bi-vocational appointments without approval. What I’m saying is that the make-up of clergy within the UMC is changing and is only going to continue to do so.

The UMC may choose to bury its collective head in the sand about some issues but it can not continue to ignore this one. This needs to be addressed and it needs to be addressed at the 2020 General Conference.

I want to encourage anyone who wishes to discuss this further to please reach out to me via email or social media. I would love to discuss this more and I will gladly work with anyone to reform the way LLPs are utilized and recognized within the UMC.

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6 thoughts on “More LLP Conversation

  1. One issue not addresses is the fact that more and more churches are being served by LLP’s out of necessity and that leaves a lot of churches with limited voice in the business of annual conference. They have a delegate voting but not a pastor. The LLP should be able to vote and represent the church they serve. I have sat faithfully thru 5 annual conferences feeling like an outsider on the other side of the bar with no rights to representation.

  2. I too am a LLP in New York. I wanted you to know I agree with you whole heartedly. I also agree with Tim’s comments. Many of the churches in my district (many rural churches) are served by LLPs and are therefore not adequately represented since their own pastors have no voice in Conference. I agree we are not the same as an Elder… however, we should be allowed a voice and a vote.

  3. The clergy (ordained) vote and act and put themselves up as delegates and the episcopacy because their membership is with the AC. Laity are selected from local churches and districts to equalize the vote. LLPs, provisionals, and others have a limited vote, yes, but oddly enough their laity that equalizes them do not have limited voice and vote like their clergy counterparts. There are two solutions to this. First, Scaleback the voice and vote that laity have who equalize clergy other than ordained elders and deacons. Or: Second, increase voice and vote of other clergy whose membership is not with the AC (which is Jonathon’s proposal). I still find the second option harder to justify, because the clergy other than ordained folks don’t have membership in the AC, don’t have sacramental rights in their own right, and the calling of that role is to the local church and not the greater connection (at least not directly).

    As much as I applaud your effort, Jonathon, I think that you need to enter into the realm of discussion of the sacraments (which should be at the very heart and soul of any and every conversation surrounding ordination, ecclesiology, and clergy status. And it’s a topic that you left out entirely) and the nuts and bolts of the calling of each status (which is referenced in this article, but not fully explored as one of the reasons why there’s a voting and voice and AC membership discrepancy). For me, that’s where my objection to your approach lies. I’d say that you’re coming at it and framing it in the wrong way: from the view point of democratic ideals. Develop a full-fledged theology of calling and sacramental authority for clergy and your end goal will be better received. So, in other words, I don’t have so much a problem with your end goal as much as I do your reasoning.

    Pushback on the concept that the clergy represents the local church they serve (referenced above in comments). The clergy (and neither the laity) represent the local church. The vote and voice comes from the clergy’s membership in the AC…and the laity have their membership in the AC on an annual basis to equalize the voice of the clergy. When I speak, vote, or act at AC, I am not doing so as a representative of the church I serve. Often times, I have spoken and acted on items that my local church would strongly disagree with me on, but I act and speak in that way because it has to do with my own conscience as an ordained elder and full member of the AC.

    1. Austin, the theological implications are a valid concern. The theological aspect has actually already been explored in the proposal that Taylor Watson Burton-Edwards et. al. were prepared to take to the 2016 GC. However, due to a lot of negative feedback, they determined that the proposal would not be supported as written so they withdrew it. Perhaps Taylor would be willing to share the proposal with us (I read it but this was also prior to GC and I have no clue where I saw it) as it explores many of these issues.

      Largely due to that, I am looking at this from a purely administrative standpoint. Recall that I stated that I was not calling for full equality of LLPs and Elders because they do have distinctive roles. For example, I am not in favor of LLPs serving as district superintendents or in the episcopacy. Conference membership is an issue that should be considered but let’s remember that an LLP technically is not a member of their home congregation while under appointment. So if that’s the case, what are they? This is another issue that needs to be figured out and fixed.

      Again, looking at this purely administratively, LLPs should have voice and vote. If not by simply giving them these things, we should figure out a way to include non-ordained clergy in the governance of the church especially as our reliance on non-ordained clergy is increasing and will likely continue to do so.

      I’m not smart enough to come up with a full-on proposal so I don’t have all of the answers that you seem to be seeking. I wish I did. I do want to work with others in order to give LLPs the place at the table that they should have had all along.

      And also don’t forget that I say this as one who hopes to be ordained an Elder in the future.

  4. What about the vote that must be held at the start of each Clergy Session to allow LLPs (among others) to be present in the Clergy Session? Should LLPs be able to vote on that? 😉

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