If 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:
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.