As United Methodists await the official outcome of annual-conference voting on 32 proposed amendments to the UM Constitution, the apparent victory of Amendment XIX (19) has received relatively little attention. Instead, the focus has been on the now all-but-certain defeat of Amendment I (which would have altered membership requirements) and the poor showing of the controversial restructuring amendments (which would have separated the denomination into “regional” conferences).
But annual-conference approval of Amendment XIX is significant. Passage of the the amendment would mean that “local pastors” who meet certain educational and appointment requirements will be allowed to vote for delegates to future General Conferences, perhaps shaping the ultimate legislative outcomes of those Conferences.
In an Oct. 14 column released by the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church, Methodist historian Riley B. Case (who is also a retired district superintendent and pastor), wrote that passage of the amendment is likely to result in a stronger evangelical presence among General Conference delegates.
[The success of Amendment XIX is a] positive development for those in the evangelical renewal movements. When the Good News movement was founded in 1967, one of its very first causes was that of full voting rights for local pastors….
[For decades,] Good News’s petitions to the General Conference that called for [such] voting rights…were overwhelmingly defeated.
But at the 2008 General Conference, Amendment XIX passed overwhelmingly — and judging from results already released by many annual conferences, it appears that final passage of the amendment is assured. Current totals show Amendment XIX garnering 78% of the vote, well in excess of the 67% required for a constitutional change.
In his column, Dr. Case noted that the history of “local pastors” (or their equivalent) goes back to the earliest days of the Methodist movement.
Ever since the days of Wesley’s lay preachers, ministers with less than full ordination have done a herculean task in the church. They have ministered to people that full elders were unwilling or unable to minister to, and filled spots that full elders were unable or unwilling to fill.
And before the days when unrealistic educational expectations and institutional obfuscating requirements made the process to full ordination so difficult, they moved easily into full membership in the conferences.
But many in the church were unhappy with the idea of local pastors.
A few years ago, for example, the North Illinois Conference insisted that only full elders were to receive appointments. They sent elders into rural areas, or difficult city areas, where they did not want to be, and subsidized their salaries. The results were disastrous in a number of situations. Neither the churches nor the pastors were satisfied. Highly trained and institutionally-minded individuals and churches with different pastoral expectations do not always make the best fit.
But now by necessity, if not by design, the church, at least in many areas, is relying more and more on local pastors. From 1970 to 2003 the number of full-time local pastors has doubled, from 1,220 to 2,563. The number of part-time local pastors has increased from 2,706 to 3,976. Presently 24% of all appointments in the U.S. are filled by local pastors….
It is not insignificant that areas and conferences where the church is growing, or at least maintaining its strength, are the conferences most accepting of local pastors.
One-fourth of all pastors in the Southeast[ern] and South Central Jurisdictions are local pastors. On the other hand, in the Western Jurisdiction only 14% of the ministers are local pastors. 39% of the pastors in West Virginia and 38% of the pastors in Louisiana are local pastors. Conversely, Alaska has only 7% local pastors, New York 8%, Pacific Northwest 8% and Minnesota 10%. These are not known as the areas where United Methodism is thriving.
Dr. Case concluded his column noting that, with the passage of Amendment XIX, “2,563 more persons, many of them evangelical in theology…will be voting for General Conference delegates.”
Riley B. Case is a retired clergy member of the Indiana Conference, associate executive director of the Confessing Movement, and a member of the Good News board of directors. He also serves as president of the board of the Kokomo (Ind.) Rescue Mission.