I am still interested in knowing many of you who read the Methoblog are either basic or certified lay speakers. And, no matter where you are laity or ordained, have you heard of and read ¶272 in the Book of Discipline?
I ask because I am wondering what direction the ministry of the church is taking and what the status of lay speaking will be after the next General Conference.
I have had a chance to read the Study of Ministry Report to 2008 General Conference.
It is an interesting document and its conclusions will have a great impact on the future of the denomination. I am not exactly sure whether the impact will be good or bad.
First, almost the entire focus of the conversation is on the future of the ordained clergy in the church. The Commission is seeking to delineate and define what it means to be both an elder and a deacon. It is calling upon the General Conference to reorganize the process so that one’s calling to the ministry and one’s “status” or “standing” in the church are better in line with each other. This is a continuation of the process that began in 1996 when the path to ordination as elder went through the path to ordination as a deacon.
The biggest change appears to be in the status of the local pastor. I have not been privy to any discussions about the nature of the local pastorate and what it means in the nature of the church, except as to who I could turn to when it came to consecrating the elements. There appears to be great concerns in the church, however, that there are too many local pastors or that too many of the local pastors are not completing the path towards ordination. This is either because of the age of the local pastors, the cost of the process, or other factors. It appears to me that the Commission felt that local pastors were hurting the denomination; perhaps in conjunction with discussion with other denominations about the process of ordination; perhaps in other ways within the denomination.
While the Commission does not exactly state it, they are suggesting that the denomination began a serious “pruning” of the branches of the churches. It specifically mentions that there are many small churches that could possibly be better served if they were combined in some way with other local churches. The local pastors serving these churches would then be replaced by an elder or a possible elder.
This doesn’t come as a surprise to me because I have been a part of several of those churches. The problem is that many of those small churches do not see themselves in the same light as do the Annual Conferences and the General Conference and there is going to be great resistance to any discussion for closing such churches. I get the feeling, though I don’t think it is in this report that many small churches are going to be left “to die on the vine.” There are some churches that need to die; their membership is old and their interests lie in self-preservation, not growth.
But there are other small churches that happen to be in the right place for growth and they need help in realizing this growth (the parable of the gardener asking the vineyard owner for one more year jumps to mind immediately). Communication between the conference and these churches is going to determine the success of this process.
The Commission did not address the issue of lay speakers or the Certified Lay Minister process. Its efforts were focused on the issue of ordination and the status of local pastors. The Commission does make some recommendations but only as a start in regards to the ordination of elders.
For me, it gives some added sense to the changes that were made in communion (referring back to “This Holy Mystery”). I have a better sense of the direction the denomination wishes to take and its ministry. I just not sure if it is the direction that I want to go.
This Commission’s report, along with comments made from other sources, makes me wonder if the Certified Lay Minister process will remain in the Discipline after General Conference next year. And with the Commission’s emphasis on ordination, it makes me wonder what the future of lay speaking will be. Nothing in the report/conversation says that lay speaking will be eliminated but I cannot see how it cannot be affected. The consolidation of churches and the push to reduce the number of local pastors will only reduce the number of opportunities that a lay speaker has.