|The Rev. David Karges, a member of the United Methodist Rural Fellowship from Jenks, Okla., distributes leaflets to delegates arriving for a session of the 2008 General Conference. The organization supported delegate-election voting for all clergy.|
Local pastors win vote for delegates
In 1996, the Rev. Claude Herbert was beginning his first full-time appointment as a local pastor. But in the midst of celebration, he was frustrated.
He was considered a clergy member of the North Georgia Annual Conference, but, as a licensed local pastor, he could not vote for clergy delegates to General Conference or to the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference.
"I reasoned that if you are a clergy member of the annual conference, you should be able to vote on everything as a clergy member," Herbert said.
What gnawed on Herbert's sense of justice for 14 years was removed May 4 when the Council of Bishops announced ratification of an amendment to the Constitution of The United Methodist Church enlarging the pool of clergy who will elect delegates to future General, Jurisdictional and Central conferences.
Gaining the vote are:
Provisional members of the annual conferences who have completed their educational requirements; and
Local pastors who have completed the course of study or a master of divinity degree and have served a minimum of two consecutive years under appointment immediately preceding the election.
Ratification means Herbert, who has served churches since 1992, completed the course of study in 1995, and will have served First United Methodist Church in Woodstock, Ga., since 2008, will vote next spring to elect delegates to the 2012 conferences.
Unknown is how many other local pastors and provisional members will meet the educational and ministerial service requirements and be eligible to vote in 2011.
Almost 21 percent gain vote
In 2007, 6,819 or 15 percent of United Methodist clergy were licensed local pastors, rather than ordained elders or deacons in full connection, while another 2,250 or 5.6 percent were provisional members, said Scott Brewer, director of connectional services for the General Council on Finance and Administration in Nashville, Tenn.
Steps to have the 2008 General Conference amend the constitution began in 2006 when Herbert, president of the North Georgia Fellowship of Associate Members and Local Pastors, asked then-presiding Bishop Lindsey Davis to rule whether local pastors could vote for clergy delegates.
Citing Paragraph 35 of the constitution, Davis ruled that local pastors were not eligible to vote. It said delegates are to be elected by "ordained ministerial members in full connection with the annual conference...." The Judicial Council upheld Davis' decision in October 2006.
"The decision didn't go over real well," said Herbert.
In response, The National Fellowship of Associate Members and Local Pastors and the United Methodist Rural Fellowship petitioned General Conference to adopt a constitutional amendment. Delegates meeting in Fort Worth, Texas, in 2008 approved the proposed amendment by a five-to-one margin (two-thirds approval was required) and submitted it to the annual conferences.
|The Rev. Roger Grace|
Voting in 2009 and early 2010, 78 percent of all annual conference members around the world (38,604 to 10,432) approved ratification.
"The United Methodist Rural Fellowship has been working to advance the voting privileges of associate members and local pastors for at least three decades,"said the Rev. Roger L. Grace, president.
Rural voice strengthened
"Not having a vote was a justice issue. It was an injustice to those serving in those capacities as well as to the churches they serve. Without a vote on clergy delegates, rural churches could only impact lay delegates but had no say in the clergy representation."
A former district superintendent in the West Ohio Conference and a 25-year veteran of rural pastorates, Grace thinks the new voters will have little effect on the theological bent of General Conference.
"Some people believe that these additional voters are going to be more theologically conservative than are those who are ordained, but it has been my experience that associate members and local pastors come in all theological flavors," he said.
"I don't believe that the change in voters will significantly alter the theological makeup of most delegations, and, even if it were to have that effect, granting the vote to those who serve is still the right thing to do."
Other constitutional amendments ratified:
Add "gender" to the categories of persons protected in the list of duties of General Conference.
Set minimum levels of support for the election of bishops.
Allow laity on conference boards of ordained ministry and committees on investigation and district committees on ordained ministry to vote on ordination matters.
Recognize United Methodist congregations in Bermuda as part of the Baltimore-Washington Conference.
Conference members did not approve an amendment to say that all people are welcome to attend United Methodist churches and receive the sacraments. At present Article 4 identifies five criteria for which people cannot be excluded — race, color, national origin, status and economic condition.
Also defeated were 23 constitutional amendments that would have allowed a future General Conference to create one or more regional conferences in the United States and would have allowed the Central Conferences to create jurisdictions. The Committee to Study the Worldwide Nature of the Church will bring new recommendations to the 2012 General Conference.
The Rev. J. Richard Peck, retired elder, New York Annual Conference