- First of all, I think the congregationalism, the localism, we are experiencing in the United Methodist Church is part of the cultural phenomenon of states rights and localism in the political arena. ...Because of our appointment system, churches are guaranteed to have a pastor, and they see some other evidences that connectionalism does deliver for them. But certainly we in the UMC live in the same kind of tension as those people arguing for both localism and state's rights...It is different than it was thirty years ago when people were ...proclaiming connectionalism, but we have not forsaken it.
Congregationalism (or creeping congregationalism as UMC leaders often put it) seems to be a combination of local churches wanting more and more autonomy at the same time as they also to withdraw from involvement with other churches, agencies and offices of their regional judicatory.
Query: In your jurisdiction, do those congregations which are most determined to make their own decisions on pastors, programs, property, and financial donations sent to the judicatory offices or national denominational agencies etc., also tend to be the same congregations which are resistant to engaging in joint programs or missions activities with other congregations? Or in your area are these more separate phenomenon? What kinds of churches are most likely to exhibit one or the other, or both?
General Polity and Practice: In most denominations, congregations actually have autonomy in many areas of their life. This generally means that the local church can govern itself without interference from the regional judicatory or national church, at least within certain parameters.
These parameters differ both by denominational polity and by the fiscal status of the congregation. The more control the regional judicatory office has over congregations, the more formal authority the regional leaders have to promote connectional bonds among congregations and with the judicatory. Exercising that authority effectively to enhance these ties within the judicatory is more problematic.
The Episcopal, the Reformed Church, and the United Methodist regional judicatories have legal power (by at least church canons if not always state laws) to control their congregations' real estate; making it difficult, but not impossible, for congregations to leave the denomination. In the other denominations, the individual churches which own their building and land and can dispose of it as they wish; unless the congregation has a legal deed or constitution saying that its property is to revert to the judicatory if the it closes or leaves the denomination. In United Methodist conferences, the cabinets appoint clergy to all churches. In the other denominations the churches are free to choose their own pastor, as long as these congregations are self-supporting and as long as the choice is approved by the appropriate regional leaders, and sometimes, even if disapproved. Regional leaders have and do exercise more veto power over the choice of pastor in the Episcopal Church and the Lutheran Missouri Synod, than do regional leaders in the Assemblies of God, the Vineyard, Reformed Church in America , and the United Church of Christ. In these last four denominations, it is more possible for a church to call a pastor from another denomination without judicatory permission, who then may lead the church to dissolve its relationship with the judicatory.
In these seven denominations (and others), the regional judicatory control over its congregations is tightened or loosened depending on whether the particular congregation is financially supported by its judicatory or is more a major contributor to its coffers. In illustration, the Assemblies of God and the Episcopal Church have two formal categories of congregations: (1) the self-supporting churches which have high autonomy in making decisions on future directions and hiring clergy (2) and judicatory-supported churches whose affairs are supervised and whose clergy are appointed by the district or diocese (Assemblies: General Council vs. District affiliated church; Episcopal: parish vs. mission church). Megachurches and very wealthy moderate-sized churches have far more autonomy to make their own decisions than smaller, less financially robust churches in most judicatories of all denominations.
Whatever the official polity, regional leaders in these seven denominations and likely in all others, understand the central task of their judicatory office as to serve, strengthen, and keep their congregations within the denominational fold. To do this, it is important that congregations in their charge have some sense of connection or covenant or loyalty to at least their regional body. Without these immediate regional ties, what will stop a congregation from leaving the denomination? Further, if congregations withhold money from the judicatory because they do not feel connected, the mission and ministry of the judicatory and likely that of the national church will be diminished.
Regional leaders interviewed across denominations were very aware of the importance of there being some real sense of connection or covenant among their congregations with each other and with their judicatory offices. In reflecting on trends in inter-congregational and regional staff relationships they have observed, these judicatory executives often hypothesized various reasons for these trends.
Reasons Proffered for Local Churches Moving Toward Greater Congregationalism AND/OR Less Covenanting
A substantial majority of the regional leaders interviewed, observed some increase among their congregations in the extent to which more of these churches seem determined to choose their own way, independent of their judicatory mission priorities, and often unconnected with their national church's programs. In responding to a question on why this might be occurring, their reasons fall into four major broad categories. These categories of reasons given, nearly in order of frequency of mention, are: 1) contemporary cultural values; 2) social trends and mobility of members and churches; 3) worship wars and theological differences; 4) and the importance of pastors.
1. Contemporary Cultural Values
A high proportion of regional leaders interviewed spoke about the influence of broad cultural values and societal trends on their local churches. However, they differed on what aspect of contemporary culture they see as most salient for their congregations.
Many regional leaders who reported an increase in congregationalism in their judicatories, though they voiced their observations in a variety of terms, basically attributed this in part to the emphasis put on having self-determination and decision-making input, particularly among the Boomer generation. They see this value orientation as a major contributor to more church members' wanting greater voice in determining mission objectives and budget allocations for their congregations, and sometimes as well for their regional judicatories and national church bodies. Some interviewed spoke further about what happens when such members are thwarted or ignored: these are the persons most apt to challenge authority of their clergy, regional or national level within their denomination. These disenchanted members are likely to indicate their displeasure by reducing their own financial support to the offending level. If they are lay leaders in their congregations, they be instrumental in getting their congregations to withhold funds from judicatory or national church agency.
Emphasis on self-determination may also, several interviewed proposed, contribute to members' greater localism and less interest in cooperating in projects with church bodies outside of their own congregation. This is most likely to arise if they feel they do not have sufficient input into arrangements with these external groups. Some regional leaders observed that on the congregational level, church localism is often accompanied by distrust of other congregations, resulting in church isolation. Church isolation and localism can easily extend to more distant denominational bodies, such as the regional judicatory and national church offices, driving some churches to a stance of anti-denominationalism. Anti-denominationalism among lay leaders can also be fueled by their general lack of confidence that any large organization or institution will make decisions for the common good of smaller groups in their purview, another value perspective attributed especially to the Boomer generation..
Consumerism, is the term used by several regional executives and senior staff to refer to a tendency noted by many interviewed, for congregational leaders themselves to care a great deal less for the common good than for what benefits their local church. This value orientation, also seen as characteristic of Boomers, is reflected in local churches' resistance to or at least questioning of annual requests that they pay their fair share to regional coffers; What is our church getting for our bucks -- from our judicatory staff?
In illustration of one or more of these points, the following regional leaders in denominations with quite different polities comment:
- Episcopal: Congregationalism I see as the over whelming change in our culture and the dominance of boomers in leading those congregations - where they are more inclined to say what does the denomination do for us to help us meet our mission.? There is increasing congregationalism in the sense in which all congregations are becoming more congregational, even Episcopal. Everybody under 55 years of age, all Boomers and Gen-Xers, share in common that they want to be part of the decision making process. So that is a shift towards a more participatory decision making away from a more representative form.
- Assemblies of God: I think that it is generational.. I think it kind of springs back to a loss of loyalty.. I don't know whether that is good or bad... I am a WW2 baby so I probably belong to an older generation and loyalty was a key thing you were taught, so if your Dad drove a Chevy, you drove a Chevy kinda of thing. If you were raised in the Assemblies of God, you went to the Assemblies of God. I think the Boomers generation is more of a "what fits my need;" "what works for me" ..As far as the local setting goes, there is an allegiance to some degree to that body there because there are relationships. But because there is no relationship between that individual and the denomination or the headquarters, they don=t really feel a loyalty there, if that makes sense to you.
- United Methodist: Most definitely there is a trend toward congregationalism...there could be multiple reasons for this. One, we live in a country where individualism has been part of our birthright, and I see that individualism increasing in many areas of our society today...I think two, in the religious arena there is more and more questioning about the polity sides of the hierarchies. "Where are all our funds going?" Ten and twenty years ago these questions seldom came up. I think there is another paradigm in our society in that loyalty between employer and employee are almost nonexistent. ...I would say another reason for the shift is distrust of leadership, whether you are the President of the United States or the bishop of an annual conference. I am not saying that these reasons are all bad; there are good elements in all of them in a way. But I do feel there is a much greater questioning process today of leaders across the board. So therefore trends in more independent thought processes of our congregations are some of the results of that.
2. Social Trends, Geographical Mobility of Church Members
A social trend that definitely limits local churches being actively involved with other churches or judicatory programs is connected with employment. According to some interviewed in each denomination, in their regions there has been an continued increase in the proportion of both spouses employed outside the home, and more individuals commuting some distance to work. This makes it difficult to find volunteers for various church projects and arrange committee meetings on weekdays. On top of this people seem to be busier, or at least more involved in social, civic, and recreational activities unconnected with their church or denomination. In illustration, two regional leaders again from denominations with quite different polities comment:
- Association of Vineyard Churches: (Congregationalism).. is easily the trend, just because of the business of schedules...the reality of time demands....The climb of working mothers is just increasing year after year. I think now nationwide over 60% of the families in America are two-parent working families; even just twenty years ago it was way under 50%. Time demands in the culture on the family are huge. Twenty years ago your most committed people would give four major blocks of time to the church a week, like a Sunday morning, Saturday night, now maybe two other nights during the week. Now your most committed people give you two blocks. The demands that people make on the church have increased, while the time they give has decreased. So it makes it a real trick to balance these things.
- Reformed Church in America: The regional synod tries to encourage churches to share in some joint projects, and we try in this circuit too...(but) .There are a variety of changes that go on in people=s lives that present significant challenges to the Church. How do we keep ministering to people as the culture changes and people's habits change? One of the things which is a particular challenge is that people in general are working longer hours. More women are working. So it is hard to find people with a lot of volunteer time to do the kinds of things they used to do.
Employment is also a major reason why people move from one community to another, and to other states across the country. Geographical mobility is generally seen by these regional leaders as often a factor in attenuating their congregations' commitment to covenanting or connecting with other churches and agencies of their denomination. This may be because active church members of a denomination who move a thousand miles away to take a job and then join another church of the same denomination, are far too busy to become involved with other churches and judicatory programs of the denomination. However, it is far more likely to occur because in moving, they join a congregation of another denomination. Geographical mobility results in both congregations' losing members brought up in the denomination, while gaining new members who were not. In line with the cultural value on consumerism described, people who shop for the best jobs, may also shop for the best churches that fit their needs, regardless of whether they have ever attended a service at a church of this denomination previously.
Since many of these mobile adults do not join the particular congregation because of its denominational affiliation, a number of regional leaders surmised, they likely take little interest in having their congregation connect closely with the judicatory and its other churches. An influx of new people into a congregation who have no understanding of the polity and theology, although very welcome in many ways, can work against such churches' covenanting or connecting with their judicatory. Although this probability was raised by at least one interviewed in all seven denominations, it was especially likely to be noticed by regional leaders in the most traditionally connectional denomination, the United Methodist Church. In illustration, UMC bishops, conference council directors, and district superintendents representing five different conferences across the country, reflect:
- I think one of the factors that is present in our Church, and this is true across denominational lines, is that people transfer and move now more in our mobile society. They just don't automatically go to a church of the denomination they had in the place they left. And so you find a lot of people in churches who are not as familiar with how the new denomination they have gone to functions. This has been some problem, though not a major one, in maintaining a healthy connectionalism in this conference.
- More and more people are joining our churches from other denominations. Those who grew up in any other denomination but Roman Catholic, have just assumed local church autonomy...In a lot of congregations, the people who are joining are joining not on the strength of UMC identity, but upon liking the local congregation. Then in membership classes and subsequent discussion when you talk about the itinerant system and the way the connection of the conference work together, they are just astounded because that is not part of their background.
- We are an episcopal system. I am having to keep on interpreting that to people, because so many of our people come from different denominations. They join us, but they have no clue as to our polity, such as "who is the bishop to tell us what to do?" You know, that kind of thing.
- Unlike twenty-five years ago.. when people came into a community and moved churches, they looked for the next United Methodist Church. Today that is not true, you know. Our Methodist churches have a many former Presbyterians, Church of Christ, or Catholics as those raised in our denomination. So it is a continual process trying to help them understand some of the connection.
- All of our churches have experienced for decades a large influx of non-UMC people. So that distinctive UMC culture of connectionalism is difficult to maintain.
The influx of new members who were not previously of the denomination, is most likely occur where there are many opportunities for employment, i.e. the cities and suburbs. Rural and small town churches, as attested to by regional leaders across denominations, have a majority of members who have grown up in their denomination, but are often decreasing in membership as the young adults leave for opportunities elsewhere and the older die.
Several interviewed noted that their city and suburb churches which have much more opportunity to connect with other churches and send lay leaders to attend centrally-held judicatory meetings and programs, are less likely to do so (without a lot of ground work) than some of their rural churches. These executives explained that in part, this is due to the fact that their typically bigger urban and suburban churches had so many of their own programs going on, they did not need anything the judicatory could provide. Further, when these more urban churches did connect with other congregations in mission activities, fund raising events, and the like, they were equally or more apt to link with those of other denominations and faiths in their vicinity. After all, such churches have many members who have come from other denominations and/or have many friends and colleagues who attend nearby congregations of other denominations and faiths. In contrast, their judicatories' rural churches are unlikely to be close to any other congregation whose theology and worship practices are not totally discordant with theirs. Further, more of the members of these rural churches, having been brought up in the denomination, are often eager for contact with churches and regional leaders of their judicatory, and welcome opportunities provided for such connection.
This has not been the experience of all judicatory leaders, however. Some have found more success in getting the cosmopolitan-oriented membership of their suburban and urban churches to cooperate in sharing programs and participating in judicatory committees and events, than they have in inducing the more local-oriented membership of their rural and small town churches to do similarly. Socio-economic differences and lifestyles that coincide with the membership of urban versus rural churches, may also create avoidance of one another. Sometimes small congregations can value autonomy to such a degree that they isolate themselves from judicatory participation far more than their geographical distance or attempts to include them would explain.
Query: Among congregations in your regional jurisdiction, is there a divide among those which are located in urban and those in rural and small town areas? If so, what are the major factors that contribute in your region? Have you found ways of overcoming or diminishing some of these difference in getting clergy and congregations together?
3. Worship Wars and Theological Differences
Planting Congregation in New Areas: People move across country and join churches that may be quite different from their former congregations. Similarly, denominations which begin churches at a distance from the states that have traditionally been their central stronghold, may find the surrounding culture imposes different conditions and constraints on the nature of the congregation they would prefer in the way of worship format, internal governance, and relations with the larger church structures. Regional dispersion of churches and members of a denomination can contribute to conflicts nationally, regionally and locally about how worship should be conducted, often exacerbating attendant theological differences.
Some denominations are well distributed all over the United States, particularly the Assemblies of God, the Episcopal Church, and the United Methodist Church. Others, like the Association of Vineyard Churches (centered on the southern West Coast, moving eastward through the Midwest and Southwest); the Lutheran Missouri Synod (centered as the state name implies in the central Midwest, moving toward both east and west coasts); the Reformed Church in America (centered in the Midwest and North Central, moving into various part of the United States and Canada), and the United Church of Christ (centered in the Northeast, moving South and West).
Most of these denominations have fewer congregations in the Northwest than in other parts of the country, partly because of this area's geography and dispersed population inland and partly because of the individualistic secularism of its denizens. In comparison to other locations, regional leaders in the West and particularly in the Northwest, cited the effects on church attendance from competition from secular events and recreation available, compounded by the large proportion of the adult population raised without and still without any religious affiliation. In judicatories further from the West Coast, leaders were more apt to speak about the problems occasioned in some of their congregations by having a substantial proportion of members brought up in another denomination, who have quite different expectations for church governance, worship services, and the like, as described.
Loosening the Regulations and Styles to Attract Members. When denominations (mainly through their regional judicatories) plant churches in areas which are both far from their geographic center and populated by few members who grew up in their denomination, in order for these mission churches to live, they must often loosen rules and expectations for what members believe and do, at least for a time. If the new congregation is competing with other churches long established in the area, but particularly if it is the sole community church, the congregation may find it expedient to be broad enough so that those raised in a number of different denominations would be comfortable. This solution, however, renders the congregation quite different from others of its judicatory.
Diversity in Worship Styles to Appeal to Different Constituencies Even in areas close to the denomination’s geographic centers, when judicatories purposively reach beyond their usual member demographics by establishing new churches intended to be multicultural, or adopt or start a foreign-language church composed of Asian, Caribbean, or Hispanic immigrants, for example, they are expanding not only their population base but also likely increasing worship diversity and understanding of polity among their congregations One UCC regional leader, echoing the sentiment of most of the other regional leaders interviewed across denominations, believed it should be the case in his conference, with its is mix of predominantly Anglo and predominantly African American congregations, that "You can appreciate your own style of worship and not be derogatory to someone who enjoys a different worship style." However, this unfortunately is not as widely true as he would wish. Judicatories which encourage churches to offer new kinds of music and kinds of church services that will appeal especially to young people, may experience both growth in some congregations doing this, as well as increased diversity among their congregations in styles of worship. Relatively few congregations in a judicatory are large enough to support two or more very different kinds of services, resulting in possibly wide differences among congregations in their style of worship. In illustration of the dynamics here for any church, an AOG executive comments:
- Assemblies of God: I think style is a major issue - especially when it comes to music. I think a lot of congregations are struggling with: How far do we go in embracing contemporary music? The younger generation wants it loud and long, and the older generation likes the hymnal.. For me it is not a question or either-or, its and, but very few congregations are able to do both. I think that is a major difficulty facing congregations.
Several regional leaders interviewed in each of the denominations remarked on there being quite a diversity in worship practices among their congregations, even when there was agreement on denominational theological teachings. Many saw the diversity as advantageous to the judicatory on the whole because it allowed more church choices for those who preferred different kinds of services. Others acknowledged this advantage, but also observed it as a source of disruption in churches' participation in the life of the judicatory, particularly for those denominations which have had a distinctive liturgy for many years. In illustration, two regional leaders observe:
- Lutheran Missouri Synod: Here the rub in this whole area seems to come or has to do with a particular worship style on congregations And it has to do with worship style as opposed to anything else. The worship style is what is causing the separation. In other words, the LCMS style of worship has been very typically more liturgical. In congregations that I see around my area there is a lot which could be identified as a "contemporary style." ... As I talk with pastors and so forth, I see they are striving to maintain the doctrinal theological integrity of the LCMS...Across the board the men are all seeking to maintain that same theological base. However, the style is different, if people travel from one area to another.. C and I have done this myself - I may come into a congregation which has this other style of worship not familiar to me, and I would say, Alf I didn"t see Lutheran on the door, I guess I would not necessarily know what this was." That is the struggle. I am not judging that one way or the other.
- Reformed Church in America: Well, probably the code word here would be "worship wars". People in congregations are just going their own way. Particularly, the more formal liturgical churches are just distancing themselves from the more informal TV. style worship, interviews, and that sort of thing. They think "Oh my goodness! I will just stay away from that!"
Diversity in Theological Precepts: Regional judicatories may have relatively little or a great deal of theological diversity among their congregations, as well as within congregations. Strong theological differences within the membership of a congregation are likely to be disruptive. This is one reason why members of one congregation tend to be more similar in beliefs than dissimilar.
Theological differences among congregations within a judicatory can hurt covenantal relations among churches and with their judicatory offices, depending on the issue and the general tolerance of theological diversity. Some denominations are more tolerant of theological diversity than others. In the 1999 mailed national survey of 1077 regional leaders, from which those interviewed for this report were chosen, three-fifths of the leaders in the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church indicated it is "mostly true" that "There is theological diversity among church members" in their conferences compared to a minority of regional leaders in the other denominations: less than two-fifths of leaders in the Lutheran Missouri Synod, the Episcopal Church, and the Reformed Church in America; and no more one several in the Assemblies of God and the Association of Vineyard Churches. Statistical analyses of the survey data suggested that within those denominations where theological diversity is nearly expected (UCC & UMC), there was negligible impact of variations in theological diversity within a judicatory on congregations' contributions to judicatory offices or lay leaders' denominational loyalty. In contrast, in judicatories of the other denominations, the greater the degree of theological diversity their regional leaders perceived, the more difficulty they also tended to observe in these areas. One of the regional leaders suggest that this is because the trust level among congregations and with their judicatory offices in these latter denominations is diminished by the existence of theological differences where more theological uniformity is expected.
Even in judicatories of the denominations most tolerant of theological differences, certain issues can be problematic for regional leaders' uniting their congregations in common cause. In particular, both UCC and UMC judicatory leaders interviewed report that the issue of acceptance of homosexuality is major division among their congregations, and a probable factor in the increased degree of congregationalism exhibited by their churches.
Query: Are there particular theological issues that seem to divide churches in your jurisdiction from one another? How have you dealt with these in trying to accomplish mission objectives?
4. The Importance of Pastors in Congregational Covenant & Connection
Regional leaders interviewed would agree with unanimity that one of the largest factors in the degree to which their congregations contribute to and connect with the judicatory, is whether their pastors encourage their congregations to do so. Regional leaders in denominations with a more congregational polity, were particularly apt to say that the pastors are pivotal in a congregation’s relationship to the regional offices and staff: In illustration, two Assemblies of God regional executives explain:
- A congregation’s relationship to the district is pretty much dependent on the pastoral relationship: if the pastor has a good relationship than so will the church.
- The only reason congregations are ignorant of the district is that pastors don’t do their jobs. If I am sour toward the district, I can make my church sour.
Lutheran Missouri Synod regional leaders made similar comments. As one put it:
The struggle is, do congregations continue to send resources to the district and to the synod if they become more independent? I think the key is the involvement of their pastoral staff in the district.
In the Association of Vineyard Churches, the Area Pastoral Coordinators do almost all of their connectional work solely through the pastors in their jurisdictions, pastors who for the most part began their present congregations, e.g:
- In my Area, we are trying to build a real relational group. Now if there is a guy that just does not respond, just kind of isolates himself, as long as he was not doing something heretical or anything or whatever, we would let him, but strongly encourage him to interact... Because I am in a relationship with the guys, when something happens - I know it. It is not forced. We are trying to work out of a relational authority.
In United Church of Christ, which not only has a congregational polity but is diverse theologically, lay leaders may have more influence in determining the nature of the covenanting that occurs, especially if they have been with the congregation far longer than their pastor: e.g
- Some of that covenanting depends on who the clergy people are and the history of the church. If the pastors think it is a good idea, it will happen. Some congregations too have a history of sharing .... So if a new pastor shows up, they just say: "This is what we do here." That can happen too!
In more connectional polities of the Episcopal Church, Reformed Church in America, and especially the United Methodist Church, regional leaders do have more control over the degree to which congregations associate with the judicatory and follow through on various mandates. However , judicatory executives and senior staff in each of these denominations also attest to the importance of clergy leadership in the extent to which congregation connect with one another and the judicatory. In illustration, two RCA leaders on the synod level comment on the importance of clergy in local churches' connection with the regional with the classis or regional synod:
- Are pastor influential in this? You bet your life! In fact one of my standing jokes is that the most difficult thing about the mail, is getting it past the pastor's desk! Many important things come the pastor's desk, and he throws it in the waste basket.
- I think this is really a personality question. It is based a lot on the pastor and key lay people. I have some large churches that just love being part of the Reformed Church, and some that feel they can go it on their own. I have small churches that feel abused by the denomination, and some that feel very happy to be part of it. I really think this has more to do with the personality of its leadership, than a trend or other characteristics.
A United Methodist bishop would somewhat agree with the last quote above, except he and others across denominations cited earlier, believe that cultural trends do impact the clergy as well.
- This whole business about individualism in American culture is really infecting clergy, as it has everybody. You have all the generational issues that go with that. So, if you ask me how collegial the clergy are who are 55 years and older, I would say they are very collegial. If you were to ask me how collegial are the clergy under age 35, I would say these Young Turks are all out there thinking they can change the world all by themselves. There is a lot of sociological evidence, as you know, to indicate this is true all through the culture and clergy are not any different. So I think there are some generational issues here.
Regional judicatories executives and elected leaders in these more connectional polity denominations generally have more clout over clergy than those in the congregational polity denominations. This is because as another UMC leader put it: "They are more attuned to the conference because their employability depends on the conference." At the same time, executives in these connectional denominations can experience as many problems as those in the more congregational polity denominations in getting isolationist or very independent clergy, who have been pastors in the judicatory some years, to work collegially with other clergy or influence their congregations toward supporting judicatory programs. Another UMC leader ruefully explained: : "We used to mandate gatherings for clergy, but that didn't work, because nobody showed up!' This man went on to say said the conference had a much easier time with its three-year program for new clergy coming in from seminary or from years in other conference.
One advantage is that regional executives in connectional denominations typically have and take more authority in insisting that new clergy to the judicatory be involved in a program they devise, so they can be socialized in the judicatory ways and procedures, as well as watched carefully in their first year or two. In illustration, the following Episcopal executives in different dioceses comment:
- Well, you can't force clergy sharing. You can only try to create a climate. I think what blocks that is the competitive nature of some clergy. Political ideology, theology, separate some of our clergy... There are some clergy who do not want to be collegial - they are the bishop of their little parish... We have had an enormous turnover of clergy. In the last five or six years we have had a lot of retirements, we have had a lot of new clergy...
We are using a program where we put all the new clergy in the diocese in a group.
So you have people ordained six months and those ordained thirty years in the group. We assign them a partner who is a settled priest in the diocese. We pray together, we have conversation, transition issues, conflict, a lot of wellness stuff. We meet in their parishes, so we go the rounds. Everybody gets to drive. Some of them have to drive four hours. (Do all of them come?) Well, we tell them they have to.
- We are being very proactive when we have new clergy. We tell the Vestry, long before parish even calls new clergy, that the new person is required to be part of a program where they come for about the first two years. The research has shown that if a clergy person is going to get into trouble, it is the first two years. So we require the person to come in to an 18-24 month meeting with others in similar situations to do some training as well as support group work.
Regional leaders in the Episcopal Church and in the other denominations, whether more connectional or more congregational in polity, would concur with the following Episcopal bishop that the major way of ensuring good clergy for the fellowship of the judicatory is through helping congregations select good clergy in the first place:
- The main place we act is in the deployment process. I vet the resumes of clergy coming in. The place where we really act, where we send the most time, is in change of congregational leadership. As clergy leave, we always try to get a better leader than we have had. If you can do that, you can get a really strong priest, you have pretty much solved your problems.
Across denominations, one of the major parts of regional leaders jobs is precisely recruiting strong clergy for their congregations who will connect and covenant with others in the judicatory. This is also one of the most pressing issues for regional leaders, as a many struggle to find good pastors for their vacant pulpits. This subject will be given extensive treatment in a later research report and conference web discussion.
The next research report (which may be in two parts) and associated on-line conference will focus on more practical issues involved in -- and ways regional leaders are experimenting with -- to better:
1) get congregations in their jurisdictions to covenant with one another and better connect with their regional association generally;
2) induce their larger, richer congregations to be more active in regional judicatory events or programs, as well as get these wealthier congregations to provide various kinds of assistance to poorer churches and missions in the region.