An Open Letter to General Conference Delegates…


April 23, 2012

Dear Brother or Sister in Christ,

Today, I post this message for two purposes.   First and foremost I want to acknowledge the great task you are undertaking.   As a clergyperson, I too know how difficult it is to interrupt your life for these types of events.   I appreciate the level of logistics required to take time away from parish and family and I celebrate your willingness to do so.  

As you do head to Tampa, I recall those times I have spent at Annual Conference in that seemingly endless cycle of bickering and debate, and I pray for the patience and holy discernment which has to be such a great part of this upcoming General Conference.  I know that this task that United Methodists are called to undertake is not easy, and I ask that you please know that you, your families, your churches, and your endeavors are in my prayers.

The second reason for this letter is a plea.    I ask that you please remember me and those like me.

I serve a rural church as a bi-vocational, licensed local pastor.   I am sure you have no need of my reminder that the United Methodist Church has a long history of utilizing this model of ministry and of its growing importance with each passing decade.  As churches struggle to find the financial mechanisms to survive in an era of declining membership, the local pastor has become an affordable and at times church saving alternative to traditional models.  

Along with the challenges of more and more ordained clergy retiring and smaller numbers of seminary graduates pursuing small church and rural ministries, there are currently over 7200 full and part time local pastors and over 2000 associate members serving in appointments similar to mine.  For many churches, this is one of only a handful of alternatives availableto closing doors. 

Our ministries are not easy, and these are not second careers for us. 

In my setting, I work a full time job that affords me the health insurance and income stability that the congregation I serve could likely never support.   I struggle, as do so many in the church I serve, to find the right balance between faith, mortgage payments, bosses, and 401Ks.    Some weeks the ability to juggle a 8-5 job, an appointment at times requiring more hours than are in present in any given day, schooling, and a family is difficult and strains all aspects of my life.  

This is a reality of the environment I serve within, and by no means a complaint.   I see my appointment as a blessing.    I am blessed to be able to serve Jesus and my community, while making a difference where I live.  I celebrate that the United Methodist Church has a model of ministry such as this.   I point to my LLP and Associate Member colleagues and see how frequently this is becoming of a successful model of ministry for a new generation.

Yet, for many in the UMC this model of ministry is a challenging one.  Sadly, the LLP/Associate member model is often not seen as a viable tool for ministry but as a threat to our current understanding of it.    Many LLP’s/Associate Members feel not only left out of the discussion but as if they are second class clergy.  It is, at times, a heartbreaking reality.

At times it seems as if we are missing in the discussion surrounding the future of the United Methodist Church.   That absence has led to miscommunications, missteps, and mistakes.   As an example, The 2008 Ministry Study Report recommendations  published in the Feb/Mar/Apr 2012 Circuit Rider magazine that called for only “ordained elders” to be allowed the right to administer the sacraments, created a firestorm across many online clergy and UMC discussion groups.   

In the discussion that followed, it became clear that for many the understanding of this model of ministry is incomplete and inaccurate. In some discussions a few had gone as far as to label or suggest the LLP model as “lazy” or “ineffective.”  Misunderstandings as to how this ministry model is structured or the extensive requirements of those within it were rampant.  Heartbreakingly, there were also calls for this model to be removed from the ministerial options of the UMC.

This collective misunderstanding within the church at times seems normative.  In my years of license I have repeatedly been asked “why I would want to be only a LLP” or “why don’t I become an elder instead?”   My response has always been the same, I am called to ministry as a bi-vocational, tent making, licensed local pastor.  It is a struggle to remind that this is not a short cut or an easy way out.

In writing this letter, I hope to remind you as a delegate, that as Licensed Local Pastors and Associate Members (with limited voice and vote at the annual conference level), we are not a group of second class clergy.   In the wee hours of the morning a parishioner calls, when I sprinkle water on the head of an infant in Baptism, when I make vigil at the deathbed of a neighbor, or when I pray that God heals the broken hearted, those that I do so with do not see a second class minister.   They see a pastor.  

Although the are many voices dedicated to and supportive of this model of ministry in Tampa,  I urge you to remember that within the United Methodist Church there are many models of ministry, encompassing a wide spectrum of clergy and laity.    We are most successful when we exploit the full strengths of all within a framework of partnership and common mission.  Please take care that your decisions do not in avertedly make our task more difficult.

As I acknowledge those others voices within the church that at times speak as our own (such as the National Fellowship of Licensed Local Pastors and Associate Members or the United Methodist Rural Fellowship), I ask that you remember that as you address the many solutions for change currently debated within the church, that behind you in deed, spirit and prayer stands a group of pastors willing and committed to being a part of this future.   We pray that you remember us.

May God bless and protect you while on this wonderful journey,

Pastor Scott Masters, LLP

Asbury United Methodist Church

Chesterfield, New Hampshire

 

(If you are interested in learning more about this model of ministry, feel free to contact me, or visit the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church, the National Fellowship of Local Pastors and Associate Members or via our Facebook Discussion and Resource Group.  If you are interested in the online edition of the above mentioned Circuit Rider Magazine it can be accessed here.)

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5 Comments

  1. Martha Ames

     /  April 23, 2012

    Amen! I am the daughter of a fully ordained (now retired) elder and wife of a second career, seminary educated, full time local pastor. The ministry of an elder is not better than or above the ministry of the local pastor. Thank you for being a voice for those who, at General Conference will have no voice.

  2. Rebecca Lambert

     /  April 25, 2012

    Thank you, As an LLP, it is nice to hear my own voice through the words of another. I appreciate being counted among other dedicated apostles.

  3. Thank you Scott. I’m preparing for ordination as an Elder, but was able to intern at a small local church one summer while in seminary. The pastor there, who is still serving quite well, was as dedicated to fruitful ministry as any Deacon or Elder I’ve met. Y’all do Kingdom work and know that God is certainly proud of you. I hope that I am gracious enough to show proper respect the the Local Pastors I am able to serve with in Mississippi.

  4. pastorscott2007

     /  April 30, 2012

    Amen. Thank you for the comments.

  5. pastorscott2007

     /  April 30, 2012

    Based on your post alone, I would hazard to say that you are… I view ministry as a multi fingered glove of sorts, rather than a mitten. 🙂 Thanks for the comment.

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