Response from a ‘Local Preacher’


roberthill_sermonoct042009_a_sm

Over Memorial Day Weekend, blogger and local pastor John Meunier, posted exerts of a sermon delivered in early 2013 at Marsh Chapel at Boston University.     Almost immediately after his post, the ‘LLP interwebs’ exploded.

Sadly, many LLPs were disheartened that a United Methodist Church leader – despite being actively involved in both the ministry of the church and the development of her future leaders – could be so apparently wrong in his understanding of the value of the LLP.

Although deeply concerned with his comments, many believe that this was an opportunity for holy conversation.   In my role as the voice of the New England Assembly of Licensed Local Pastors and Associate Members within the same region that Dr. Hill serves, I have responded – albeit with much time having already having passed – with the attached letter.

In addition to the NE Assembly, I also am intimately involved in developing the Facebook UMC Licensed Local Pastor and Associate Member Site.   With my interaction and commitment to that site, which now is the gathering place for close to a 1,000 LLPs, I felt it also appropriate to offer the letter for comment for their review as well.

I do appreciate any feedback that you may provide.   It is my hope to hand deliver this letter to Dr. Hill.

John Meunier’s Blog and Original Post, entitled “Against Local Preachers’ can be found the following link, and John’s Blog is certainly worth following.

http://johnmeunier.wordpress.com/2014/05/24/against-local-preachers/

In addition, the full text and audio of Dr. Hill’s Sermon can be found at the Marsh Chapel Sermon Site.

http://blogs.bu.edu/sermons/2013/01/27/and-are-we-yet-alive-methodism-2013/

This post will also be posted on the New England Assembly Site at   http://neallpams.com/

Shalom,  Scott.


May 27. 2014

 

The Reverend Dr. Robert Allan Hill

Marsh Chapel, Boston University

735 Commonwealth Avenue

Boston, MA 02215 617-358-3394/ rahill@bu.edu

 

Dear Reverend Dr. Hill,

Before I address a collection of concerns, I ask that you allow me the opportunity to introduce myself.   I am a Licensed Local Pastor serving under appointment as a small church pastor serving in the New England Conference.   In addition to this privilege, I chair the New England Assembly of Licensed Local Pastors and Associate Members, an active advocacy group for those in similar ministry settings.   Beyond the boundaries of New England, and through the grassroots efforts of close to 1,000 other LLPs and AMs, I have been intimately involved with creating a national voice in the same flavor.     That said, the following concerns are being raised in reflection of these three distinct roles.

Over the last few days your sermon entitled “And Are We Yet Alive?” from your Boston University – Marsh Chapel service on Sunday, January 27, 2013, has found renewed life and has been circulating in many LLP/AM circles.   Although there were many valid points for conversation in your sermon,  several points caused great concern among those who serve as I do. This letter has been drafted to express both our deep concerns about some of your sentiments, and to provide you with information why your assessment of our ministry is incorrect and inappropriate.

Your message’s continual and central reference to those under license as being those who “do not know the history or teaching of the church, have no preparation in counseling, in sacramental understanding, in worship, and preaching, in administration, and in pastoral care” is a grossly inaccurate assessment of who we are.   These comments coupled with the repeated insinuation that LLPs are uneducated laity reveals how unfamiliar you are with the true blessing that the church can find in the ministry of the LLP.   Hopefully, we can take this opportunity to move towards a more accurate understanding of our ministry that recognizes the real power that it may bring to our collective dream of growing, transformative and relevant churches.

Today, the United Methodist church has close to 10,000 LLPs under appointment representing approximately 30% of all congregations within the United Methodist Church. We serve churches in all imaginable settings, both large and small.   In a reflection of our shared Methodist heritage, our largest majority  serve out this calling as bivocational pastors, maintaining full-time positions outside of our sanctuaries.   Although the local pastor has existed across the history of our church, a current renewal of this model of ministry [we are growing at a rate of upwards of 20% per quadrennium] is laying the foundation for healthy churches capable of surviving well beyond the next generation.

On any given Monday, LLPs find themselves living out their faith as accountants, doctors, lawyers, dentists, teachers, carpenters, and virtually any other career that we may  imagine.     In this balance between the secular and sacred – if there can ever be that distinction – we are revealing a relevancy and authenticity not always as clearly seen in other more traditional models of ministry.     When we stand behind the pulpit we do so as people, similar to those in the pew, who are trying to find a balance between 401Ks, mortgage payments, and living out faith in a secular world.   When the parishioner sees our struggles and our faith lived out, they know they can do the same.

In addition to this connection with the laity we serve, it is important to note that upon responding to a call into this ministry, we take upon ourselves the yoke of a seemingly never ending educational responsibility. As licensed pastors, our educational requirements are heavy and often take an entire career to complete.   Our course of study involves the fullest and most rigorous of theological, scriptural, and practical foundations for ministry and through its augmentation with our real world pastorates and mandated mentor relationships proves priceless.

We are careful and intentional in reminding those that look at our educational programs and declare them inadequate, that the Book of Discipline does not.   In fact, the Book of Discipline declares our completion of both the basic and advanced courses of study as equal in essence to the typical, classroom based Masters of Divinity.   You can find additional information on these requirements  in Part VI, Chapter Two, of our Book of Discipline.

In the end, we need to remember that the local pastor is not second class clergy.   Each and every day we are the face of the church for the communities we serve.     In the most joyous as well as the darkest moments of life, we stand beside those entrusted into our care.   For the hurting, they see only compassion and presence, not the unspoken and often uncertain hierarchy of our church.   In this age of a struggling church, if it wasn’t for this model of ministry, many faithful would likely have to face their hurts alone.   Without the LLP, thousands of churches would not survive financially.

In bringing this letter to a close, I offer you our commitment to the clean slate of continued conversation, and encourage you to examine our ministries more directly.   I can not only provide you with a listing of church communities in your area that are served by local pastors, but provide you numerous additional resources that speak to both the historic Methodist and scriptural support of this model of ministry.     I do so hoping that in these examples you see the truth of Acts 4:13 (“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled and they realized that they had been with Jesus.”) and 1st Corinthians 12 (“The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”).

As we conclude, I remind you of the earliest examples of our church, ranging from the fishermen disciples to tent making apostles, whose examples testify to  the bi-vocational pastor’s effectiveness.   These examples testify to the power of this model of ministry to transform communities while raising new disciples.   In this trying time of church attendance decline, we need to be focused on embracing and exploiting the diverse ministry portfolio of the United Methodist Church rather than pointing fingers or choosing to break others down. I hope we can take this journey together.

I thank you for your time, and grace-filled consideration of this discussion.     I again encourage you to further investigate the ministries of the licensed local pastor in your area, and welcome the ability to partner in that walk.   Finally, know that we hold you, your work at Boston University, and the flock that you serve in our prayers.     On behalf of the congregations that we serve, as well as the thousands of other Licensed Local Pastors serving on the front line of faith, we pray that God blesses your ministry and work to its fullest.

God’s Shalom,

Pastor Scott Masters, Licensed Local Pastor

Asbury United Methodist Church Chesterfield, New Hampshire

Chair, New England Assembly of Licensed Local Pastors and Associate Members

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5 Comments

  1. Anonymous

     /  May 27, 2014

    awesome, but a couple of typos. Please have someone proof read before giving it to him.

  2. William Mcneal

     /  May 27, 2014

    From the Susquehanna Conference I say thank you for your effort. I pray that some day we as Local Pastors and Associate members may be seen as bothers and sister in Christ and not some lesser being that must be endured.

    Rev. William McNeal
    Chairperson of the Fellowship of Local Pastors & Associate Members Susquehanna Conference

  3. Anonymous

     /  May 27, 2014

    Bravo!!

  4. Michael A. Riegler. Thank you for a calm and well-written response. It would have been easy to respond in anger or haste–as the tone of the original post was so negative and vitriolic. Responding so gracefully kind of makes the point, does it not? Anyway, thank you for your representation and leadership. God bless. Michael A. Riegler, Chair of the John Wesley Association of Local Pastors and Associate Members–West Michigan Conference.

  5. Congratulations on a well written, thoughtful and balanced reply to the original sermon which considering its source one would have hoped for the same. I frequently remind myself how blessed I am to serve in a denomination where such status as local pastor is possible and further more I am blessed to serve under a bishop who affirms our contribution as local pastors. However,in the final analysis I strive to keep in mind that nothing I do in ministry is to be about me but rather about Him whom I serve.
    Blessings and thanks
    Harold Blair, Local Pastor Kingsley UMC – Erie, Pa.

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