Saturday, February 21, 2009

Will Deuel on the UMC Candidacy Process

UMC ordination candidate Will Deuel cuts loose on the process whereby the UMC selects ordained ministers:

I have incurred tremendous debt and uprooted my family to attend seminary. In the middle of seminary my family moved again so that I could serve a student appointment. We moved a third time when I graduated for my commissioning appointment. I have attended the required Residence in Ministry sessions in which I have sat through lectures (some for a second or third time) that were often boring or ill-prepared. And I have gladly accepted the itinerant system of pastoral appointment. I attended Sexual Ethics and Boundary training twice: once on campus at Eden after being informed by the Conference that said training was acceptable, and once at IGRC headquarters after they rescinded their word without even informing us. We were given nasty letters threatening action if we did not attend the next upcoming workshop. I once was informed that the Board of Ordained Ministry lost my psychological evaluation. (Yeah, all that confidential information? Not safeguarded at all.)

And that's just one paragraph. Will has sent this post on to his Bishop, which will, in my experience, hurt his chances of ordination. I don't know if it will end his candidacy, as he does not name names (as I did), but it certainly can't help him. However, I think that Will's intent was to gain the healing and clarity that comes from speaking truth to power. I wish him the best, as he is a man committed to what Christianity is supposed to be all about.

Read all of Will's post, which he summarizes as saying "The Board of Ordained Ministry has not created a pathway to ordination, it has created an obstacle course."

This is an important fact for all candidates for the ordained ministry (and those considering entering it) to know about: candidacy is more about hazing than it is about preparation. That's why Will's "obstacle course" metaphor is spot-on.

You don't think that the Conference actually "loses" all of the paperwork you send it, like the psychological reports and references? No, of course not. They throw them away and make the candidate check in to see if they were received and re-send them when they were not. Conference and District staffs are not that incompetent.

Will and I have both written about the various stumbling blocks that are thrown in the path of candidates. These frustrate candidates so that many self-select out of the system, and the remaining are ordained. The UMC candidacy system is not a spiritual formation process, it's a test of willpower and a willingness to take abuse.

I'll admit this: I'd be hard pressed to come up with a better system that does not result in a superfluous number of people being placed under guaranteed appointment in a shrinking system.

I do recognize that, in spite of how it all ended for me, there is nothing particularly evil about the candidacy process. It was simply used as a weapon against me by evil men and women. I figured out that the system was hazing-based early on. And I was quite willing to endure the hazing and follow all orders so as long as those in authority over me acted in good faith and and adhered to the Discipline.

Further thoughts by Craig Adams (a man who, in my experience, takes holiness very seriously), John Meunier, and a discussion at The Methoblog.


Marcel said...

"I'd be hard pressed to come up with a better system that does not result in a superfluous number of people being placed under guaranteed appointment in a shrinking system."

Open outcry auction. I'd have said sealed bids, but that just invites corruption.

AL said...

I'm glad other candidates are becoming vocal and public about the shamfull (and stupid/inhumane) way they are being treated. How many good pastors are we loosing due to the flawed and sometimes evil process? Hopefully something good will eventually come from the publicity, but how long will it take and how many candidates/families will be deeply hurt in the process.

Mark said...

"He who is near the church is often far from God.” (French proverb)

Anonymous said...

There is a simple way to start the improvement. Start by having one office be in charge, set up a understandable set of rules, and then refine and follow them. Appoint a guide to the process, then a mentor, and let the candidates actually grow. Do not force support of the 13 seminaries, if they cannot survive; close them. Until there are seminaries in each state and territory do not require and ignore extension sites and "Methodist" attendance. Also, allow Lay Speakers to take Lay Ministry classes after they finish the certification program. Stop simply closing churches in trouble; use the local talents. I know of a group which will soon be forming a web site and is putting together a beginning plan for candidacy reform. There is no need for the fragmented power structure now in United Methodist use. I know that is sounds like a lot of ideas; but someone needs to say "stop" to the mess as it now exists.

Anonymous said...

Hear hear! I am a (not yet ordained) pastor's wife, and I have used the word "evil" to describe the system and its people many times. The amount of money, time, energy, and angst my husband and I have spent to go through the commissioning process (twice!) is disgusting. I'd like to leave a steaming bag of something on the conference doorstep, ring the doorbell, and run away--far, far away.

Anonymous said...

I have a question. Why does the UMC hide studies and ongoing reviews of the process. My opinion is that the elders have taken over the process and do not want to let go. Someone needs to say stop loudly enough to show the UMC that things cannot keep going on as in the past. If I was to change things today I would have each church and district committee turn in their candidacy records for the last 30 years and get the names of rejected candidates. Then locate and talk to these victims of the process. Keep an open mind and evaluate whether or not these people can get recognized as clergy. No more talk of "must obey the Discipline" when it was violated before. Also, drop the mental health test until the test can be proven to be valuable, a standard evaluation gained through it, and not be a hinderance to callings. Remember, Samuel did not have to fight his way through a district committee, God called, Samuel and Eli listened. The system is a scandal in terms of the lack of direction, of single rules, out and out lying to people, and a worthless office in Nashville that cannot insert itself into the process it is meant to oversee. It's time to look for Wesley's letters to Ashbury and Coke that were thrown overboard on the voyage to America. AQlthough these are probably gone, it would be interesting to see who rewrote the rules in the beginning. Let's stop this scandalous mess and take a page from Rev. Strawbridge when he saw a need, filled it, and told the bishop that he was clergy and the bosses had better follow God's will and get out of the way. Otherwise, everyone will eventually be heading for opportunities that are available.

Anonymous said...

When someone says that they cannot come up with a better system, they have not looked hard enough at the situation. Look at the last big change in the 1990's that never really got off the ground. Look at the mess in Detroit West (and probably other locations) then say that there should be no change. The appointment system has always been broken when it allows one person to recommend a minister to the bishop and an assignment is made without real evaluation. When a minister cannot be removed from an appointment even though the job is not a talent fit and the church and minister both suffer as a result. When candidates for ministry are held to the outdated "pulpit preacher" concept, then rejected without the truth ever being told to them. And so it goes. I personally believe that a new system is necessary which allows for appeals, for monthly evaluations, and proper functional assessments of both layity and clergy to see who would be the truely best fit for a church. If someone would actually look at a church as an asset, as a true part of the connectional system not just a money provider to be set aside when it cannot continue to give money and money alone, then fewer churches would have to close their doors when told to by an elder on the elders personal idea of authority.
I also feel that additions to the original program, such as psych assessments, should be removed unless the evaluation can be set down to reflect a standard. No standard, no use. Just common sense. The system is a broken scandal that needs to be faced as a scandal. Then fix the problem properly.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the hopefully ordained preacher wife. I have seen too many good and properly prepared people thrown out of the system simply because of bad clergy being let run free and wild. Only, I would do a Soupy Sales pie to face with the material. It's dangerous to try to be ordained or even recognized in the UMC. Stop the scandals that are going on in candidacy and try to fix the past insults and injuries. Why do you think that everyone hides their identity. Probably because of fear of revenge by the leaders of the UMC.

Anonymous said...

Just a question. Where are the real clergy who will stand up for what is right! Hiding behind the robe and being in fear of a bishop is not ministry, it is throwing the gifts in the trash. Stop talking about start overs and ordain just before retirement. Ordain and fix the mess. It is a scandal when good people do absolutely nothing.