Notes From The Balcony

Progressive Reflections on Post-Modern Living in a Multifaith Age

Guaranteed for whom? A PK’s point of view.

Posted by John Montgomery on June 8, 2010

Yes, that’s me with the flat-top! My full name, the one I never use, is John Carroll Montgomery, III. And yes as I was growing up, people didn’t just ask me whether I would be following in my father’s footsteps toward the ministry, but whether I would be following my granddad’s footsteps as well. And my uncle’s, my cousin’s and that was just my father’s side of the family.

In the long run this was a “road not taken,” although as my father likes to remind me, that as a professional fundraiser, I spend a lot of time taking collections.

So yes, I’m a PK. A member of that honored collegial club that I was never asked whether I would like to join.

But there is more….

It’s an old question, “where do you come from?” Especially poignant, because here in Atlanta, nobody except a few actually come from here.

I respond, “I grew up in Missouri”

“Where in Missouri?” The inevitable question follows.

“Well…

I was born in Kennett, but the folks lived in a company town called Deering. Then, we went to Nashville and Vanderbilt. That was about 3 years. Then, we came back to Montgomery City. I never figured out which of my kin it was named after. Then after 2 2/3 years – that was the year that annual conference moved from the Fall to June just after school let out – we moved gain. Five years in Portageville, then five more in Sikeston. Then I spent my high school years in St. Louis. I went to DePauw in Indiana, but my draft board was in Farmington, a town where I never lived, but where my Dad served his first term as DS.

Yes, I’m PK, but moreover, I’m a UMC PK!

So I’ve been listening with great interest to the recent discussions about the question of guaranteed appointments.

UMNS article on Job Security

UMNS article on Finance Report

I do know the itinerancy.  As I grew up, it was probably one of the most stark facts of my life.

“Dad, Are we going to move this year?”

If my father was appointed to a new charge, then it was not just our furniture, our housewares and our clothes, but eventually there were five special packages that came along as well….mom, Leslie, Finley, me and the dog.

I can spin story after story about my love/hate relationship to the itinerancy.  My parents never owned or designed a home, we lived in parsonages. Most of our family vacations were taken in conjunction with general and jurisdictional church conferences.

I spent most of elementary school acting out, because as a PK, I was expected not to. I was always Jack’s son, not John. Heck, now I’m Tim’s dad!

As I have grown older, I’ve come to realize that the choices that we make for our own adult lives inevitably shape the lives of our children: choices are made, scars are left. visions are woven and shared. I’m always haunted by the picture of young John Kennedy, Jr.  saluting his assassinated father following the flag draped hearse at a state funeral. The best we can do for our kids is live our own lives with as much integrity as possible so they might do so themselves. It is finally true that the acorns don’t fall far from the tree even if some bounce a bit wide.

I suppose that I figured that guaranteed appointments were what guaranteed the itinerancy. In some ways it was a necessary trade-off. I wonder what it would have been like as a child to not only ask my Dad, are we going to move this year? but Dad is there a place to move to?

Dad and I have been talking – he was a DS for two terms and he reminds me that if there was a problem, one could find a way to deal with it. In fact, there are procedures in place. It sort of seems to me that without the standard of a guaranteed appointment, then we run the risk that procedures to remove someone from the itinerancy, the exception, have no roots and then can become subject to whims and prejudices.

Dr. Russ Richey recently reiterated in a meeting that I attended that United Methodist clergy are sent not called. These are not new words, but when Russ Richey uses them in the context of connection then I listen. For our Methodist clergy, if we are called, it is a call to be sent. That is to say that our clergy function in an apostolic mode. If you will, they are missionaries to the various congregations. They are members, not of congregations, but of a disciplined covenant core of leadership.

There are important implications to this tradition. United Methodist clergy are part of a team, they are not individual charismatic iconic personalities. Latest judicial committee conversations illuminate how confused we can become about such facts, especially when a clergy decides to act on his own.

At the same time, itinerancy, bolstered by guaranteed appointments, insures the capacity to be prophetic. Clergy can preach when necessary as pioneering voices in our congregations without fear. Guaranteed appointments guarantee freedom of the pulpit.

Now I know it is tough – working spouses, kids with special needs, etc. I’m not sure it hasn’t always been tough – if truth be told. But if it is hard these days, then it seems to me we need to work harder. We need to figure out creative solutions rather than dangle a threat of no appointment to naively make difficult situations appear more simple.

There is an irony, that as our membership has become smaller, our conferences have become larger. The appointment process has become more unwieldy.

Does size matter? Richey asks whether there is a problem that we can no longer hold annual conferences in our own religious spaces because our meetings are too big? I’m beginning to think so. Do we surround ourselves with secular values or bathe deeply in our own spirituality. I think that this fact, forced by a drive to more efficiency,  may be symbolic of change that is quite troubling.

Perhaps, these days we need disciplined intimacy rather than organizational efficiency. Maybe then guaranteed appointments is a way to keep our covenant commitments to each other without subverting one of the most important elements of our connection and theology of the church – our itinerant clergy.

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3 Responses to “Guaranteed for whom? A PK’s point of view.”

  1. Helen FInley said

    My husband was a PK about the time John was—my husband John was in 13 different schools before graduated in 63

    in Illinois when father was in seminary at Garrett
    In Iowa
    and in Missouri

  2. dave werner said

    Shalom!

    Ideal vs. real (maybe). Perhaps because of the size and efficiency measures you mention, John, I’m not sure pastors see themselves as a team anymore. Iconic figures seem to stand out more; there’s more tolerance for loners-in-action. In recent years in my case, we district clergy met less and less frequently.

    My American Baptist heritage gave me an appreciation for freedom of the pulpit, which is one of the hallmarks of the Baptist tradition. While I suppose a guaranteed annual appt. would be a factor for UM pastors, it appears now that the need to weed out ineffective pastors is getting more urgent.

    The covenant of pastors may be adversely affected by the process of getting accepted in the first place and the corruption of pastoral ministry afterward, as we often exhibit competitive behavior and, I think, an unwillingess to support a UM perspective on this or that.

    Perhaps I’m just jaded.

    Shalom!
    dave

  3. John Montgomery said

    It’s not just being sent, but sent every year!

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