Clergy Stats – Revisited

Back at the beginning of 2012, I did some statistical analysis on the age of the clergy in the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.  What is interesting is a lot of the trends I saw are now coming true.

Here are my posts from 2012; Part I; Part II; Part III.

I saw that 49% of the clergy in 2012 were over 55 years.  I predicted there would be a tsunami of retirements coming and low and behold there are.  Last year we had over 50+ clergy retire and the current rumor (I don’t know the actual number) is that we will have that many if not more.  The retiring class for 2017 & 2018 is guaranteed to be in the triple digits.  This is unprecedented and could possibly be our new reality.

My number was called and I will be moving in July.  I will say goodbye to Indian Trail UMC and hello to Milford Hills UMC.  This transition comes because of what I predicted in 2012.  I revisited my posts and I am sad to see that some of my predictions have come or are coming true.

As we deal with a dwindling amount of clergy, it will be interesting to see how the cabinet handles these new realities.  I wonder if other conferences have dealt with this already?  I wonder what solutions they have come up with and are they working?

It would be interesting to get my hands on this information again and see if we have improved our age demographic or if we are looking at even worse numbers.  However, I don’t have access to that information, so I’ll just have to wait and see.

Moving…a great prayer

The following is a prayer which was passed out at our Moving Pastor’s Seminar in the beginning of June.  The prayer was written by the people of PlowPoint Ministries which is a great place to help your congregation grow and learn to follow God’s call in their lives.  This is my prayer for Sunday and I thought I would share it for anyone else to be inspired by it as they head into their last Sunday.

Covering Prayer

Gracious God,
We praise you for who you are and for all that you do for us.  You, O Lord, are the Good Shepherd, and you have given us and blessed us with abundant life and ministry.
We thank you for the gifts and calling you have given each of us as your servants in which we share and minister together as the One body of Christ.  We especially give you thanks, Lord, for our shepherd leaders, our pastors, who you have sent to lead us according to your will. 
Lord, we are yours and you are ours, and we share in your precious gift of the Church.  In this season of transition, Lord, we ask that you guide us and protect us as we release and receive our pastors and their loved ones.
Forgive us, Lord, for the ways we have disappointed one another and you.  Forgive us, Lord, for the times we have insisted on our own agendas instead of heeding and following only yours.  Where there has been hurt, give us healing.  Where there is grief, give us grace.
As we prepare to say goodbye, help us to leave and release one another with honor.  Help us to celebrate the ways you have worked among and through us.  And help us to let go of past disappointments to embrace the promising future that lies ahead.
As we prepare to say hello to our new leaders, bless them and us.  Lord, bind us together with our bond of peace.
Make us one, Lord, as you and the Father are one.  Let nothing, namely anything we say or do, be divisive among us.  What you, Lord, have brought together, let no one tear apart.
And now, Lord, we give ourselves entirely to you so your Church will be entirely yours.  For it’s in your holy and precious name we pray.  Amen.

Moving…Top Ten Ideas for Starting Well

It is that weird time in a moving pastor’s life when you have to think about two lives at once.  You have to think about the saying goodbyes to your present congregation but then in the same instance you are thinking and wondering about the hellos in the next appointment.  It is a mind numbing experience and is stressful to say the least.

This year I participated in our conference “Moving Pastor’s Seminar.”  Five years ago this did not exist and I found it to be very helpful and gave guidance on how to navigate through these waters.  One thing I enjoyed the most was Janice Virtue’s Top Ten Ideas for Starting Well.  I thought it may be helpful to share them.  The commentary is my take-away from her talk but the list is hers.

  1. You’re Fired – relinquish all control of your past appointment, that is the job of their new minister, NOT YOURS.  Think of yourself as fired from that congregation.
  2. Leave Your Baggage Behind – this does not mean leave cats, children or unwanted clothes in the parsonage, but leave the emotional, personal, and troubling baggage at the last church.  Start anew, start refreshed, this is a great time to reinvent yourself.
  3. Plan to Learn – don’t go in thinking you know everything, learn from your new congregation and grow deeper into who God has called you to be.
  4. Show UP! – be engaged in the new congregation.  Dive in to the community and Congregational life.
  5. When the going Gets Rough, Turn to Wonder – being knew you don’t need to know all the answers right off, plus they don’t know you well enough to be truly make anything personal.  When things get rough, ask questions of wonder.  I wonder why that person is so vocal and mean spirited during meetings?  I wonder why the congregation always has to get Mrs. Smith’s thoughts before they make a decision?  Turn to wonder.
  6. Don’t Keep Them Guessing – ministry is not a magic show, reveal who you are and what your gifts and graces are. 
  7. Know the Magic Words and Use Them – still not a magic show but three little words can go far in helping to build trust and understanding between a new pastor and congregation.  Those words are…wait for it…help me understand.  Those words give the people a chance to share their stories, their opinions, and their take on the life of the church.  Plus, this means you as the pastor have to listen instead of talk.
  8. All Ministry is Interim – Janice talked about the ideas of “Leave no Trace: and “Look at what we’ve done.”  Ministry is not about us, the pastor.  It is about the Kingdom of God, the Body of Christ.  Ministry is not about me as an individual.  Start off like you are always ready to leave and the church could continue on its path without you.  The church should not revolve or rely on the pastor, that’s Jesus’ job and you aren’t Jesus.
  9. You Hold the Hope of Many – many people look to the pastoral transition as a new start for the church, or a new chapter.  With that comes hopes of the future and what is possible through God’s grace and calling in their lives.  Don’t squash that, but capitalize on it.  Realize you hold the hope of the future of the church in your hands, that is power, that is responsibility, that is a great honor.
  10. For God’s Sake – remember what ministry is for.  Ministry is to help the people of God build up the Kingdom of God.  It is for God’s sake we do what we do.  Remove your ego, remove your needs for glory and get out of the way so God can work through you and your congregation.

Moving…and kids

When do you tell kids that you are moving?  How do you walk through the moving process with children?  This is the first time I had to deal with this question in my life.  Last time we moved we had a 10 month old and he really didn’t care.  Now with a 5 (almost 6) year old and a 3 year old this question is extremely relevant.  As we walked through this process those questions came up a lot between my wife and I.

Here are some of the things that we are dealing with.

1. We wanted them to hear it from us.  As rumors start to fly (and they always do during the spring) we did not want them to hear it from an off handed comment that someone let slip out.  We wanted them to hear it from our mouths and not like we were keeping a secret from them.  So when we learned people were talking, we told them. 

2. We wanted it to be a positive conversation and experience.  Yes, it will be sad to leave the only house they have ever known.  This is the house where they learned to walk, celebrated birthdays, and the place where they made friends.  This is the only congregation they remember and is full of people who consider them as one of their own kids or grandchildren.  But there is positives about moving too.  We will be closer to family and some close friends.  We will be in walking distance of our son’s new school and in a community, that I am sure, will be as welcoming and loving as my present one.  One of the major reasons we asked to move was because my son is starting school and if we moved now we may only move once during their school career but we never wanted to let them think we are moving BECAUSE of them.

3.  We want to involve them in the process.  We are having them pick out things to sell during our yard sale.  We will have them pack up their boxes of their toys and get their rooms ready to move (or as much as they can do).  We will also let them cry and be angry about it, just like we are at times.  To be a healthy move we have to go through all those emotions and especially for my 5 year old, we have to allow him to do that as well.  We have showed them pictures and the outside of the church and parsonage.  (They didn’t do the walk-through with us because they are a little too young and our attention needed be on soaking up the new place and listening, not parenting).  We have showed them on a map where we will be moving and a floor plan of the house.  This seems to get them excited and connect with the process.

4. We try to answer all questions.  As things disappear from their regular place and move into boxes there are lots of questions.  We are trying to do our best to answer them.  We are finding that we are answering the same questions too.  Over and over again they are asking the same things, which is understandable.  Moving is a weird concept that a 5 and 3 year old have to wrap their minds around.  And there are some questions though that we don’t have answers to and we simply say “I don’t know.”

5. We are removing them from some of the process.  The plan for the actual day of the move is that they hang out with grandparents.  This way they are, for lack of a better phrase, out of the way.  Movers moving boxes onto trucks is just too inviting to curious minds and exploratory natures.  I am quite certain my 3 year old would be packed along with all the boxes in the back of the truck if she was around. 

What we realize is that there are no real rules for this.  You take that, the knowledge you have of your kids and all the advice that other clergy parents who have gone through this process freely give you and mix it all with lots of prayer.  I know our kids will grow up hating to move.  Hating the fact that my calling has dictated they move and are yanked out of the places they call home, but…such is the clergy life. 

My hope is that with patience, planning, prayer and honesty the therapy won’t be too expensive in the future.

Moving…a reconsideration

There have been many changes in the itinerant system of the UMC over the years.  From what it sounds like, back in first and middle part of the 1900s ministers showed up at Annual Conference and learned if they were moving or not.  No prior warning.  Simply called out each appointment by name and then there was a frantic line at the payphone to call home and let their spouse know that it was time to pack.  Now it is different and there is a joy in that.  My wife and I would go insane if every year we had 1.5 weeks to pack before we moved.  Too much planning on our part happens to use to be that ready.

What I like now about the system is they do seem to listen to the needs of the pastor’s family.  They attempt to do their best to listen and work with what they have to take care of the needs of the minister and his/her family. I know this is not the case for everyone and I am sure you can find tons of people who would disagree with that sentence but it is true for me.

During the move process I received our first projected appointment.  It was not what I was hoping for or expecting.  I am sure that some good ministry could come out of that appointment but it didn’t tick off any of the boxes I was hoping for.  There were a laundry list of reasons why this would be a bad fit and so we started to look at our options.  My District Superintendent (DS) knew I would not be pleased with the appointment.  I could read it on her face when she told me.  But my wife and I prayed about it.  We did as much research as we could on the area and the church.  We did our secret ninja drive by to see the community, but in the end we  knew it wouldn’t really work.  And if we had to move there it would not be for the long appointment that we desired.

The option that presented itself was to ask for a reconsideration.  I was told to write a letter to the cabinet naming the reasons why the projected appointment wouldn’t work and what we desired out of an appointment. We set to work writing, rewriting, praying, rewriting, praying, sending it off to have people read it, and praying some more.  Finally we created a one page letter that we thought represented our situation the best and we sent it off.

After round two of appointment making meetings we heard about our appointment.  There was a change and the second projected appointment ticked off most of the boxes we were looking for.  I praised God because it seemed the Cabinet actually listened.

When we received our first projected appointment I felt let down, frustrated, angry, disappointed and for the first time truly doubted my abilities.  I thought I had accomplished some good things here at Trinity and that the cabinet could see that but after the first round I thought my accomplishments had fallen on deaf ears.  Then with round two I felt they had listened.  I do not understand what it is like during the frustrating, prayerful, and stress-filled appointment making process.  I truly feel the DSs and Bishop lose sleep over their  decisions and wonder if they are the right ones.  I don’t seem them as heartless or vengeful, although I am sure that there are others who do.  I feel the system worked for me and I may never know why.

So today, as I write my sermon and pack boxes, I am thankful that the system has seemed to work.  It may only have been for me and my experience and I have faith that the cabinet is doing their best for the sake of the Conference and the Kingdom of God.  I confess I didn’t feel that way in March but not in May I do.

Bishop and the rest of the Cabinet, please forgive me for my ill thoughts and frustrations.  Thank you for prayerful listening.

(Something I never found was a written guideline for what a Letter of Reconsideration should look like.  If you are in a place where you need to write one I am happy to email you a redacted copy of mine.  I am not saying it will work but I’m happy to share the format and structure of the letter.  Just send me an email at revjimparsons at gmail dot com)

Moving…and the Suck

For months, which have felt like years, we have known we were moving.  The process starts so early that decisions are made as the new year begins.  Even before that my wife and I discussed whether or not to put my name out there.  Once we came to that conclusion the painful part begins.  Slowly our fingernails are pulled off as we wait, wait, keep quiet, and wait, and wait.

I wanted to write about our experience for a while now but with the amount of secrecy involved I could not.  I thought about writing and then posting later but I decided not to.  Sunday was announcement day for our conference and now it is public knowledge and legal to discuss.  So here I go.

What I need to get off my chest is the fact that this process just sucks.  I am not upset at the cabinet or anything like that.  It is the process.  I understand it, respect it, and have no better way to conceive of even doing it, but it still sucks.  It may be different when you are sitting at your desk and then the DS calls with the option of moving.  But for us we wanted to be proactive for the sake of our children and requested a move.  (Our son starts kindergarten in Aug. and moving now will potentially mean there may be only one move in our children’s school career, key word is POTENTIALLY).  It fit our family the best to request a move this year, so we did.

What sucks about the process is the secrecy and the waiting.  My wife and I have felt like we have been living in a lie for the last four months.  First as people asked if we were putting in paper work we had to dodge the question.  Then as fellow clergy, neighbors, church people, and even random people off the street asked and we once again had to dodge the question.  My pat answer has been “we’ll see.”  Since we United Methodist Clergy are only appointed one year at a time, that will probably be my answer from here on out.

I understand the part about secrecy too.  This is a “needs to know” process and the public doesn’t NEED TO KNOW.  But that doesn’t mean they won’t stop asking.  We have lived in the middle of demands to keep quiet and curious/anxious people.  White lies were told (*Lord please forgive me*).  Change of subjects were frequent.  And my wife and I dodged the question like prize fighters.  But every so often a punch would land and we had to do our best to not answer.  IT SUCKS!  It is simply part of the process though, so we have to live in the suckiness.

The waiting is hard too.  Actually that doesn’t do it justice.  The waiting is horrendous.  My wife and I are also planners, very detailed planners.  We like to know what is happening and when so we can best prepare ourselves and our family.  It is our nature and there is no escaping it.  But with that nature comes the need for information which is hard to come by in this process. We simply had to wait to hear, wait to see, wait to talk, wait to tell.  We had each other and we did let some close friends/family in on our journey, but the waiting was horrible.  Part of the process I know, but still it sucks.

There is more to come as we say goodbye to Trinity and hello to Indian Trail.  But I had to rid myself of the Suck and now that it has left my fingers and is on the screen, my soul feels lighter.  Confessing and professing is good for the soul.

Can I get an AMEN?

Its Really None of Your Business

I am currently in year five of my current appointment.  I am now tied with two other pastors for the longest tenure at this church.  Now that I am finishing up the first quarter of my fifth year I have been getting lots of questions about whether or not we will be moving.  It has not simply come from parishioners, most of them have not asked.  It is outsiders who do most the asking.

My wife came home from getting her hair cut and during the small talk she told her hair dresser that I was a United Methodist minister in Thomasville.  The hair dresser asked how long we have been here and then if we were moving this year.  I have been asked by other random people as well and it finally hit me why I get frustrated when people ask that question.

Whether a clergy family is moving or not is such a deeply personal question.  Yes it affects the local congregation and it is public knowledge that we Methodists move, so it is a natural question that can be asked.  Yet I don’t think people understand what they are asking.  First three people have to decide it is time to move, the church, the pastor and the cabinet.  None of which are even thinking about this in the fall of the year.

Plus, the question itself is loaded.  Are you going to move? = Do you feel your time at your current appointment is over? Have you done everything you can to work with that congregation to move deeper into their calling as a church?  Can they afford you any longer?  Do they not like you over there?  Do you not like them?  Are you ready to uproot your family and move away from the only place your kids know as home?  Do you feel like you are will be represented well enough on the cabinet that your gifts and graces will be considered over your current salary level?  Is it a good move year?  Are there still things hanging that need to be dealt with at your current church before you feel you could move?  Is your congregation healthy enough to endure a move this year?  Is your spouse happy with the life s/he created at this appointment and wanting or willing to ‘start all over again’?  Will your children be hurt tragically to leave the only friends they have every known?  Are you scared your next parsonage won’t hold a candle to your current one?  Are you emotionally ready to move?  Are you spiritually ready to move?  Are you, as the pastor, ready to start all over with new faces, new demographics, new family dynamics, new sources of power, new staff, new town, new life?  I could go on but I’ll stop there.

There is so much that goes into a clergy person’s decision to move that to flippantly ask about it in a random conversations is almost rude.  It is like asking someone, “How much do you make in a year?”  It really isn’t any of your business.  But hey, for ministers anything goes right?

I can tolerate the question when my family asks it.  I dodge the question when fellow clergy ask it.  I duck and swallow hard every time a parishioner asks it.  It rocks my nerves when random people ask it.  They of all people don’t understand the spiritual, personal, political, and did I mention personal realities that resides in the true answer.

Limited Itinerancy

This was a new word that showed up on our Clergy Profile forms this year. What it means is a minister has issues/needs to stay in or around a geographical area. Instead of being an itinerant minster for the whole conference they can only be an itinerant to a certain city or country. This word came up again while having a conversation with Rev. Ed Moore, who is the executive director for Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School, during the Spirited Life Retreat. He stated that our current system is starting to encourage more Limited Itinerancy. As I have thought that it seems to be true.

We have started to encourage this because of a couple of factors.
1. Duel Income Families: There is a need, especially within clergy families new in ministry, to be duel income because of low salary. EXAMPLE: If a new ordained Elder gets paid $40,000 a year, a supplement income is almost a necessity. Stay with me…Let’s assume a freshly ordained clergy person is in her second appointment making the minimum salary for an Elder $40,000 (this is not the minimum in WNCC, it is actually lower, but a nice round number makes easier math). This minister has two children under the age of five and a husband who they decided will stay home to help raise the children. Here is how this household’s salary would break down. $40,000-$12,000 (family health insurance) – $5,000 (taxes, remember clergy are self employed employees) – $18,000 (food, other insurance, & utilities*) = $5,000 left over for discretionary spending. If this family has any debt (student loans or credit card) there is nothing left at the end of the month. This also allows only a little to be used for savings for retirement or future schooling. A second income is necessary to not live in luxury but really survive.
2. Health care: The cost of the clergy family health care is so high that a spouses works full time in order to but children on that insurance plan maybe totally worth the sacrifice.
3. Career of Spouse: All clergy spouses are not teachers, nurses, or homemakers.
4. Clergy Couples: There are a growing number of clergy couples. Statically unproven but I feel comfortable saying we have more Clergy Couples than ever in the UMC system. This creates new opportunities for the Cabinet to contemplate appointments as well.

What this means is that instead of appointing ministers to churches the Cabinet now has the honor of appointing duel income families to geographical areas where they both can find employment. If a pastor’s talents and gifts are suited for a certain congregation they have to figure in can the spouse find employment in this area? Pastors may reject the appointment (as much as they can) because of the limited employment options available.

I pray for the Cabinets who will be meeting in the next months to discuss the new appointments. As the cost of health care rises and the minimum salary continues to decline are we as a conference, denomination, creating a limited itinerancy system? I would answer yes!

*These are rough estimates and will vary depending on location and style of living. This may actually be a low-ball estimate but are closely based to my personal expenses in this area.

The Ten Commandments for Moving Pastors (repost)

I thought this might benefit any of our fellow clergy packing up and heading to new places of ministry. Originally posted 5/7/07

In the Guidelines for Pastoral Transitions packet I received from my conference there was a section entitled the Ten Commandments for Moving Pastors. I thought I would post them to help others making transitions or make some feel glad they aren’t. Tip of the hat to Nancy Burgin Rankin, director of Congregation Development for the WNCC, for writing these.

  1. Thou shalt pray daily for thy successor and for the pastor you will follow that both may be blessed with successful ministries.
  2. Thou shalt leave well, saying appropriate “good-byes” and assuring thy people that all will be well with you and they.
  3. Thou shalt leave thy house in order with all records updated, lists of homebound and people needing pastoral care, and all keys properly identified for thy successor.
  4. Thou shalt speak from the pulpit about God’s good plan for change, of how your successor will bring people a blessing, and how you go forth to serve in a new vineyard.
  5. Thou shalt refrain from returning to thy parish after you have moved, especially during the first year, so that your successor can become the people’s pastor. Even then, make return visits rarely, and only upon proper invitation from your successor.
  6. Thou shalt prepare thy family for the move by listening and valuing their anxieties. Be the pastor to them you are famous for being to others.
  7. Thou shalt leave thy parsonage in immaculate condition even if thou must pay someone else to get it there. Report any thing that needs repair. Do not dump this on your successor and jeopardize his/her beginning with your people.
  8. Thou shalt be diligent in your prayer life and through therapy if needed, so as not to pack in one’s bag bitterness, anger, resentment, and hurt to take your new appointment and inflict on innocent people.
  9. Thou shalt stop the blaming of others for the faults we must claim as our own.
  10. Thou shalt rejoice and be glad for our God comes to us new every morning. The same God who calls us goes with us wherever we go.