Seems like there’s talk about itineracy many places I read these days.
For an non-United Methodists out there, “itineracy” is the way UMC pastors come to be pastors of UMC congregations. They are assigned, through a process that includes some consultation with the pastor and the churches involved, by the bishop and her/his “cabinet,” made up of District Superintendents who share oversight responsibilities for the congregations in their areas.
I think it’s definitely a conversation well worth the time and energy since it is intricately related to our missional methodology, not to mention being more well known–by insiders and outsiders–than our theology! My recent thoughts on appointing pastors missiologically fall squarely in this larger conversation. Some articles I’ve read lately address the question of “whether or not” regarding itineracy. My blogpost leaves open that question, but is open to it as well, since I’m asking more the “how” question.
In the United Methodist Reporter, Donald Haynes has two columns in the past month or so on the issue of itineracy. The first is from March 5: “Ostrich Posture of Eagle Vision on Itineracy?“. The second is from April 4: “GC2008: Outsource Study on Itineracy.” Occasional contributer Eric Van Meter has a recent column as well: “Itineracy Makes it Easier for Us to Move On.”
Itineracy, modernly conceived and applied, does have its advantages. The most practical and least to be underestimated is that congregations are not long without a pastor, if at all, and clergy are not long without a church so long as they remain “in good standing” with the Conference. Another seems to be an advantage, though I have doubts as to whether or not it is a modern myth–that being sent by the bishop rather than called by the congregation allows one to speak prophetically and deliver hard truths without being forced out quickly thereafter by put-off congregants. My sense is that speaking “hard truths” to a congregation entails significant risk on appointed and hired pastor alike and that both situations demand plenty of groundwork laid for trust and appreciation between pastor and congregation. In both, it seems as though there is a need to “earn the right to be heard,” while at the same time assuming the risk to one’s future with that congregation as something necessary according to the prayerful discernment of the pastor.
Haynes’ first column, from March (“Ostrich posture…”), calls into question the whole approach in modern use. He acknowledges that it was begun in a context–both in the church and the community–in which we no longer find ourselves. For these reasons, he advocates General Conference 2008 (beginning next week) appointing “a study committee to radically restructure the outmoded model of itineracy.”
Haynes’ second column, from April (“Outsource study…”), beats the same drum. He helpfully points out that a circuit rider was not a pastor–he was a preacher. Haynes proposes, “asking General Conference to authorized a soul-searching review of this hallmark of Methodism.”
Van Meter’s column, in which he pretends to be in relationship therapy for his covenanted bond with the UMC, he wrestles with seeing both the advantages and disadvantages of itineracy. He concludes with an exortation to pastors and congregations to better invest in longer relations via trips, etc.