You may know that my day job for this past year has been pastor at First United Methodist Church in Bolivar, TN. At the end of June, I had First United Methodist Church in Whiteville, TN added to my work. It is not a true two-point circuit, but the church classifies it as Bolivar First – Whiteville First Extended Ministry. It is a fine distinction, to be sure, but accuracy is a goal of mine.
I bring this up because our Conference (Memphis) is in a bit of a clergy supply crisis. We retired nineteen (19!) pastors at this past Annual Conference session, with virtually all of the ministers being under regular appointment. We took in three elders, all of whom were already serving local churches. This is indicative of the situation as I was describing it. The ratio of retirees to incoming pastors is going the wrong way.
Some of the fallout from these circumstances is that people with less training are being asked to fill pulpits at a higher rate than ever. Don’t hear me disparaging Lay Pastors or Lay Servants. The simple observation is that ten years ago a rural county might have one pastoral charge to which someone in one of these categories was appointed. Now, there are counties where all of the pastors – perhaps with the exception of the church in the county seat – have one of these classifications.
The other consideration that the current situation precipitates is that three-church circuits are becoming appointments with four congregations. Two-church parishes are adding a third component. And, as I said to the start, historically station churches are partnering with other worshiping fellowships in their area.
All of this is to say that, after forty-five years in Methodist pulpits, I am riding the circuit once again. And, I have friends and colleagues who look at me, shake their heads and say, “Tsk-tsk. Isn’t it a shame about Rick’s demotion?” I want to be quick to say that I didn’t start this post in order to bellyache about a diminishment of status. I don’t consider my situation a reduction in station at all. I consider it a fulfilling of my calling. I spent a lot of years in Methodist circuits (as to the meaning of a lot, we’ll just leave it at that). It is not any harder than being in a tall-steeple church and having two (or three!) worship services on Sunday morning.
Folks are folks. Churches are churches. The sheep need shepherding. I kind of leave it at that. As for status, I have a great friend in the ministry who now rests from his labors who used to say, “You hear your name read out at Conference and sometimes it sounds impressive. Then, the next day, it’s just church work.”