23 May 2003

Clergy express high degree of satisfaction over new appointments

More than eight out of ten Methodist ministers are happy with the outcome of new appointments they receive, says new research published this week ahead of this year's Methodist Conference.

Methodist ministers are normally appointed to circuits - the group of neighbouring Methodist churches in a town or rural area. The research reveals that nine out of ten circuits successfully found a new minister when they set out to appoint one during 2001/2.

A British-wide Stationing Committee oversees the matching of clergy vacancies with ministers in a way that is unique among the Christian Churches in Britain. Nearly all clergy moves take place at the start of September annually. A minister's appointment in a particular circuit is normally for a period of five years, although this term of office is frequently extended. Methodist ministers are ordained normally with the understanding that they are "itinerant", that is they undertake to practise their ministry wherever the Church in Britain calls them to do so.

The research paper, being presented to the Methodist Conference next month, says that matching ministers to circuits is 70 per cent successful after the first stationing attempt, rising to 90 per cent after the second attempt. The paper concludes: "We believe that the effectiveness of the system can be improved without disturbing the principle of connexional matching which underpins it."

The research acknowledges that one in ten circuits are still looking for a minister after three attempts "which confirms the influence of a sellers market on the process". This shows a gap between the demands of circuits for ministers to lead the pastoral and worshipping life of local churches against the number of ministers actively serving in Britain. In reality, not all of these circuits are left without appointments. Some posts are filled by ministers from overseas, others are managed by lay workers or shared among existing ministers.

At the end of the research period in September 2002, there were 272 ministers who took on new appointments. This figure included 49 new (probationer) ministers and 26 from overseas - who were given appointments through separate processes.

The research paper finds that, although there is a high level of satisfaction in the outcome of stationing, there were more concerns about the experience of the process itself. The survey found that spouses of ministers were more liable to feel left out of the process. The authors of the research, the Rev Rob Hufton and Mr Richard Ellis, both qualified research professionals, suggest that more work needs to be done to ensure spouses are fully aware of the system.

The survey discovered that ministers, spouses and circuit stewards would welcome a series of practical steps to help improve the effectiveness of the system. These include a stationing briefing pack and a thorough timetable of the process at the outset, advice on writing and disseminating ministers' CV and circuit profiles, as well as more information about local amenities and the manse.

The Stationing Committee has already reacted to these concerns in a new 'Good Practice Guide' that was circulated in early May to District Chairs and lay stationing representatives in the 33 Methodist Districts in Britain.

Among other findings of the research are:

  • Circuit stewards, with responsibility for overseeing choices for new ministers, are generally less satisfied with the system, which is unsurprising given that some circuits fail to appoint.
  • One in five ministers say that profile of the circuit provided at the outset fails to match the reality when they visit to view the appointment.
  • Ministers are less willing to work in Scotland, Wales and the islands than in England. Only one in ten ministers are willing to work anywhere in the British Isles.
  • At the outset, a majority of ministers and spouses are apprehensive about the process. A significant minority felt under pressure to accept the first appointment offered to them.
  • The factors that are most important to ministers in a new church are "style of worship tradition" and "the church's role in the community".
  • Circuit stewards are interested that the minister brings expertise in the above two areas, but also shows an interest in youth/children's work as well as ecumenical involvement.
  • Spouses are generally more concerned than ministers in their proximity to parents or dependents as well as the suitability of the manse.

The Methodist Conference 2003 takes place in Llandudno, north Wales, from 28 June to 4 July.

Methodist Conference 2003 index

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