Clergy express high degree of satisfaction over new appointments

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

Methodist ministers are normally appointed to circuits - thegroup of neighbouring Methodist churches in a town or rural area.The research reveals that nine out of ten circuits successfullyfound a new minister when they set out to appoint one during2001/2.

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

The research paper, being presented to the Methodist Conferencenext month, says that matching ministers to circuits is 70 per centsuccessful after the first stationing attempt, rising to 90 percent after the second attempt. The paper concludes: "We believethat the effectiveness of the system can be improved withoutdisturbing the principle of connexional matching which underpinsit."

The research acknowledges that one in ten circuits are stilllooking for a minister after three attempts "which confirms theinfluence of a sellers market on the process". This shows a gapbetween the demands of circuits for ministers to lead the pastoraland worshipping life of local churches against the number ofministers actively serving in Britain. In reality, not all of thesecircuits are left without appointments. Some posts are filled byministers from overseas, others are managed by lay workers orshared among existing ministers.

At the end of the research period in September 2002, there were272 ministers who took on new appointments. This figure included 49new (probationer) ministers and 26 from overseas - who were givenappointments through separate processes.

The research paper finds that, although there is a high level ofsatisfaction in the outcome of stationing, there were more concernsabout the experience of the process itself. The survey found thatspouses of ministers were more liable to feel left out of theprocess. The authors of the research, the Rev Rob Hufton and MrRichard Ellis, both qualified research professionals, suggest thatmore work needs to be done to ensure spouses are fully aware of thesystem.

The survey discovered that ministers, spouses and circuitstewards would welcome a series of practical steps to help improvethe effectiveness of the system. These include a stationingbriefing pack and a thorough timetable of the process at theoutset, advice on writing and disseminating ministers' CV andcircuit profiles, as well as more information about local amenitiesand the manse.

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

Among other findings of the research are:

  • Circuit stewards, with responsibility for overseeing choicesfor new ministers, are generally less satisfied with the system,which is unsurprising given that some circuits fail toappoint.
  • One in five ministers say that profile of the circuit providedat the outset fails to match the reality when they visit to viewthe appointment.
  • Ministers are less willing to work in Scotland, Wales and theislands than in England. Only one in ten ministers are willing towork anywhere in the British Isles.
  • At the outset, a majority of ministers and spouses areapprehensive about the process. A significant minority felt underpressure to accept the first appointment offered to them.
  • The factors that are most important to ministers in a newchurch are "style of worship tradition" and "the church's role inthe community".
  • Circuit stewards are interested that the minister bringsexpertise in the above two areas, but also shows an interest inyouth/children's work as well as ecumenical involvement.
  • Spouses are generally more concerned than ministers in theirproximity to parents or dependents as well as the suitability ofthe manse.

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

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