This summer 14 Candler students are serving in ministry through Candler Advantage, a paid summer internship in conjunction with Candler’s Contextual Education Program. Over the course of the summer many of these students will be sharing their experiences here on the blog.
I’ve heard a litany of criticisms against the United Methodist Church’s practice of pastoral itinerancy: the practice by which pastors are assigned to service by a bishop and then remain with one particular congregation for a limited length of time. These criticisms come from both non-Methodists and Methodists alike. “The itinerancy is outdated,” some have said. “It doesn’t take into consideration ministers with dual career families, or the stability of their children’s home life.” I never know what to say to these complaints because, very often, I agree with them. I don‘t really get it either.
Full disclosure here: I’m not 100% United Methodist. I grew up in the Church of the Nazarene—a Wesleyan holiness tradition—with which I still partly identify. However, this year I’ve come to feel at home in the UMC through my contextual education internship at St. Paul United Methodist Church. I had a wonderful experience here and was fortunate enough to get a paid internship at St. Paul through the Candler Advantage program this summer. It has afforded me the opportunity to further discern my ministerial calling.
One reason for my returning to St. Paul for a second internship was the exceptionally talented minister under whom I’ve worked. I’ve learned much from her and under her guidance I’ve begun to seriously consider ordination in the UMC. So when I learned my minister would be itinerating in early summer I was crushed.
This pastoral transition has also meant a major change in many of my summer internship plans. It has, however, afforded me the unique opportunity to journey with the congregation through the itinerancy process. Together we have reflected on the meaning of this transition for our community, both practically and theologically. It has reminded us that, ultimately, it is not our ministers in whom we put our faith and trust, but God alone. What is more, this transition has obliged me to take on an important leadership role in the church. For example, I led the transition service on the Sunday in-between ministers, functioning as the leader of the congregation. This responsibility caused more than a little anxiety. However, it proved to be wonderfully formative experience, one from which I grew significantly as someone preparing for leadership in the church. This has taught me much about what real life ministry requires: change, adaptation, and plan Bs.
I still don’t really know if the itinerancy is the best practice for ministers and churches. However, I do know that my experience of it this summer has taught me much about leadership and responsibility in the church. It has helped our community to grow closer together and put leadership in perspective.