Monday, June 24, 2013

Ministry and Power

(A guest blog by Rev. Ginny Hathaway)

We know that in the UMC we have a bifocal approach to a call to ministry.  We affirm that God calls persons into the ministry; but we also affirm that the Church has an important role in calling the called into ordained ministry in a denomination.  We, in the UMC, have a very particular process for that and a structure that carries the responsibility for that process. But, if we are a community of discipleship, a community of persons intent on following Jesus, then it is necessary for there to be mutuality in that structure and process.

We still struggle with the role of power in our institution. I believe that "community" is characterized by a dedication to radical equality and lived out grace if it is to be true to the vocation of faithfulness to Jesus. Power must be exercised as power for others and power with others. If it is exercised as power over others, then it is not faithful to its role in the faith community.

In his book on the subject, "Church, Charism, and Power" Leonardo Boff talks of power in community as being faithful only when it is conferred in recognition of the gifts persons have for administration, for instance, or the ordering of the work of the institution. Those gifts are called into the service of the faith community.  The position in which a person is called to exercise his or her gifts does not make that person better than, superior to, or more powerful than anyone else in the community.  So any individual or group in whom particular responsibilities might be vested has a calling to be very, very careful about how they exercise their responsibilities in mutuality, with grace and humility.

Here is where I particularly take issue with the Board of Ordained Ministry of our conference (Southwest Texas) and their decision to remove Mary Ann from candidacy. If they had an understanding of faithful exercise of power with and for the community which they serve in the capacity in which they have been called to responsibility, they might have drawn back from the way they did relate to Mary Ann and found a more grace-full process. It stuns me that a group of persons who profess Christian values would not feel any responsibility to get to know Mary Ann. They would have been the better for seeking to understand what gifts she brought to the faith community that resulted in two churches and two districts recommending her as a candidate. They owed her, if they had any concept of their duty being to be in a relationship of mutuality with candidates, a process in which they heard from her about her call, in which they were in dialogue with her about her desire to be in ministry, about her faith and commitment. They owed it to themselves to get to know her. They had an absolute responsibility, if they were to dare to exercise the kind of responsibility they are given by the Conference, to spend time and effort with her, to see what they all had to offer each other.

Given the wording of the Discipline, I can't help but think the Board would have assumed they would get to the point of turning her down eventually; but there could have been and should have been a long road to travel between now and "eventually". There should have been a willingness on their part to travel that road together with Mary Ann. There should have been enough openness and imagination in persons invested with such consequential duties to want to learn about this person, to listen to her, to respect her voice.

No one, no group should have the heavy responsibility that the Board has if they are inclined to make decisions without dialogue, if they feel they can exercise power without doing the work of relationship, if they hold themselves apart from or above the possibility of growing with and learning from those who entrust their love for the Church and the work of ministry to them.

It is sad for the Church and its future that its servants would deal with such a gifted candidate and such a complex issue and such a continuing struggle in the institution with what appears to be an utter disrespect for Mary Ann's call, an obliviousness to the possibilities and imperative of a relational approach to this situation that would enable them to be better stewards of their duties, and an inability to imagine that they might yet have something to learn and some growing edges, whatever the individual perspectives and opinions of various members might be.