Associates in Advocacy - Rev. Jerry Eckert - Contact person
A friend pointed out that you may not have any idea who I am. Let me introduce myself. Though I have lived in the south for 18 of the last 23 years, I am from Wisconsin and am still a big Packer fan. I’ve been a part of the Methodist denomination since first grade (1942) and church choirs since 1951. My major in college was anthropology (UW-Madison, 1958) and I took four years of seminary at Perkins in Dallas (BD, 1962). I became an Elder in 1962 and served appointments in Wisconsin until retiring in 1995. I took a five year leave of absence beginning in 1985 to allow my wife to pursue her career. Our two children are adopted.
In 1967, I was a Masland Scholar at Union Theological Seminary in New York for a school year. I took a sabbatical in 1974 to work on a DMin program through United Seminary in St. Paul, MN. In 1978, I was left without appointment and challenged it to the Judicial Council (JCD 492). There were two consequences of that. One, all my bishops since considered me to be a minimum salary level pastor, which worked for me! Two, I began receiving phone calls from pastors in other parts of the country telling about their situations and asking what could I do to help them.
In 1983, while attending Judicial Council with Rev. Lloyd Hutchison, I met Revs. Andrew and Spencer Turnipseed who were advocates for Dr. Thomas Lane Butts. We worked together at the General Conference of 1984, the first of four in a row that I attended as a lobbyist for clergy rights. Tom Matheny, president of the Judicial Council invited me to address the Council that year because I had researched the change where bishops no longer transferred troubled pastors to other conferences and were now pushing them onto leave of absence, thanks to the Council‘s support of the 1980 legislation that allowed Cabinet-initiated leave of absence.
I would like to take credit for the 1988 General Conference decision to set up a study commission on the complaint process. I can’t. But one of your colleagues had, at one point, as many as eight lawsuits against him. The legal fees were killing GCFA even though the Church usually got out of the suits. I did follow the study commission’s actions by attending their meetings as an observer and having the occasional chance to offer information and opinions on the issues before the commission.
In 1996, I was nominated for Judicial Council and actually got 296 (or 269?) votes on the last ballot for clergy alternate. Obviously I was not elected!
In the 1990s, a number of pastors had consulted together on a number of cases and we decided to establish an association. GCFA told us we could not include the denomination’s name in our incorporation papers so we became simply “Associates in Advocacy.” General Conference removed the word “advocate” from the Discipline the following quadrennium.
I’ve watched incredibly bad manipulation of the petitions at General Conference, incredibly unfair abuse of legislative committee agendas to insure only petitions from the Council of Bishops were approved, lack of accountability of bishops, and some backdoor relationships between bishops and the Judicial Council over the years.
Here I am, as Albert Outler used call himself, a simple Bible Christian, trying to apply “going on to perfection” as a denomination, and trying to figure out how to help the bloodied bodies I still see lining the roads of annual conferences. I’ve seen the downside of our church and it has been hard holding back from running screaming into the streets!
Instead, I try to help pastors and lay people who have seen that same down side collapse on them. Sometimes, the church was in the right. Even then, it often did it all wrong and only exacerbated the situation.
Who can actually do something about how things are done in the church? The bishops. Hence, I try to provide periodic one page “continuing education,” clues as to how to handle some of the issues related to Fair Process but sometimes on other matters. Many of these are posted in one way or another on a blog at http://aiateam.blogspot.com and on the website noted above.
Thank God there are bishops who mostly agree with me, though they have every right to question some of my ideas. I know very well it is one thing to offer advice and another to actually have to take it!
A few bishops hate my guts.
I think the difference is that the ones who don’t appreciate me tend to want to run their episcopacies without any criticism or challenge. In recent years, I have become aware that more and more bishops tend to want no limits to their power. They don’t have the least notion that power must have limits. They become, well, like George Bush, who is secretive, runs deals that benefit his friends, makes humungous mistakes, and then keeps attention on insubstantial issues in order to minimize debate of his actions and administration.
Okay, maybe I’m overstating the matter. But we certainly should be a good example for the “world” to follow and not succumb to the practices of the “world.”
Within the covenant of the clergy,
PS I have two other major concerns: donating blood and seeking peace between Israel and Palestine. Christ calls us to be apostles, not just disciples.