Associates in Advocacy now has two sites on the internet. Our primary help site is at http://www.aiateam.org/. There AIA seeks to offer aid to troubled pastors, mainly those who face complaints and whose careers are on the line.

Help is also available to their advocates, their caregivers, Cabinets, and others trying to work in that context.

This site will be a blog. On it we will address issues and events that come up.

We have a point of view about ministry, personnel work, and authority. We intend to take the following very seriously:


Some of our denomination's personnel practices have real merit. Some are deeply flawed. To tell the difference, we go to these criteria to help us know the difference.

We also have a vision of what constitutes healthy leadership and authority. We believe it is in line with Scripture, up-to-date managerial practice, and law.

To our great sadness, some pastors who become part of the hierarchy of the church, particularly the Cabinet, have a vision based on their being in control as "kings of the hill," not accountable to anyone and not responsible to follow the Discipline or our faith and practice. They do not see that THE GOLDEN RULE applies to what they do.

If you are reading this, the chances are you are not that way. We hope what we say and do exemplify our own best vision and will help you fulfill yours. But we cannot just leave arrogance, incompetence, and ignorance to flourish. All of us have the responsibility to minimize those in our system.

We join you in fulfilling our individual vow of expecting to be perfect in love in this life and applying that vow to our corporate life in the United Methodist Church.

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If you have any questions or suggestions, direct them to Rev. Jerry Eckert. His e-mail address is aj_eckert@hotmail.com. His phone number is 941 743 0518. His address is 20487 Albury Drive, Port Charlotte, FL 33952.

Thank you.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

JCD 1130


A retired pastor questioned the bishop in Yellowstone Conference about how a fellow clergy had been administratively removed from conference membership. The bishop chose to have neither the questions nor her response to them entered in the conference minutes. But she did forward them to the Judicial Council. And they chastised her for censoring.

But the Council did nothing about her answers because they have previously ruled that the question of law strategy is inappropriate for handling personnel matters even in the administrative track. There was no trial so the questions could not go to the church trial’s presiding bishop. The questions should probably have been brought to the chairperson of the Conference Relations Committee prior to its hearing with the respondent pastor. And those same questions plus any others that might have been needed should have gone to the chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry when it dealt with the decision of the committee.

The fatal flaw of the administrative process is that there is no right of appeal outside of the conference where the bishop, who is the primary nominator of the Cabinet and the Board, holds influence of command. The final line of appeal goes to the annual conference when the board action is presented to the clergy session. Who presides there? Either the Board chair who already ruled on the questions when they came before the Board or the bishop.

The Council has been consistent in most cases (the most recent exception is JCD 1031 – though JCD 1135 may also be an exception) that such appeals in the form of questions of law cannot go to the bishop.

I believe that is in error for two reasons: one, the bishop is president of the conference and the next in line to whom appeals can go in the administrative track as stated above, and two, because the Discipline gives the bishop the responsibility to “ensure fair process” (Paragraph 415.3).

The bishop was obligated to respond to the questions but was taking cover under the Council’s past decisions that the questions were improper because bishops are supposedly out of the loop (separation of powers). Bishops have enormous clout in all matters of personnel. Fair handling of those in trouble is in the bishop’s hands in many ways and the bishop should be held accountable when fairness is lost. Having to be chastised for a personnel failure is not much real punishment. Neither is being asked to publish the questions and answers as the Discipline requires. Those who “take authority” must also take responsibility. This decision does nearly nothing toward that end.

I can imagine situations where a set of questions might be more damaging to the respondent if they were raised by an antagonist instead of by an advocate. That appears to be a consideration for several of the Council members. But it would be hard to imagine the majority of the Council being so mean-spirited as to insist on publishing such questions.

My experience is that advocates for pastors who were drummed out of ministry through the administrative process have tended to ask question where the embarrassment lay with the conference officers. The meanness experienced by pastors in trouble across the country has come from church leaders and their supporters who administered the process and not from those who challenge the process.

Not having seen the questions nor having any other information about the situation behind this case, I cannot make a valid and thoughtful judgment on this particular case.

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