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.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

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.


Friday, September 28, 2007

A 9/28 letter to the bishops

Dear Bishop,

You may be aware that Associates in Advocacy has had a website and hopefully, you may have used it.

You may also be aware that we lost it due to circumstances beyond our control and have had to rebuild it.

This letter is to announce that the website http://www.aiateam.org/ is open for business.

Our intention is to provide help to anyone who is concerned about a personnel action in the church. That includes Cabinet members as well.

You will soon note a bias against authority in many of the articles. I earned that the hard way, reading documents signed by church leaders, watching them operate at General Conference, talking with those who would talk with me. I am not completely cynical about those in authority because I had Ralph Alton as my bishop. I have come to know William Boyd Grave and Leroy Hodapp well enough to know there are real princes among the "perfumed princes."

I also know that I probably never will hear from pastors in many active bishops' conferences because those bishops are doing a good job. My intent is to provide them with good ideas to supplement what they are already doing. My hope is to hear back from you if you have any better ideas than mine or if you have any problems with things said in the articles.

Our website is not only open for business. It is also open for improvement.

In the covenant of the clergy,


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Little History


Between 1976 and 1980, Bishops Jack Tuell and Leroy Hodapp, DS David Lawson (later to become a bishop), and lawyer Jack Stone, with the help of Donald Treese of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) developed an administrative process to handle pastors who performed poorly, either because of incompetence or ineffectiveness.

Up until then, they reasoned, bishops had two choices in how to deal with pastors. The committee felt there had to be an alternative between going to trial and having the bishop confront the pastor and literally take his Elders Orders certificate off the wall.

Actually, Bishops had other options that they used. One was to “trade” such pastors with another bishop. Experience had shown that some pastors blossomed in a different place. That technique was prevalent until 1983.

Another was to just move the pastor from one small church to another. Pastors were not always in great supply and preserving those ministries was better than leaving small churches without a pastor.

A third was putting the pastor on disability if there was an incapacitating or enervating medical or psychological problem.

Finally, the last option was for the DS to sit down with the pastor and go over the pastor’s record and see if there was another vocation for which the pastor might be suited. At that time, when a pastor lost the respect of his superintendent, that meant something and the pastor would look at other options and voluntarily seek other employment.


For the 1980 General Conference, the Tuell committee developed a new track to use. It was to allow the Cabinet to initiate leave of absence to relieve a pastor of office. It also allowed the Cabinet members to initiate complaints that would then be processed by a committee made up of Board of Ordained Ministry (BOM) and Cabinet members (the Joint Review Committee) to examine complaints and work toward a forced removal, if necessary, but preferably a voluntary leave of absence.

The petitions were sold as a way to minimize authoritarian bishops from swooping in and firing pastors on the spot.

This package passed General Conference in 1980.

It was tested before the Judicial Council in 1982 who ruled that it could be allowed (see Judicial Council Decisions 524 and 530 – note the bishop involved in the case was Bishop Tuell. A member of the Judicial Council told a group of us that the Cabinet-initiated leave was a quiet means of removing homosexual pastors.) Church statistics show that midterm transfers between annual conferences dropped precipitously and midterm leaves of absence rose precipitously in 1983.

Bishops stopped transferring pastors and were now laying them off mid-year by use of the Cabinet-initiated leave of absence. The “swooping” bishops now had a covering mechanism to make it look like pastors had a chance to defend themselves. It only took a little longer and required the cooperation of a handful of pastors they nominated to the BOM.


By 1988, abuses of this new power of the Cabinet were causing law suits against the denomination (one bishop had no less than eight and maybe as many as sixteen suits against him during that period). The 1988 General Conference established the “Chapter VIII Study Commission” which was called upon to revise the complaint process.

On that sixteen member commission were Bishops Jack Tuell and Leroy Hodapp and Donald Treese from GBHEM.

They not only reviewed the judicial process (Chapter VIII) but the administrative process (Chapter III) since it was where the judicial process began. Besides tweaking the various steps from the 1980 work of the Tuell committee, they added what are now known as Fair Process rights and applied them to both the judicial and administrative tracks.

Instrumental in that direction were lawyers Craig Hoskins of GCFA, Paul Webb, and John Stumbo under the guidance of Bishop William Boyd Grove who was chair. Under Bishop Grove, Dr. Treese was largely quiet but Bishops Hodapp and Tuell were with the group. Practicing advocates were allowed to speak during discussions of most issues.

The petitions from the study commission were accepted by the 1992 General Conference. The Judicial Council enforced the provisions of the changes between 1993 and 1996.

The Council of Bishops set up a revision committee which then began to dismantle some of the feature of the 1992 Fair Process. And, on top of that, an annual conference lost a major law suit because its bishop knew a pastor was a pedophile but trusted the therapy programs had restored him. When the pastor fell off that wagon, the family sued and won.

That added impetus to the Council of Bishops’ urgent desire to be able to freely fire a pastor immediately. That way they could control problems that the Roman Catholics failed to deal with.

What stood in their way was an obstreperous Judicial Council and Fair Process.

Since they are the primary nominators for Judicial Council posts, the Council of Bishops were able to get a swing vote that retreated from the positions taken by the Judicial Council in the just ended quadrennium. The Judicial Council left with this parting shot from JCD 777:

“It should be emphasized that both the administrative and the judicial processes in the Discipline are carefully and specifically designed to protect the rights of clergy and of the church. The steps set forth there must be followed carefully and explicitly or injustice results. Lack of diligence, integrity, care, or compassion in dealing with a case almost always results in irreparable harm to both individual and church. That has usually happened by the time a case of this nature gets to the Judicial Council.”

The Council of Bishops’ committee, the existence of which was not public knowledge until just before the 1996 General Conference, successfully ramrodded through changes that tempered Fair Process and made it easier for Cabinets to slip through the loopholes in the law.

But then by 2000, a new process called “Just Resolution” was taking shape and added what appeared to be a complicating option between the bishops and their desire to fire pastors at will.


Since 2004, a number of bishops have devised and used what is being called the “ad hoc” process for handling complaints. Its intention is to be modernize and be far simpler than Fair Process and Just Resolution.

1) The DS orally confronts the pastor with allegations of misconduct or unsatisfactory performance. At the discretion of the DS, the names of the complainers may or may not be mentioned.

2) DS offers resolution to be removal from office, normally voluntary leave, within twenty four hours.

3) DS offers a written or oral request to the executive committee of the BOM to support the DS’s request for an outcome (discontinuance, leave, administrative location, etc.). Documentation is not required at this point but is kept in the supervisory file where it is not available to the pastor for later use. The pastor is not even invited to the meeting.

4) The committee accepts the DS’s recommendation and the pastor is notified of their decision.

5) If the pastor rejects the decision and seeks an appeal, the Discipline provides that the appeal is to the executive committee who just made the decision against the pastor. There is still no written complaint against the pastor even if there is documentation including a written signed complaint from someone. The result is assured because the committee is not likely to change its mind.

6) Prior to the appeal, the DS shares the documentation with the committee but not always with the pastor.

7) The appeal meeting is held. Since the process starts with no written complaint, none of the meetings are subject to Fair Process so there are no “persons” helping the pastor nor witnesses. No verbatim record is made so there is no record of the grounds for the decision. The BOD does not require that the Administrative Review Committee do any more than confirm that the necessary meetings were held.

8) With the executive committee of the BOM making the recommendation to the whole BOM, who usually goes along with it to save time and avoid confrontation with an angry pastor for whom no hearing is required before them, the matter is put on paper for the clergy session. With the administrative review committee also going along with the process, the pastor faces the daunting task of arguing his case over a complaint he does not have in a context where the Cabinet sees and remembers who stood up against them.

No complaint, no hassle, no Fair Process. The result is assured.

The only difference between the old confrontation/grab the ordination papers off the wall is that there is a buffer, a committee who finds that truth is in the words and opinions of the Cabinet and not ever in the words of the pastor. Thus, instead of the bishop dirtying his/her hands, the job is done in a meeting of the pastor’s peers so it can be called a hearing and before the same group so it can be called an appeal.

If any Cabinet or BOM members were treated that way, they’d scream bloody murder. But they are higher on the totem pole and they are less likely to be caught up in being accused of anything. Besides, thanks to Paragraph 362.3g, there is little chance that messing up a little on handling a complaint can be seen as “committed knowingly in bad faith.” They are following church law by avoiding it. And it was usually the bishop’s idea. The bishop has the last word in the conference on anything that is appealed under P 2718.

Such a deal!

There has to be a better way.


Sunday, September 9, 2007

If the DS calls

What should you do
if you get a call
from the Bishop or D.S.?
The traditional role of your District Superintendent is to provide counsel and support for every pastor and congregation within his or her District. As such, occasionally a DS might give you a call for a variety of positive reasons.

However, there are moments when the DS is pursuing a complaint against you. It is therefore important that you find out the purpose of the call.

Ask, “Is this routine or do you have some sensitive matters to discuss?"

Hopefully, the call is about something where you can help the DS. If the reason is appropriate for the meeting (clearly not about a complaint) and is not vague, continue the call.

If it is about a complaint, DSs don’t like to have to say so. They tend to not be very straight forward about what they want. They usually say something like “I’d like to talk with you about career goals,” or “We are updating our files on appointment preferences.”

If you get a call something like that, here’s what you do:
Say you will call back in a few minutes. If you have to make an excuse, tell him/her that you have diarrhea or that someone’s at the door. And hang up.


Then read in its entirety Paragraph (P) 362 of the 2004 Book of Discipline (BOD).

When you call back, let the DS say whatever he/she will.

If there is no mention of a complaint but there is an insistence on meeting with you, say nothing about your fear or anger or guilt or grief (see the article on "Emotions" at our website*). The DS will ask for a meeting as soon as possible, usually at a place and time convenient for him/her. Do not make a fuss about it unless you have a serious prior commitment such as a funeral or treatment for a medical problem for you or for a family member. Quietly negotiate what you can, which may be very little.

If the subject of a complaint comes up,

1. Ask for a copy of the complaint and any supporting materials for it.

2. Ask for time to get a "person" and to study the complaint.

3. Ask if the complaint could end up in civil or criminal court so that you will know whether or not you will need a lawyer.

4. Ask who else will be coming to the supervisory response meeting.

5. Ask for twenty days minimum to prepare for it.

Cabinet officers ordinarily deny most of those requests even though P 362.1b states the interview is "administrative" and Fair Process is required in all "administrative" hearings.

Some cabinets prefer to get you by yourself, unprepared for a complaint, so they can apply intimidation and your ignorance of Fair Process for complaints. Then they can blind side you and make it easier on themselves by tricking you into confessing and/or within 24 hours giving up your credentials without a fight.
Do not be defensive or hostile during this phone call. Do not give them something else to charge you with. Just put off the meeting with the superintendent for as long as you can so that you have time to get someone to go with you.

Basically, say as little as possible. All pastors have things about their ministries for which they feel great guilt. Take those up with a professional counselor. This is no time to hope the DS will be wearing his counselor’s hat. He’s the sheriff in our system.

DSs may realize this is their only chance to get you alone and they will want you to say something that they can use against you. Hang up as soon as you can.


*Go to our website http://.www.aiateam.org/, click on "Search" and type in "AFTER the DS calls" and click on the article of that title and begin the preparations suggested there.