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.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Another power of the episcopacy

The bishop was so angry with me for raising a question of law that he sent the dean of the Cabinet to excoriate me for disrespecting his authority. The superintendent was an old friend. But he was very serious. It was obvious that he felt I had stepped over the line.

Ordinarily, that would have frightened me.

This was the umpteenth time a superintendent had made his (I didn’t have a woman superintendent up to that time) anger with me known for my various challenges. This time, God’s grace stuck. Previously, the fear had taken over and I couldn’t respond. But this time I actually laughed. The superintendent did not take that well either. So I explained.

“Jim, all I did was ask a straight-forward question of law. The bishop got to answer it and establish his answer as law for our conference until October when the Judicial Council meets. Who knows, they may support his decision. Everything is cool. We both got what we wanted,” I said.

Jim was not very happy because I had gotten what the bishop did not want. And, despite being an "extension of the episcopal office," he had not successfully persuaded me to withdraw my question of law.

How did it come to this?

Pre-conference materials showed no line items in the proposed budget. There was just a single figure for all the mission agencies of the conference, a kind of block grant. I wrote the bishop that I didn’t think that satisfied the Disciplinary requirements for a budget. The day conference met, he called me in to meet with him about my concern. He made it clear that he was interpreting a line item as the total to be authorized for the category of missions in the budget. Even the 2004 Book of Discipline carries the same language as the 1988 Discipline did. Nearly every paragraph describing the budget and how it is built implies that the budget must have line items to be voted by the Conference which represented the expenditure each group, program, or agency could expect to have for the year. See Paragraph (P) 613.3a) as one such description.

For several years, this bishop and several church officers, mainly the treasurer and program director, had spoken of how difficult it was in the middle of the conference year to be sure incomes to cover all those line items would be met. A number of times, agencies and groups were asked to pare down their budgets and expect to not be able to spend the amounts identified by the budget. There often ended up being a surplus left because of unspent funds about which those leaders did not complain.

Then the bishop asked that we budget for a two year period in order to save time at annual conference for something besides arguing about the budget.

What struck me was that all the concern about fulfilling the budget was coming from just the three people. Midyear budgetary slumps were common and the end of the year contributions usually brought us to within a percentage point or two of the anticipated incomes.

Then the bishop argued how expensive it was to borrow money in midyear to cover until the churches paid up their apportionments in November and December. Previous budgets had built up a fund to cover that exigency but the bishop still complained.

When I met with the bishop before that “fateful” 1991 annual conference, it was clear the bishop wanted no line items. That surprised me because he knew church law very well. I went over all that the Discipline said about the necessity for them. When he insisted he was not changing his definition, I said I would have to ask a question of law to challenge that. He turned red in the face and said the conversation was over.

When the budget was presented with seven general categories (that was quite a concession, I thought, but not true to the Discipline) under the benevolence budget, I took the floor with the following question:

"In light of Judicial Council Decisions 5, 8, 400, 521, 539 and others, is the Annual Conference giving up a right reserved to it by describing the seven items on the 1992 budget request of the Board of Global Ministries as 'line items'" rather than the items listed under 'line items presented for information only?'"

The bishop ruled:

”It is the judgment of the Chair that this budget is properly before the Annual Conference through the recommendation of the Council on Finance and Administration, that the attached 'For Information Only' document was clearly introduced and discussed as an informational document and was not properly before the Conference as a budget recommendation, that the seven line items of the proposed budget are in fact operational line items for this agency, that the Conference members demonstrated their understanding of the nature of the budget by their discussion of it and the nature of several attempted amendments, that the budget as presented was approved by vote of a large majority of the Conference members, and thus, that the budget and its seven line items is in order and the Annual Conference has not given up any right reserved to itself.“

These are quoted from JCD 663.

The Judicial Council affirmed the bishop’s decision. He finally got what he wanted.

That decision changed the United Methodist Church.

From that time on, annual conferences all over the country found ways to fill time with Bible studies, preaching, banquets, award programs, and special events celebrating something or other because they no longer had to argue the budget.

Several things happened because of that.

One, bishops got considerable control over how much of the budget was spent. They could be sure programs they championed were funded fully and thus were more likely to be successful no matter what the priorities of the conference might be.

Two, lay members of conference who understood spreadsheets and budgets, often because they managed much larger ones in their own businesses, were frustrated because they never saw enough information to be able to understand the budget or the accounting.

Three, lay and clergy who were on the various program and mission projects were no longer called upon to discuss their efforts. That meant there was no chance to do more than put up booths outside the plenary area. Since conference members no longer made any decisions about those agencies or programs, they didn’t need to know about them. Because they no longer knew much about them, they had little reason to talk to their local churches about all the good things the conference was doing. Younger people never realized that their denomination was doing things that used to excite earlier generations.

That set of breakdowns in the life of annual conferences was a real loss because the conference was further away from the local church. The motivation to support apportionments declined. Many mission projects disappeared as a result because conferences had less money with which to work. Younger people had no reason to be loyal and supportive of their denomination because it had receded into the mists.

One more aspect of that 1991 event struck me. It expanded the power of the bishops.

I’ve been fussing for months about this kind of accumulation of power in their hands.

Look at the letters of bishops about the Virginia case where a pastor allegedly refused church membership to a gay man. You will find a sentence which says something like, “That pastor disobeyed his bishop.” So now the bishops want to be the gatekeepers of who joins the church rather than allow the pastor who is right there working with those folks?

Some of those who are and who want to be bishop are tempted to keep episcopal salaries and perks as high as possible despite other financial priorities will be the most potent “party” at the coming General Conference.

Bishops have led the fight in church law and in their actual behavior to take over the hiring and firing of pastors, ignoring and intentionally avoiding the directions of the Book of Discipline related to Fair Process.

Now we add this incursion into the expenditure of the conference finances which occurred in 1991.

I believe the fruit of it are manifest in a declining denomination.

I have submitted a petition to General Conference. The two sentences I pray will be added to Paragraph 613 are these:

“The council shall prepare, as noted below, a budget for the annual conference which includes line items, that is, specific amounts for administrative and program costs for every board, agency, cause, program, institution, mission and conference benevolence. Line items shall be before the annual conference prior to its vote on the whole conference budget.”

This is the rationale (had to be under 50 words!) that I gave:

“The current pattern of offering a general budget and trusting conference officers to take care of the details provides no protection from their neglecting, jeopardizing, and excluding ministries desired by the annual conference, contrary to Paragraph 613.3a) which demands ‘that none may be neglected.’”

Will this petition be passed at General Conference? We’ll see. Will it lead to positive changes if passed? It will help.

1 comment:

Jerry Eckert said...

I received an extensive reply from a colleague who showed that in her conference, the bishops have not lately interferred with the priorities of the conference in benevolence budgeting. The behavior of a past bishop may have sensitized the mission bodies to that and they've successfully supported their ministry