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, July 10, 2009

Women leaving ministry

Lately, quite a number of women clergy have been asking for my help. They are women who have struggled and excelled so that they could achieve educational goals and meet Disciplinary requirements and they still are leaving the ministry within a few years.

The pattern seems to be that they are appointed at the entry level where the churches they are serving are in decline and where they are not always welcomed by some key people because they are women. Because the situation is already going down hill, they have additional stresses because of the tendency in many conferences for the superintendents to be quite distant doing program or being unable to stay in contact with pastors lowest in the peck order. When a lay person makes a complaint, the DS in those conferences looks at the statistics and sees little success with the woman clergy so the DS tends to presume the pastor is the problem. The laity is the source of revenue for the conference so “the customer is always right.”

What is most unsettling is that I have not seen a difference when the conference is led by men or women. The pattern is the same.

Here is a portion of a note between two women clergy, one of whom is frustrated over how she has been treated as the conference put her on leave of absence:

“It is wearing and I am overwhelmed by the intensity of the questioning and searching for justice. I am seven years away from my most recent experience of injustice with the system. I think I went in expecting injustice and was not so surprised by it when it happened.

“Having said that, I still want to emphasize something. Your sisters in ministry have grave concerns about the futility of aggressive response to anything in the system. I guess that's why most of us take it until we don't want to anymore and we leave.

It's not because we don't have the courage to address it. We just choose to spend what energies we have in ministry, picking our battles very carefully. I didn't see anything in the system that was worth fighting against and risking my opportunity to be in ministry. This side of my experience of seven years ago, I still don't see anything I want to spend my energies on. Maybe I will at some point. I'm not adverse to the idea. But life is too short! And I have to trust the process enough to believe that eventually the system will correct itself or die.”

Since I entered ministry in the 1960s, I have seen the entry level churches change from being training grounds for new pastors to being cemeteries for the least experienced pastors. Men clergy face similar treatment but they are not up against I Corinthians 14:35 et al.

When the denomination represents condemnation of pastors in trouble and not redemption for them, we have to correct ourselves or . . . .

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Re: Spring 2009 Judicial Council Decisions

The following observations are intended to encourage you to read the decisions of the Judicial Council for yourself. The observations are in no way church law in any form but will hopefully help you understand some aspects of the decisions I think are important.

I've included the URL for each of the rulings. That should allow you to paste it so you can go directly to the decision.

Each is posted separately so it doesn't seem so tediously long!

Re: JCM 1111


If there was any concern about the United Methodist’s two positions on homosexuality and related issues among Judicial Council members, that was not reflected in the decision. The Council took a strict interpretation as did its predecessor Council that what is said in Paragraphs (PP) 2702 and 341.6 make any reference to supporting marriage or union services for same gender couples illegal under the Discipline.

This case was held over from the 2008 Fall session in order for all the documents to be sent in by the Conference from which the matter came.

A resolution was passed by the California-Nevada Conference to commend retired Elders who would be willing to conduct same gender ceremonies. A question of law was raised about it and the bishop ruled that while commendable, the resolution encouraged violating church law and was null and void.

Her ruling ended the resolution’s life in that conference until the Council reviewed the decision.

Judicial Council Decision 1111 supports the bishop.

The only dissent indicated an interpretation of the resolution which did not “prescribe or recommend violation” of the Discipline but it had only one signer.

Re: JCM 1112


This matter was held over from the 2008 Fall session of the Council and was given a very brief review in the Memorandum: the bishop ruled the presenter of the question was not a member of the conference and thus could not raise the question, which the Council upheld and therefore felt it could not take jurisdiction..

The story behind the questioning comes out in the concurring opinions.

The superintendent and pastor changed the locks on the church so the congregation could no longer meet.

The local church was summarily discontinued (P 2548.2) by the superintendent and then was called an abandonment (P 2548.3) when the Annual Conference met to vote on it. The process for each is different in the Discipline.

Besides the obvious lack of proper procedure for discontinuing the church reported in the concurring opinions, I wonder if the Council checked to see if the questioner was still a proper delegate since the abandonment was not final until after the conclusion of the conference. I also wonder if they could have taken jurisdiction despite the bishop’s ruling because the conference did have before it the matter of the closing of that church, thus making the question(s) germane to the actions of the conference.

I confess it is odd that a conference would consider closing a church with an average attendance of 40 worshippers. If the issue was theological, as I suspect, I wonder how those with a different theological stance would accept superintendents’ actions like this one.

This could be one of those things the Council missed in its learning curve.

As the ruling stands, superintendents can pull this same stunt with impunity in the future because of the precedent of this ruling.

Re: JCD 1113


For approximately $10 a year for 99 years, with the possibility of renewing for another 150 years, the Bush Foundation signed a lease with SMU.*

That’s the information the Judicial Council apparently did not have. They indicate in the ruling that they could not determine the fair market value for the lease of four or more acres for a facility worth 200 to 500 million dollars. It is likely they would have concluded that the lease is worth far less than market value for property on the SMU campus.

I wish I had been at the hearing (my own fault that I who live in Florida did not attend the Denver hearing) to learn if anyone on the Judicial Council asked that question of the six representatives at the hearing. Someone in the group had that information. It was the burden of the questioner to have presented it in light of the questions she asked at the conference.

A reading of the Decision shows that the Judicial Council sensed pressure of time. That's why they didn't send it back to the bishop who ruled on the questions of law.

They chose instead to study the rules of procedure of the jurisdictional conference and the SMU articles of incorporation as well as the Book of Discipline. After showing where the Bishop had erred in his rulings, they sought to answer the questions themselves.

They decided that the Mission Council of the jurisdiction acted appropriately in permitting the signing of the lease and that the vote supporting that action by the South Central Jurisdictional Conference, the true owners of SMU, affirmed the action.

They did not note the action of the College of Bishops of the jurisdiction who made a judicial ruling when asked by the Bush Foundation but who then failed to forward that ruling to the Judicial Council for review as all other questions of law require.

The Judicial Council needs to be more careful about what judicial authority bishops are allowed under the Book of Discipline.

Nor did the Judicial Council review precedents in their own record. As far back as 1946, the Judicial Council ruled that no body can abandon its own powers and grant them to a subsidiary group. JCD 38 says, "No authority is given in the Constitution of the Church for it to delegate its powers in such a manner as to deprive itself of that basic or ultimate power." I was startled at how many decisions since have maintained that precedent. I do not think that the Council should have affirmed the role of the Mission Council.

Because the lease was already signed under permission of the Mission Council, those who supported it could argue it was too late to change. That would inhibit some delegates who might have voted the other way.

I commend the Judicial Council on its careful study and earnest desire to resolve this matter. I also appreciate the care shown by two members of the Judicial Council to explain their relationship to the ruling and why they did or did not participate in this decision.

But in their desire to be helpful, the Council may have provided an inadvertent appearance of favoritism.

*I have this information from a Feb. 28, 2008, copy of THE DAILY CAMPUS, an independent SMU campus newspaper.

Re: JCM 1114


A West Ohio leader requested a ruling on whether or not the General Conference had taken action on establishing the number of bishops to which the North Central Jurisdiction was entitled, based on a vote to change the Discipline about how that number was determined.

The Council took no jurisdiction but took time to explain as clearly as they could just why.

The hang up they say is that there is a principle of church law that has not yet been changed which says that only matters dealing with the actual business of an annual conference can be ruled on by the Council.

I have not completed the necessary research yet to argue this understanding of their role. But I think the Council has made rulings on questions outside that limitation in the past. I do expect that research will be done during the coming year to challenge what is taken as a standing precedent which unfortunately avoids the task of determining the “constitutionality, meaning, application, or effect of the Discipline….”

Re: JCM 1115


California Pacific Annual Conference tried a resolution that would recognize the pastoral need to handle same gender ceremonies. The Council accepted the bishop’s recognition of the right of those who violate the Discipline to fair process or just resolution, but the Council reversed her ruling that the resolution was permissible.

They felt it supported those pastors who celebrated same gender ceremonies.

I find that the phrase in the resolution that went over the line is “and prophetic authority of our clergy and congregations….” That clearly authorizes the behavior proscribed in the Discipline even if it is supported in places like the preface of the Social Principles: “They are a call to be instructive and persuasive in the best of the prophetic spirit.”

This Council’s frame of mind is reflected in Judge Gray’s view that such subtle resolutions on the annual conference level must be replaced by legislation at General Conference.

Re: JCM 1116


A bishop failed to respond to a proper question of law and asked to be relieved of dealing with it because of her role as presider at the agency related to the subject of the question.

The Council ruled she had no real conflict of interest as a presider and therefore was required to answer the question.

The Council returned the matter to her and expect an answer for their Fall 2009 session.

Re: JCM 1117


The Council could have stopped when it ruled it had no jurisdiction to deal with a parliamentary decision. But they reviewed the material involved, a packet which contained observations on a point of law but which asked none.

Where the bishop ruled that no one had formally presented it on the floor of the conference he could make the ruling that it was out of order, the Council may be implying that if such a packet were offered informally to the bishop in writing, if it contained a question of law signed by the questioner, and if it pertained to the business of the conference, they might accept it in a future case.

P 2609.6 does not include phrasing requiring that the question of law by raised verbally during plenary. Some bishops might prefer a simple written submission rather than have floor time given to what might be a minor matter or could be an unnecessarily embarrassing one.

Re: JCM 1118


Once again, the Council chose to not just stop with saying it had no jurisdiction. They laid out their rationale for refusing to rule on the questions. That was wise because the issue is a hot button one in our denomination,

A layman in Alaska asked if Paragraph 4 in our constitution superceded PP 214 and 225. Actually he wondered if P 4 had any effect on the other two. The ruling would have been the same.

The layman was trying to resolve the problem some believe was established in JCD 1032, that the pastor has the right of discretion over the readiness of a person wanting to join the church.

While that pastoral authority has been an unwritten presumption in the denomination, including the period when African-American people attempted to join all-European American churches during the Civil Rights conflict in the United States, this tradition was challenged in 2005 when a pastor persuaded a gay man that he was not ready to join a denomination with strong anti-homosexual laws in the Discipline. The bishop insisted that the pastor have to take the gay man into the church and the pastor refused, leading to the challenge handled in JCD 1032.

The Council carefully tried to sort through the three questions asked by the layman and why they could not take jurisdiction.

First, the Council showed how the membership process between a pastor and an eligible candidate for church membership is the work of the annual conference. But then the Council went further to indicate that the three questions did not pertain to some action taken by the annual conference in its session.

Belton Joyner, in his dissenting opinion points out that P 2610.2(j) has a plural in the word “conferences,” implying to him that the interpretation of the current and past Councils which restricts their jurisdiction to the agenda of the specific annual conference may need to be reviewed.

Conclusion re: Spring JC Session

This Council is being very thorough and continues to provide explanations which were often lacking in previous rulings of other Councils. Being appellant-friendly is a great policy.

This council has been careful to do its homework. A good bit of the complexity of the Bush Institute/Library at SMU was taken into account. The questions of the Alaska layman attempting to clarify who makes the decision about church membership, while not answered, were sorted out and explained.

So far, this Council has avoided the gross ineptitude that haunted other past Councils (for example JCM 1048).

Contrary to what some other knowledgeable commentators say, I believe this Council has not sought to avoid controversy. They have carefully parsed the briefs and law so that their positions have been clear. They have not gone beyond precedents on what is moot and hypothetical set in the previous Council because they have not found a change in church law that would move them in any new direction.

I have become so confident of the competence of this Council that I am surprised when they do not follow through on a key point. Was that layman really still a legal representative of a discontinued church? What was the actual lease cost arrangement in the Bush institute/library case? Should not the briefs of the appellants have addressed those matters rather than presuming the Council would pick them up?

This is no activist Council as its predecessor was. It will be interesting to see how they deal with issues yet to be sent their way.

Monday, April 20, 2009

AIA Reminder

Associates in Advocacy

Dear Colleague,

This is one of the three times of the year when pastors “disappear.”

You probably have not seen them at clergy meetings or cluster Bible studies or any of the usual places you see UM ministers. The last month or two, they have stopped coming and probably have not called you for anything. We are so busy we do not always notice, especially the ones who are quieter, less assertive, and/or female.

This is appointment time and the Cabinets tend to cull out the pastors that church folks are complaining about. It may be the fifth time in five years that those same complainers have wanted to run off the pastor. But now that the Discipline is more ambiguous about the right of appointment of conference members, some DSs will tell vulnerable pastors that they are no longer appointable, to tell no one about it, and to be out of the parsonage by July 1. In those conferences which have transition-out-of-ministry programs, the DS may or may not get them enrolled.

Once the pastor no longer has any hope of appointment or of legitimate critique or of positive alternatives, they tend to stop relating to other ministers, especially when they are told not to.

So, get out the map of your area (district plus others that you know nearby) and ask yourself when was the last time you saw this pastor or that one. If you haven’t seen them since February, call and make sure they are all right.

When you find one such “disappeared” pastor, check the articles in our website:
http://www.aiateam.org/. Click on the “Practical Help” and then scan for articles which are the most pertinent given the “disappeared’s” circumstances in the sections for “Pastors,” “Advocates,” and “Care Givers”. Not all can be changed, but some can.

Call me (941 743 0518) if you have any questions.

Your friend,


PS to the bishops – I send out this warning every year to the people on my AIA mailing list all over the country. I’ve been doing it for over twenty years. Same massage. Same problems with Cabinet members who are lousy at personnel work. It is usually first year DSs, but not always. I hope it does not come up in your conference. Feel free to call me if you want to talk about it. - You’d think by now someone training DSs would have figured out how to prevent this kind of persistent travesty.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Spring AIA letter

Dear Bishop,

Bill Stevens passed away recently, according to the postcard from the conference. Bill must have been 160 years old! He was a bright spot in the Wisconsin Annual Conference for as long as I can remember. I believe he became Conference Secretary just before I joined the Conference in 1962. I think he kept that job into the 1980s.

Those who had the responsibility of checking the journal, Bill’s minutes of the previous day, were amazed at his accuracy and completeness. That was especially remarkable because in those years, some of our sessions began at 8:00 a. m. and continued until 10:30 p. m. We actually had conferencing in those days.

Bill used a typewriter with three copies using carbon papers. Remember, to correct an error meant erasing all four sheets and typing over. During the years I was on the journal committee, I do not remember there ever being more than a single letter error correction.

And the copies were always ready by 8:00 a. m. so the committee could review them very early in the next day’s session. When we asked him how long it took, he said he was usually to bed by 3 a. m. And he never seemed tired, even after four or five days of Conference. His minutes were as error free and clear the last day as the first.

He was a hard-worker in the churches to which he was appointed. He went wherever the bishop sent him and got to serve in small, medium, large, rural, small town, and urban churches during his first forty years.

At conference in 1976, six years before his first retirement, he was unusually sad. It didn’t last long, but he still felt it deeply. “Jerry, I was looking forward to this year because it is when I expected to become a superintendent. I’ve been a pastor for thirty-four years and think I learned a thing or two that I wanted very much to use to help the younger pastors. It has been a great system we’ve had in the past where an experienced pastor became a superintendent for the last six years of his career, what with all that experience and no longer any reason to aspire to a higher office. I was all ready and they passed me up. Actually, they passed up several of us and appointed young, inexperienced pastors to be on the Cabinet. I understand the desire to move our ethnic and women clergy along more quickly but none of them are really ready yet. Everything has to happen now, I guess, before they have a chance to learn patience and maturity. Being superintendent will be just another career move instead of its culmination. What a shame.”

Bill went on to serve local churches another 21 years before retiring again in 2003. Eveready should have named the energizer bunny after him.

In the covenant of the clergy,


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

AIA annual meeting

Associates in Advocacy will hold its annual meeting on May 19-21, 2009, at the Super 8 OHare Motel in Elk Grove Village, IL from noon to noon. It will be a two day event.

Re: May 19-20: - We will be looking at Judicial Council Decisions, study on verification of a complaint, some case study work, and our annual business so we will have our hands full that first twenty-four hours.

Re: May 20-21 - The second twenty-fours will be spent reviewing the Griffith proposal and identifying the weakest sections of the complaint process (one of the reasons Tom has developed what he has!). From there, we will discuss next steps for expanding the dialogue and getting the best ideas into the systems from where have come past petitions which have been accepted at General Conference.

Starting our work for the 2012 General Conference this early!

Because we hope to keep the two days’ activities separate, you don’t have to be there both days to participate. In fact, feel free to come in for parts of any days. Those coming in for partial days may not have overnight charges for the motel but we hope you will contribute toward the use of the meeting room. Don’t forget, meals are your own expense. Those who stay at the motel do get a continental breakfast.

Dues are usually due at the meeting but we will have some extra expenses for this year’s meeting. Paying ahead will help us. Send anything you can, though $50 is the standard annual dues. Send your check to Rev. Michael Brown, 158 Saxony Court, Vallejo, CA 94591.

To reserve your room, call the motel at 847 827 3133 and tell them you are coming for the Associates in Advocacy meeting.

Monday, February 16, 2009

February letter to the Bishops

Dear Bishop,

Hawai’i is the site of a three week Elderhostel Ann and I attended in January. It was my gift to Ann for hanging in there with me for 50 years. We heard about geology, culture, history, and botany. I strongly recommend that you consider going yourself, if you have not already had the privilege.

Let me share one small bit of Hawai’an history. The Tahitians brought the Kapu (taboo) system when they populated the islands. The previous Marquesan migrations were overwhelmed by the size, arrogance, and technology of the kings from Tahiti.

No matter who your ancestors were, as one of those early Hawai’ians you headed for cover or fell on your face when one of the rulers came around. Warnings by use of conch horns and a colorful standard leading the procession let everyone know the leader was coming. Anyone found standing, let alone trying to engage the fine personage in conversation without his permission, was immediately slain.

Kapu was used to maintain the power of the leaders and its values swept throughout all Hawai’an human interaction, to the benefit of those rulers. For example, it was Kapu (forbidden) for the women to eat with the men (that rule went both ways) or even for women to touch the food prepared for the men. Violation meant instant death.

But the Kapu system came to an end in an odd way.

The death of King Kamehameha in 1819 was unexpected. The heir, Kamehameha II, was too much of a tippler and was three sheets to the wind when the banquet honoring his ascension was held.

Queen Ka’ahumanu carefully guided the new king past the men’s table and sat him AT THE WOMEN’S TABLE. Since the king was the primary enforcer of Kapu, that drunken act led to the unraveling of the religious and political grounds for the unfettered life-and-death authority enjoyed by the privileged leaders.

I’m sure you’ll enjoy thinking about the possible lessons that this story provides.

Mahalo. (Thank you.) Aloha. (Blessings on you.)

In the covenant of the clergy,


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Younger New Pastors

Our colleague Danny Burttram has some helpful thoughts in reaction to a United Methodist News Service daily summary. First, the summary:

Young clergy numbers rise, bucking leadership trend

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)—For the first time this century, the number of United Methodist clergy under the age of 35 has surpassed 5 percent. In 2008, the number of young elders increased from 876 to 910, and the percentage grew from 4.92 to 5.21 percent. The increase is “modest good news” for the church, said the Rev. Lovett Weems, coauthor of an updated study, “Clergy Age Trends in The United Methodist Church from 1985-2008.”

Now, here's Danny:

My thinking, for what it is worth, after reading the ‘full story’.

The problem with the article is clear enough. It assumes that if you increase the percentages of young ministers you will automatically increase the degree to which ministers are able to challenge the ‘established way of doing things.’

In reality, the young clergyperson gets wrapped up in the progress down the path of ‘how to be and appear successful.’ Progress down that path is easier if you don’t raise questions with authorities.

The real issue is not how many young clergy you have, but how they learn that it is a part of their calling to raise questions with the ecclesiastical institution in which they exist.

Who teaches them this? What examples are there for them to learn from?

An essential part of Christian ministry—and especially United Methodist Christian ministry – is ministry to the institutional church. Part of this ministry involves pouring balm on the rough edges of the institution that are rubbing sore spots on its members and its clergy. But part of this ministry is to raise questions with the authorities in such a way that they feel the pain they are causing others – and are willing to admit their mistakes, repent, and work on problems.

We never finish this task. It is a lifelong process – a dynamic process that shifts from one area to another. And the ‘religious right wing’ makes sure that it is a dangerous task to pursue. How do we learn to do it and where do we begin?

By the way, this is an issue not confined to the UMC. It is pervasive in many of the institutions we have come to embrace in our society.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

AIA letter for January

Associates in Advocacy
January 6, 2009

Dear Bishop,

At the end of my first year at Perkins (1959), I visited the North Texas Annual Conference to see how they operated. Despite the thousand delegates present, the bishop granted the floor to only ten people during the plenaries I observed. Albert Outler, of course, four big church pastors, and five DSs. No laity. No other clergy.

The June before I left for Perkins (1958), I was ordained Deacon at the Wisconsin Conference whose delegates numbered about 500. I spent a day observing there before the ordination. During the course of business, a friend who had been ordained Deacon the year before was recognized and rose to speak to the matter on the floor. A few minutes later, following a report by one of the DSs, a minister rose and in a diplomatic manner, severely criticized the report while the DS was still at the podium. I saw the two men laughing over lunch together an hour later.

Rev. William Blake, my pastor during high school and college, was conference historian and I asked him about the difference between the two conferences.

“I can’t tell you how that Texas conference operated during the 1930s. But let me tell you what we did during the Great Depression. Even before President Roosevelt took office, things were very bad in the rural and small town areas of our conference. The churches serving those areas were really struggling to pay their bills and to pay their pastors. Those of us who were fortunate enough to be serving churches whose incomes were still fairly strong set up a fund which was then distributed to help pay the salaries of the pastors in the struggling churches.

“The best thing about that was the collegiality that developed in our conference among the ministers. The relationships between the older better-off pastors and the younger struggling ones continued as some of those younger ones received more financially solid appointments. They continued the sharing with the new pastors who joined late in that decade.

“That program ended in 1945 as the war economy improved everyone’s lot. But those last ones who benefited never forgot and passed along the collegiality to this day.”

My conversation with Rev. Blake was in the early 1960s.

By 1980, nearly all those pastors were retired and with them went that memory of the close bonds they had experienced because of the grace shown among clergy during the Depression. That memory’s impact lasted fifty years.

In the covenant of the clergy,