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.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

No Large Southern Church Left Behind

Rev. Jeremy Smith wrote an article for “United Methodist Insight” under this title. You can read it for yourself at:

Having served in the Wisconsin Conference, having lived in the New Orleans area and now in Florida, and having associates from all over the country, I came to the conclusion some years ago that the southern jurisdictions were excellent at politics and the other three were oriented around program. You can see it in the sophistication of respective jurisdictional structures and property holdings.

While it seemed that theology was close to splitting the United Methodist Church at General Conferences since 1984, it hasn’t happened. I believe it is because those who want to control the denomination don’t want to lose the properties (think NYC and Washington DC) and the name recognition.

As Rev. Smith points out, the Call to Action in combination with the hegemony of large southern churches may set up a situation where the power-oriented folks could do what the Southern Baptist Church did, drive out women and those who were more liberal, and take control of the property of the denomination. And to get that power, they are politicizing the burgeoning African church to join their voting block.

What these southern leaders fail to recognize is that among the African leaders there may be an even higher level of sophistication about power. It is no small matter that many conservative Episcopalian congregations give their allegiance to an African bishop.

So imagine if Call to Action passes General Conference and the bishops get their “set aside” bishop only to have an especially astute African get that new post.

Rev. Smith has done us a great service by analyzing the leadership of the drive to pass Call to Action. He did it without mentioning a word about theology. I think the energy of evangelicals is being manipulated as a diversion.

Now if only someone could “follow the money” so that we would know who has been funding this effort.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What They Are Ignoring?

The following post was included in the April 11, 2012 United Methodist Insight, an online weekly collection of essays and articles about the 2012 General Conference. It can be found at


The Call to Action and Plan B ignore a pending crisis in pastors available for appointment.

Between 1970 and 1980, around 5,900 full elders were ordained and entered annual conferences in the United States. Now, 32 to 42 years later, only somewhere near 2,500 have already retired. That means that 3,700 pastors will be retiring over the next several years, according to estimates I requested from GCFA. That means that 60 fully trained experienced pastors will, on average, leave your annual conference over the next eight years.

That figure does not take into account the number of pastors who are second career that entered with maybe only ten years to serve before reaching retirement age. It does not take into account the number of pastors being told by their Cabinets that they are unappointable and being forced out of ministry without Fair Process. It does not take into account the increasing number of pastors retiring early. It does not take into account the number of retirees who stay on to serve full or part-time.

With so many factors, most of which only add to the impending crisis, I challenge the General Conference to consider this issue very seriously.

Ah but the wonderful emphasis on seeking young people to come into the ministry will surely more than fill in behind the retiring pastors to provide us with fully trained elders.

At the 2008 General Conference, students and pastors under 35 demonstrated as “Spotted Owls,” an endangered species. Statistics bear up their assertion:

“The percentage of elders and deacons younger than 35 is too low to meet current and future needs for ordained leadership. The percentage of young elders increased to 5.47% in 2010, the highest in over a decade. Clergy aged 35-54 now represent 45% of elders, down from 65% in 1985. In 2010, for the first time, over half of active elders are age 55-72. Deacons show increasing age trends but still have only 9.56% under age 35.”
(2010 Clergy Age Trends Report, Lewis Center for Church Leadership)

And what of the movement encouraged by church leaders to bring in more enthusiastic local pastors to replace the “professional” elders who are blamed for the decline in church membership?

Despite that emphasis since the 1980s, local pastors have not reversed the downward spiral. That could be because when a Superintendent is done with a local pastor, without warning, the local pastor is never again given an appointment, invariably with no explanation.

Every pastor in the denomination is watching all these short term, sometimes cruel, procedures. Morale in most conferences is lower than it’s ever been.

The crisis is further complicated by the immediate problem Cabinets face on the east and west coasts of the United States. Their churches are diminishing in size and closing at an alarming rate. Many of those conferences now have a surplus of pastors.

Unfortunately, Cabinets are taking a short range view by, as I assert above, telling older Anglo pastors in some conferences and women and ethnic pastors in others that they are unappointable, have to go part-time, or are incompetent (allegations usually from prejudiced cliques known as “clergy killers” but who have to be acceded to because “the customer is always right”).

Because of that short-range strategy of dumping Elders who have higher salaries whenever they can get away with it, Cabinets are seen more and more as toxic. And the families and friends of those pastors are often as devastated as the pastors themselves and tend to stop coming to the United Methodist Church.

I hope there have been serious discussions in annual conferences about negotiating equalizing episcopal and superintendent salaries with those of other pastors, facilitating transfers to conferences which do not have a surplus, or other imaginative solutions. I have not seen any sign of such alternatives.

And now comes The Call to Action, basically the Council of Bishops through various agencies, asking for even more freedom to remove pastors.

That will exacerbate the crisis of declining clergy numbers through retirement in the coming years. With unaccountable toxic Cabinets and clergy killer church members, we will end up with too few clergy and no one wanting to enter the awful workplace atmosphere we currently have.

And that will add to the down spiral of our demographics, meaning even more churches will close.

The Call to Action fails to address the real problems facing our Church. Among other things, it gives no heed to the coming crisis of clergy retiring and worsens the prospects of retaining competent clergy. Plan B avoids the pitfall of enhancing episcopal power over employment of pastors but also fails to realize the coming sharp decline in clergy.

Have these two major options come close to dealing with the real issues facing the Church as we meet in Tampa? Are more important issues raised in other petitions (some of mine among them) going to be ignored in the episcopal-centered rush to control the outcome?

While I do not agree with every suggestion made by the Church Systems Task Force, please note that research has supported many of my assertions about the dis-ease among clergy and their families about being between groups not held accountable by anyone, Cabinets and local church antagonists. See Cynthia Astle's article on their report in the next edition of United Methodist INSIGHT.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Where Do We Find God's Spirit in Our System?

The following post was included in the April 4, 2012 United Methodist Insight, an online weekly collection of essays and articles about the 2012 General Conference. It can be found at



Sometimes God's inspiration shows up in the most unlikely places, such as in this rap by Doug E. Fresh that served as a theme song for the movie "Ghostbusters II":

Spirit! Some people hear it, some people fear it,

Spirit! Some people just won't go near it!

Sure as I'm me and you should know you're you,

The Spirit is the key to unlock the true you.

Looking beyond its obvious references to the comedy's plot, this ditty captures one of my biggest concerns about the many alternatives flying about for United Methodist governance: Where does the Holy Spirit operate in our system?

The seat of power where the Holy Spirit resides in a denomination is very important, though our conversations do not usually go into that arena of theology. When I was in seminary, we talked in terms of the central entity of the denomination being the annual conference. All of the church's structure was to help the annual conference serve the needs of local churches that could not be handled by local churches themselves, meaning everything from how our churches got their pastors to how we shared mission responsibilities.

The reality at that time was that the general church boards and agencies appeared to feel they were the true bearers of the Holy Spirit. This was shown in the ways that some of them operated with no accountability and were subject to some financial mismanagement.

Charging to the rescue was General Conference, picking the Council of Bishops to reign in the agencies by having them be chairpersons of the respective bodies and having a cluster of bishops serving as directors of each agency. Thus, the power shifted. The center of power devolved onto the Council of Bishops, whose members were in a position to direct and influence actions of the boards and agencies AND to direct the legislation coming to General Conference.

As in the pre-Reformation era when the Catholics openly talked of their bishops and archbishops bearing the Holy Spirit, ours actually do, even though we don't use that terminology to describe it. The Church begins to fail if one or both of the following happens:

•When we let any one segment of the Church be its sole power without checks and balances and some form of accountability; or

•When we are unwilling to recognize that the Holy Spirit moves as It will and may be surfacing someplace other than the power center.

How would everything that is coming before the 2012 General Conference change if attention were shifted from legislating win-lose scenarios to discerning where and how God's Holy Spirit is active, and then legislating to follow that guidance?


UM Insight coordinator Cynthia Astle contributed to this essay.