There comes a time in every Methodist minister's(*) appointment when a decision has to be made. This decision may be made by the minister themselves, or by their congregation(s), yet whoever makes it it is not an easy call to make. That decision: should I stay or should I go? Earlier this year, I made the decision, and after what will be 11 years in my current post I will be moving to 'pastures new' next August. But where to?
At this time of year those of us who are moving (either of our own volition or through a decision of our Circuit Meeting) find ourselves faced with the unenviable task of summing up ourselves and our ministry in two sides of A4. Those profiles are then collated and sent to the circuits who are searching for a new minister, who have themselves drawn up profiles for the appointments they are seeking to fill, which are sent to the ministers 'on the move'.
The bare statistics this year are that just over 150 appointments are in search of 112 ministers, which means that roughly one in four will likely have to find alternative means of providing ministry from September 2015.
This is the first time I've been through this process in 11 years, and although the system is more or less the same as it was back in 2003, there are one or two changes. The content expected in the profiles is different, with (I think) less room for a personal statement than before from the minister, and the process of 'matching' ministers and appointments has changed, in that appointments for Superintendent ministers are no longer dealt with separately as they were in the past.
Ministers and circuits have roughly two weeks to peruse the lists of available options. Their task is to come up with a list of five possible matches - appointments and ministers whom they consider may be workable prospects - with a back-up list of a further five or so, which they then discuss with their District Chair and Lay Stationing Representative. The principal deciding factor in compiling these lists tends to be the geographical restrictions (for perfectly good reasons) which ministers put on their intinerancy. This task may be a little easier for ministers, as they only have their own and their families' considerations to bear in mind: my observation is that the local church where I currently serve found this process a little frustrating, having to balance their own needs and preferences alongside the wider circuit ones, and they did feel slightly shut-out from the process. This may be more of an issue for larger circuits (of which Sheffield is certainly one) than for more compact geographical areas, as smaller circuit Leadership Teams have the potential to better understand the local church context, and to have its views and aspirations heard and represented.
Once these lists have been agreed upon, the Chair then takes them with them to the Stationing Matching Group (SMG).
During the compilation of these lists, circuits and ministers are discouraged - nay, forbidden - from contacting prospective matches to a) express interest or b) ascertain further information about the individual or appointment. Circuit & church websites may be perused, and no doubt social media profiles, blogs etc, but no approach, formal or informal, is permitted prior to a match being made. This did prove to be a little frustrating from my perspective, as there were one or two items in some profiles where I would have liked to have asked for clarification. Prior to this current way of working circuits and ministers were able to exchange information, which a) helped to clarify some issues which the space available on the profile didn't allow for and b) indicated that circuits/ ministers were interested in each other, which helped a little in the discernment process, I think. Maybe consideration could be given for some exchange being permissible in these early stages, which would probably mean that profiles would need to be made available a little earlier than at present.
And now I and many others wait for the first meeting of the SMG, which takes place from 3rd to 6th November. Will I be paired up with any on my list? Last time I went through this process that did not happen in the first round, and consequently the match which was made did not work. The subsequent pairing has been one of the most productive of my over 20 years in ministry, so I have confidence that things will work out, and as a local Church we will be holding a 12-hour prayer vigil for the process on the first day of its meeting. In just over a week I will know... watch this space for further thoughts.
(*) I'm using the word 'minister' throughout rather than 'presbyter' as the former is, I think, more generally understood.