Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Part IV -- Pastors' Conference Highlights

If you have been reading this blog with any regularity, you know that one of the burning issues within the Cameroon Mission is the ordination of pastors. None of our 20-something pastors are ordained United Methodists yet, even though most were ordained in another denomination previously.

To their consternation, their previous ordinations were not accepted at face value nor recognized by the General Board of Global Ministries. Instead, they were told to wait until a process could be hammered out for ordination within the United Methodist fold.

The process has taken a bit of time, and the pastors have been more or less patient. But every once in a while, they complain. You have to admit, it’s a bit frustrating for them. For one thing, they’re not allowed to serve Communion, and instead must wait for me to make the trek to their particular church. Neither are they allowed to baptize people, even though many have a waiting list.

There is also the matter of respect and pride – the act of ordination is a sacred event, and the ordained pastor carries a special weight and authority. To have been ordained once, and then not be considered ordained, seems a slap in the face to some. For example, I have heard at least one pastor say, “The United Methodist Church doesn’t say that I am ordained, but I am ordained. How can I lose it?”

But the General Board of Global Ministries has been exercising caution for good reason. We want to make sure that the pastors we ordain are truly “United Methodist” and understand what this means and entails.

And finally, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Bishop Boni, of Cote d’Ivoire, is now our overseeing bishop, and he leads a newly-formed Board of Ordained Ministry for Cameroon which will be holding its first meeting in April. During this meeting, eleven of our pastors will be interviewed by the Board for ordination.

Depending on how the interviews go, these pastors may end up becoming the first ordained clergy of the United Methodist Church in Cameroon. I still don’t know when, however. That also depends on how the interviews go, and whether the Board feels that the pastors need further education, training, or oversight.

This is good news, for sure. However, the issue of ordination is a mixed blessing, for it introduces a brand new problem to the Cameroon Mission. For the first time, the pastors have been divided into two groups of differing status. The risk is high that those who weren’t selected for ordination interviews will be jealous of those who were. Indeed, I could pick up a little bit of unrest about the matter, even at the Pastors’ Conference.

And there is great uncertainty about the eleven – what happens if the Board approves only two or three … and the rest are denied ordination for now? How will the first ordinands treat the others? And how will those passed over treat those who are ordained?

This will be a true test of the quality of pastoral leadership in the Mission, just as it is a test of any denomination’s system of ordination. How do those who are chosen and elevated in leadership keep their humility and servanthood intact? How does any system ensure that a few at the top don't lord it over all the others?

It’s a good question for us; it’s a great question for your Annual Conference, and your local church, too!