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Guaranteed appointment debate to resume at GC2016

Ending guaranteed appointment for ordained elders in The United Methodist Church was, like restructuring of the denomination's agencies, a high-profile effort that passed at the 2012 General Conference only to be overturned by the Judicial Council.

And, like restructuring, it will be back on the agenda when the 2016 General Conference, the denomination's top lawmaking assembly, meets in Portland, Oregon.

This time the push to end guaranteed appointment is coming from the Association of Annual Conference Lay Leaders.

"It's a matter of accountability and a matter of empowering our bishops to do what they think they need to do with each and every appointment," said Lonnie Brooks, lay leader for the Alaska Conference and legislative committee chair for the lay leaders' association.

But the strategy for passage this time requires first changing the denomination's constitution — a high hurdle. And the opposition has hardly gone away.

"There's value in having security of appointment for all clergy, in particular for those who have been marginalized," said Frederick Brewington, a lawyer and lay delegate from the New York Conference who successfully argued the guaranteed appointment case before Judicial Council.

The commission, in its report, said job tenure for elders limited the church's ability "to respond to the primacy of missional needs" and created a financially unsustainable oversupply of clergy in certain conferences.

Some commission members more bluntly said guaranteed appointment protected ineffective clergy.

The lay leaders' association's petition is nothing if not direct, seeking to have the constitution state that a presiding bishop "has the authority, but not the obligation" to appoint a clergy member, and that Restrictive Rule IV does not mean right of trial equals guaranteed appointment.

To the association, job tenure may work in academia, but it isn't something a denomination declining in the United States can support.

"The church is not immune," said Steve Lyles, lay leader for the North Alabama Conference. "There has to be some accountability."

But others, like Brewington, see guaranteed appointment as a justice issue, providing protection for all elders –— particularly women and minorities — from capricious or otherwise unfair actions by bishops. (Brewington is married to an elder.)

But changing the constitution requires at least a two-thirds vote of General Conference delegates. Then at least two-thirds of total voters across the annual conferences must endorse the change.

Lonnie Brooks believes support for ending guaranteed appointment has increased since Tampa, but acknowledges that winning a super-majority on the plenary floor is daunting.

"I would say we have about a 50 percent chance," he said.

Sam Hodges, multimedia news reporter, United Methodist News Service

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