The revision to Ministerial Leadership Polity today was adopted by Annual Conference, gaining the two-thirds majority vote it needed. With its adoption, several changes will be taking effect in January 2015.
Among those changes is establishment of a new, additional category of set-apart ministry: the commissioned minister. These ministers will be called, trained and commissioned to serve one particular congregation or ministry setting. With training that does not need to be as rigorous as for an ordained minister, it is expected to be a helpful option for leaders of small congregations who do not have the time and finances to pursue a seminary education.
A second change the paper makes to existing polity is that more guidelines are laid out for community participation during all parts of a minister’s calling, training, and ongoing life. Mentors, small groups of people supporting licensed ministers, and ongoing peer groups called cohort groups for ordained clergy, are all described in the guidelines.
One goal of the paper is to provide more uniformity among the districts in credentialing. However, some flexibility is also part of the design. For example, the category of lay speaker is no longer an official position in the denomination, and has not been since the last revision to ministerial polity, but districts may decide to continue to list lay speakers. However, there will no longer be a listing of lay speakers in denominational records.
The length and complexity of the paper proved challenging to some delegates, especially those unfamiliar with the ministerial credentialing process currently in use. The process of licensing was a topic of much discussion. This paper places a 10-year time limit on being licensed. One metaphor used by a speaker compared licensing to a hallway, not a destination, saying that a licensed minister should be encouraged to complete their training.
The paper has been in development for some seven years in total. In 2012 the document was brought to the floor of Annual Conference for a first reading. Last year the document was brought for adoption, but Annual Conference returned it to the Mission and Ministry Board with instruction to address concerns raised by the Standing Committee of district delegates. The concerns fell into several areas including the need to address plural non-salaried ministry, to be in conversation with leaders from ethnically diverse congregations to take into account how the paper will affect ministers in their context, and to adjust requirements regarding calling cohorts. Revisions based on those suggestions have been incorporated into the document.
Staff and committees that have worked on the revision include associate general secretary Mary Jo Flory-Steury and Dana Cassell, working with the Ministry Advisory Council. Input on the paper was received from a number of groups including the Council of District Executives and the Mission and Ministry Board.
Find the document as presented to and adopted by Annual Conference at www.brethren.org/ac/2014/documents/business-items/2014-ub1-revision-to-ministerial-leadership-polity.pdf .
— Frances Townsend provided this report.