Part-time pastors claiming more pulpits [clone for review - don’t archive]
Third in a 10-part seriesBy Sam HodgesSept. 28, 2015 | UMNS
The Rev. Mark Windley (right) prays with parishioner Jada Roarx at Amazing Grace Community of Faith in Louisville, Ky. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.
The Rev. Mark Windley works full time and more as sales manager for an industrial supply and services company. When not working, he's leading Amazing Grace Community of Faith, an African-American United Methodist church plant in Louisville, Kentucky.
Windley preaches. He also sets up chairs and checks the sound system.
The church has grown in worship attendance, but what it's able to pay Windley doesn't cover his mortgage payments.
Meanwhile, his workweek, with both jobs, can run to 70 hours.
"My wife would tell you I'm not sane," Windley said, quickly adding that he feels peace and purpose in ministry.
More and more, The United Methodist Church is turning to part-time licensed local pastors like Windley to lead small churches in the United States.
Read profile of the Rev. Michael Funkhouser, a part-time local pastor and West Virginia's 2013 Teacher of the Year.
Many balance a full-time secular job with church work, and most don't have a seminary degree. But they often bring workplace skills and a high level of commitment — and they work for less than full-time pastors.
"I'm not sure the denomination as a whole has opened their eyes to this," said retired Bishop Alfred Gwinn, who chaired the 2008-2012 Ministry Study Commission. "We're very dependent on part-time pastors."
In Bisbee, Arizona, one of those part-time pastors is the Rev. Michele Kelley, a retiree from investment banking and private investigating who felt a call to ministry and now leads First United Methodist Church in Bisbee and Grace United Methodist Church in nearby Douglas.
"If First Bisbee closed, who would feed the people?" she asked, referring to a food bank she helped the church start in this impoverished area by the Mexico border.
In New Vienna, Ohio, the Rev. Sarah Chapman's day job is doing social media for Charmin and Puffs, two Procter & Gamble products. For the last five years, she also has been part-time local pastor of New Vienna United Methodist Church.
She's sure her business skills have helped her as she leads the 150-member rural church.
"I'm a really passionate advocate for bivocationality. I think there needs to be a ton more tentmakers," Chapman said, referring to the occupation attributed to the Apostle Paul.
The Rev. Mark Windley, pastor of Amazing Grace Community of Faith in Louisville, Ky., is a sales executive and a licensed local pastor in The United Methodist Church.
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Feeling the crunch
Most lead pastors continue to be full-time ordained elders who have earned a master of divinity degree at a United Methodist-approved seminary and passed through a provisional member elder phase. They are guaranteed a minimum salary, as well as health insurance, housing, utilities and retirement benefits.
Conferences vary in their minimum salaries, with most around $40,000. But the total package swells with benefits.
The 'local elder' option
Elders and deacons are ordained in The United Methodist Church, while local pastors are licensed.
But local pastors can, within their parishes, administer the sacraments and officiate at weddings and funerals — tasks many other denominations reserve for the ordained.
Some say The United Methodist Church's approach confuses other denominations, causing strains in ecumenical relations, and can even baffle United Methodists trying to figure out what ordination means.
"We don't need to be putting people in churches to perform ministerial functions without the benefit of ordination," said the Rev. Sky McCracken, superintendent of the Memphis Conference's Purchase District.
The Rev. Ted Campbell, professor of church history at Perkins School of Theology, proposed in a 2004 article that the denomination ordain "local elders."
Campbell noted that early American Methodism had traveling elders — committed to full-time Christian service — and local elders, many of them with secular jobs. Both traveling and local elders were ordained, and local elders could celebrate Holy Communion in their churches.
Campbell also observed that the office of local elder appeared in Methodist Books of Discipline through the 1950s and that the last church law book of the Evangelical United Brethren, which merged with The Methodist Church in 1968 to become The United Methodist Church, included the same office.
The 2013-2016 Commission for the Study of Ministry considered whether to recommend ordination of full-time local elders, but ultimately decided against, said Bishop Grant Hagiya, commission chair.
He said the practical considerations involved in ordaining a large number of local pastors — including questions of accountability and what happens when a local pastor is not re-appointed — seemed "unwieldly."
Such a move would have implications as well for the central conferences, with their large numbers of local or lay pastors. So the commission felt the question needs to be considered along with the idea of a global Book of Discipline, said the Rev. Meg Lassiat, director of candidacy, mentoring and conference relations in the Ordination Division of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
"In (the) Western Pennsylvania (Conference), it takes $90,000 to $95,000 for a local church to afford an elder," said Bishop Thomas Bickerton, who leads the conference. "That becomes a pretty expensive item for a local church."
Meanwhile, The United Methodist Church in the United States has seen a gradual decline overall in membership and attendance. About 78 percent of U.S. churches averaged fewer than 100 in worship in 2013, up from 74 percent a decade earlier, according to the denomination's General Council on Finance and Administration.
Many churches that small struggle to afford an elder, even one they might share with another small church, said the Rev. Lovett Weems, director of theLewis Center for Church Leadership at United Methodist Wesley Theological Seminary.
Increasingly, those churches get appointed a part-time licensed local pastor, who is trained first in a licensing school, and then begins ministry while pursuing the Course of Study education program that the denomination requires such pastors to complete over 12 years.
Bickerton has seen the trend play out in his conference.
"It becomes inevitable that (small churches) are going to approach us and request a less-than-full-time position," he said. "Over the last 10 years we have seen a doubling in the number of part-time local pastors."
Denominational statistics show that from 2010 to 2015 the number of ordained elders and provisional member elders appointed to churches dropped from 15,806 to 14,614.
In that same period, the number of part-time local pastors grew from 4,261 to 5,178. Supply pastors — who typically serve small churches on a fill-in basis and include lay speakers and clergy from other denominations — grew from 1,163 to 1,849.
One factor in declining elder numbers is that retirements have outpaced newcomers. Another relevant statistic is that the overall number of United Methodist churches in the United States has declined, with closings running ahead of church starts.
But Bishop Kenneth Carter of the Florida Conference is among the denominational leaders who have witnessed a shift within the clergy ranks.
"The Florida Conference has historically been a region of larger churches," Carter said. "And yet in many contexts, the resources of the local church cannot sustain salary and benefit structures of full-time elders."
Cost savings and more
The changing reality can be seen with the Rev. Scott Masters and Asbury United Methodist Church in Chesterfield, New Hampshire.
Masters, an economist for an automotive manufacturer, is the first part-time licensed local pastor to serve Asbury. The church, which averages about 40 in worship, had long shared an elder with one or more other congregations. Asbury pays Masters $14,400 a year, and covers some of his expenses.
"I carry my own insurance, I pay for my own mortgage, and the church walks away in a better position," he said.
Masters calls balancing two jobs and family life a "mega-challenge," and notes that he uses a tape recorder to collect sermon ideas while commuting 45 minutes to his secular office.
He believes his church has become more self-reliant, knowing his time is limited; and he believes the savings on his salary has helped Asbury do more outreach ministry.
"We serve close to 10,000 people a year in food ministries," Masters said. "It's a small but incredibly busy place."
New Moyock United Methodist Church in Moyock, North Carolina, is another church that's led by a part-time local pastor after having long had ordained elders.
The Rev. Bill Masciangelo (right) prepares for a baptism at New Moyock United Methodist Church in Moyock, N.C. As a part-time local pastor, he's led the church to growth and financial stability. Photo courtesy New Moyock United Methodist Church.
The church had been down in attendance and teetering financially, to the point that it considered selling its building. But under the Rev. Bill Masciangelo — who became a local pastor after careers in the U.S. Marines and the hospitality industry — regular attendance has doubled to about 110 and finances have stabilized.
"I'm just delighted with the way God's worked," Masciangelo said.
Masciangelo estimates he spends five to six hours a day on church work. He gets paid about $35,000, and doesn't need the church's help for housing or health insurance. At 70, he's full of energy, to the point that he teaches kettlebell exercise routines at the YMCA.
The Rev. Gil Wise oversees Masciangelo as superintendent of the North Carolina Conference's Beacon District, and confirms that the pastor is a bargain for New Moyock United Methodist. But he prefers to emphasize Masciangelo's accomplishments.
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