What power does the church have in the UMC?

HT John Feagins for linking this article in Facebook about a United Methodist pastor in North Carolina getting dismissed as pastor for “supporting a new book by Rob Bell.”

This post is NOT about Love Wins the controversial book by Bell.  This post is about a District Superintendent (DS) in The United Methodist Church who may not be very United Methodist.

Gray Southern, DS of the Durham District, North Carolina Conference, who the article alleges to have said of the dismissal, “That’s between the church and him.”

In a lot of denominations as pastor’s dismissal is between the pastor and the church, but this is NOT true in The United Methodist Church.  We are an episcopal and connectional church.  Churches do not dismiss pastors.  Bishops, and only bishops, dismiss pastors.

This, of course, is not actually true.  It is true according to The Book of Discipline, our book of Church Law.  You don’t have to be a United Methodist long, though, to know that big, powerful, wealthy United Methodist churches are, generally, beyond the control of the Bishops.  The rest of us, though, live within the organizational structure which, I assure you, for United Methodists, does not allow a church to dismiss a pastor.

No matter what the pastor posts on Facebook.

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15 thoughts on “What power does the church have in the UMC?

  1. His standing is that of a local pastor (as a Student Local Pastor) even then within our system the congregation does not get to “fire” someone as the official dismissal would have to come from the episcopacy.

    There is something fishy here and until D.S. Gray Southern or the Bishop speaks we might never know the other side.

    Here is my reflection on the transparency aspect: http://methodistjustin.com/2011/03/24/authenticity-and-transparency-the-umc-and-chad-holtz/

  2. The quote, ”That’s between the church and him” makes me wonder what level of the church is being discussed here. I wonder if the DS wasn’t acting as the agent of the bishop and the larger church as “local church” was not specified.

    I will say that there is not much transparency here, but in matters that affect employment status the employer is often in a very limited position as to what may be said.

    • I thought about that meaning of “church” as well. I would expect a DS to consider, in commuicating with the press, that the more conventional (congregational) understanding would be the way it would be interpreted broadly.

      Thus, what a great opportunity to teach the press one significant way UM polity differs from most!

      • I took it to be an indication of privacy matters. He was saying the local church knew what was happening, and the pastor knew what was happening. Beyond that he was being vague. If I were the DS I’d take myself to be in a position where I could not defend myself without saying things that weren’t wise to say.

  3. You sure you’ve got all the facts? It’s curious how much heat this is generating in the blogosphere, especially from some who I’ve followed for some time and expected had a firmer understanding of UM ways.

    I know of Southern, but don’t know him personally. I Googled him & found his one page resume for consideration in his conference as a General Conference candidate. Usually such folk don’t put their name up for consideration unless they have some standing.

    Check it out:

    EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND:
    Smithfield-Selma Sr. High School, BA from UNC-Chapel Hill in Psychology and Religion; M.Div. from Yale University Divinity School; D.Min. from Columbia Theological Seminary
    CHURCH ACTIVITIES:
    • Local Church – Active as a lay person while a child, youth, and young adult. I have served St. Paul Goldsboro) as Associate Pastor; and Oriental (New Bern); West Nash (Rocky Mt.); Trinity (Durham); St. James (Greenville) as Pastor.
    • District – I have served in various districts as Youth Coordinator; Camping Coordinator; Young Adult Coordinator; dCOM member and chair; RIOM leader; refugee resettlement coordinator; worship coordinator; spiritual life retreat leader; evangelism chair; district Trustees; Church Building and Location
    Committee. I currently serve as DS in The Durham District.
    • Conference – I have served on the CCYM, Camping and Retreat Ministries Board, Insurance Committee; Board of Pensions; Joint Committee on Incapacity; youth mission team leader; member of the former COM; Hispanic Ministries Committee; Disciple Bible Outreach Ministries Board; Justice for our
    Neighbors Committee; Board of Institutions member
    • General Church – Member of the 2008 General and Jurisdictional Conference Delegation; Member of The General Board of Pension and Health Benefits

    Any of us can use a poor choice of words at times. What do you think?

    • @Scott I think that is part of the “stirring” re:we dont’ know all the facts because we only have one side of the story. I am sure D.S. Southern is qualified and has acted in accordance with the Discipline, etc. but the problem is questions will continue to swirl until another side of the story is shared.

      And I understand confidentiality issues, legal issues, etc. but I wonder if we as United Methodists need to move into deeper understandings of dialogue, conflict, and how to handle, etc. I think too often so much of the moments of healing and grace are inhibited because we do so much “behind closed doors”

  4. As a UM pastor in the Durham District, I fully support Rev. Southern’s decision to say no more than he did. In personnel matters, it often does more damage to the church and the people involved to air the church’s laundry. Matters of the termination of a student appointment (I assume Holtz was a student pastor) are best left to the discretion of the pastor, the S/PPRC, the DS, and the Bishop. (If he were an Elder, there would be a few differences in the process.) On a personal matter, Rev. Southern is the wisest and most compassionate person one could hope for in a DS. I would find it interesting to know the genesis of how these events at Morrow’s Chapel became came to the attention of the press when similar changes in appointment happen regularly.

      • You are right Sheyduck. A UMC church cannot dismiss a pastor unless they can hire their own pastor and they cannot. They are “vetted” through the D.S. who makes the recommendations to the Bishop who makes/confirms their appointment. Conversely, if there is trauma in the church the D.S. can and often does step in to be the ombudsman of reconciliation if that is possible. If not, the D.S. confers with the Bishop and if there are grounds based on the BOD they can charge him allowing for due process. Remember the EVERY appointment is Year to Year and the Bishop can choose to ride out the storm until the next appointment period and choose to NOT appoint the pastor for whatever good reason the D.S and the Bishop uses.. Remember that a recent change to the BOD prevents any Guarantee of appointment for anyone including Elders no matter how much seniority they or how long they have served, 1 year or 40 years.. All that has to be determined is that the pastor is “not effective” with or without issue or reference to the BOD.. Just and FYI..

  5. i, too , know gray…he is a man of compassion, loves Jesus deeply and has a heart of gold…i’d easily put him at one of the top 15 ds’s i have every known…and way above but a hand full of bishops…well, i can only think of 3 good bishops -hah!

  6. This just in . . .

    North Carolina Conference
    The United Methodist Church

    March 25, 2011

    Pastor decided to leave church, was not fired

    GARNER, N.C. — News reports and blogs about Chad Holtz, serving a student appointment at Marrow’s Chapel in Henderson, a rural United Methodist Church, say he was fired from the church but do not include information leading to the pastor’s decision to leave the church.

    “While it’s true that Holtz is no longer serving as pastor of Marrow’s Chapel, he was not fired or dismissed by the North Carolina Conference. Church members asked him to leave and he simply agreed to do so,” said North Carolina Conference Bishop Al Gwinn.

    During the three years Holtz served as the Marrow’s Chapel pastor, various instances created difficulties between the pastor and church members. Difficulties resulted from some of his online posts and preaching style.

    Holtz’s pastor-parish committee, his local church supporters, advisors and mentors, discussed the concerns with him over many months.

    “Both Chad and the committee agreed that he would not post controversial topics online,” said Gray Southern, his district superintendent.

    “He broke the agreement and the committee members felt betrayed,” Southern said. “The committee asked Holtz to leave the church and he agreed.”

    In The United Methodist Church, bishops appoint pastors to local churches after a process of consultation and matching gifts and graces of clergy with local church needs. As a Duke Divinity student from the Holston Conference, Holtz could be appointed while making progress in his studies.

    He continues his relationship with The United Methodist Church through his membership in the Holston Conference.

    Bishop Gwinn and Southern were aware of the difficulties at Marrow’s Chapel. Southern said he tried to counsel Holtz to be in face-to-face dialogue with his congregation.

    An interim supply pastor or pastors will work with the congregation until a new appointment is made, effective July 1.

    # # #

    For further information, call or write:
    Bill Norton, Director of Communications
    NC Conference – The United Methodist Church
    P.O. Box 1970 / 700 Waterfield Ridge Place
    Garner, NC 27529
    (919) 779-6115
    bnorton@nccumc.org

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