c) The Practice of Ministry:
How has the practice of ordained ministry affected your understanding of the expectations and obligations of the itinerant system?
A recent issue of Circuit Rider magazine focused almost wholly on the itinerant system and the issues surrounding itinerancy. The articles and the responses to the articles highlight just what an important issue itinerancy is and shed light on the strengths and weaknesses of the system. Itinerancy is certainly a challenging issue for many pastors, and I understand the complexities that leave some wishing for a different system. However, I believe that the itinerant system still best serves our church and our pastors.
I believe that the itinerant system helps us use the gifts of a diverse leadership – men and women, younger and older clergy, clergy of all colors and nationalities, clergy in first, second, or third careers. Churches are often slow to change! Even today, many congregations are still hesitant at least about a first experience with a “woman pastor,” for example. The itinerant system reminds us and helps us focus on gifts and graces of clergy, rather than surface details of clergy. I think this gives us a great diversity in our leadership, across the connection, and opens congregations to new experiences of which they might not themselves choose to take advantage.
The itinerant system also enables us to respond to changing congregations. Over time, our churches do (God willing!) experience change. A church may grow. A church may merge with another. A congregation may need to take on a building project. A congregation may need to respond to a new factor in the community: a business closing, a new population emerging. Sometimes this may mean that new leadership could help a congregation make a transition. Sometimes, a church is just in a comfortable place, and not reaching outside of its comfortable boundaries.
The same thing can be said of clergy. We change and grow and need to be challenged, to break barriers. We also get too comfortable in our places. We develop new gifts, new talent, and new skills. We hear God’s calling for us in a new way. Itinerancy lets us respond to and grow into change.
Because the church is alive, a living body of Christ, the itinerant system helps us respond effectively in ministry. I think we do our best work when decisions are made with these factors in mind, rather than in an arbitrary way. I trust that, even as we struggle with it, our itinerant system will continue serve the church well.