Bishop McCleskey will vouch for me. I was clearly surprised to be appointed as a District Superintendent. When Bishop McCleskey summoned me to his office in February, 2008 to give me the news, in the course of our conversation, he said three times, “You look surprised.” Surprised hardly covered it.
I was not surprised to have a chance to talk with the Bishop. Due to some painful communication dynamics the year before, my District Superintendent, George Thompson had asked Bishop McCleskey to talk to me directly about my appointment. Getting the call to come to see the bishop, to tell no one (emphasis on NO ONE) about time with the bishop was not a surprise. I knew the bishop didn’t have time to talk to every pastor who had an appointment concern. I was given careful instructions to drive around the side of the building, come into a side entrance that, until then, I did not know existed. The emphasis was repeated: do not talk to anyone about this. As I said before, I knew the chance for conversation with the bishop was out-of-the-ordinary.
When I walked into the Bishop’s office and saw that my superintendent was not present (as he would have been for a conversation about my appointment) I had about 15 seconds to figure out that I was not there for what I had expected. And the bishop was right. I was surprised.
I love the local church with all my heart. I love being a pastor. I truly never aspired to connectional ministry beyond the local church. My father—who served as a DS—always said it was a lot more fun to make appointments when you are not on the cabinet. I have found that to be true. J
In addition, I have lived in remarkable – but very difficult—times as the church often reluctantly and slowly embraced the leadership of women. Things have both changed and not changed. Prejudices have been overcome and prejudice still exists. And in that rough-and-tumble struggle to be the open, inclusive church which reflects the love of Christ, there have been a lot of disappointments along the decades for women. Cabinets have been the source of hope and disappointment through the years. Holding on to hope through the disappointments has been a challenge. I would not have described the cabinet (as a group or a process) as a beacon of light and hope.
I do not remember that I was ever one who said out loud that the cabinet must have gotten drunk and thrown darts at a board to come up with the appointments as they filtered out. (And, when we are honest, every preacher has had the thought: how in the world did they ever come up with THAT?) Certainly I never envisioned myself as part of the company of those who made the appointments. The shift was head-spinning. It was exciting and terrifying. Could I make a difference for clergy and churches who depend on the knowledge and perspective of the cabinet?
I also had apprehensions about being able to speak freely. I knew myself well enough to know that, especially in a place of making decisions about the lives of others, I needed the freedom to have my say. I do not need people to agree with me (good thing) and I do not need the final decision to be my way (another good thing). But I knew that at the core of my ability to serve would be an atmosphere to speak my heart and convictions freely. Did that happen on the cabinet? People from the outside can’t know and people sitting around cabinet tables through the years have had different experiences.
I leave the cabinet with deep gratitude in regard to the two things that mattered the most to me. One is the first-hand certainty that the bishop and cabinet are committed to a mission-focused, inclusive church where the gifts of clergy are valued, supported and affirmed. The commitment to support of clergy across gender and racial lines is a foundation of all discussions and decisions.
The bishop and cabinet would be the first to know I am not criticizing them when I say that appointment-making is not a perfect process, especially with a system swamped with location, family and economic preferences/needs. There are disappointments and people get hurt (not because, as some speculated, the cabinet got drunk and threw darts at an appointment board). But I leave the cabinet certain that we are served by leaders committed to an openness that was only a dream when I came into the ministry.
And as I reflect back across the cabinet conversations, I had the great lifeline of having my say. I did not always get my way J but none of us always got our way. Because of the spirit of collegiality, a commitment to openness and a LOT of patience, I had the freedom to speak my convictions and observations. No Christian (in any capacity) has the right to say whatever they want to say. (Which is a fundamental truth that too many church members have not grasped. Christ-committed people have a higher standard: speaking the truth in love.). So I didn’t say in the cabinet whatever popped into my mind. But I consistently felt the respect and freedom to speak my prayerful, thoughtful convictions freely. Our cabinet had a rich diversity of perspective, experience and background. I believe that because of the respectful expression of different perspectives, we made better decisions than we would otherwise have made.
These are the take-away experiences I cherish. Living out these realities on the cabinet only deepens my hope for these central dynamics to become intregal to the life of church at every level: an openness to the leadership God has called (even/especially those other than what we are used to) and the free and respectful sharing of different perspectives as decisions are made.
I was surprised.
And, as I leave, I am grateful – oh, so grateful—and immeasurably enriched for the experience.