“It’s official!” Moments after an online meeting concluded on Tuesday, June 8, scores of Holston Conference clergy went to their Facebook pages to announce the news of a new year in ministry.
“It's official! I am coming back to St. Elmo UMC for the 3rd year!” declared the Rev. Debra Dickerson, holding up an Elmo doll in a smiley video posted from Chattanooga, Tennessee.
“The Bishop says it’s official, so it’s all official,” typed the Rev. Dale Gilbert. “I continue my ministry with the folks at Pleasant View UMC in Abingdon, VA. I’m honored to serve a wonderful congregation.”
Throughout the week, announcements from United Methodist pastors scrolled by on the Facebook news feed. Most of the pastors announced they were staying in their current church or churches. Almost all have known for several weeks of their whereabouts for the upcoming July 2021-June 2022 year.
“Today's Virtual Clergy Session made it official, and I'm happy to announce that I'll be serving the people of Hiltons Church for a fifth year,” said the Rev. Jason Ratliff, pastor at Hiltons Memorial United Methodist Church in Hiltons, Virginia. “They're such a wonderful congregation, and God is On the Move in Hiltons.”
Clergy have increasingly used social media to communicate to their congregations and communities, especially over the past pandemic year. However, this week Holston Conference pastors were also navigating a monumental break from tradition when their appointments were “fixed” during a clergy session through Zoom on June 8 -- instead of the final hour of a four-day gathering of clergy and lay members at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, as in decades past.
“In Holston, for logistical reasons, it has always been the last action of the annual conference,” said the Rev. Terry Goodman, conference secretary, referring to the finalization of clergy assignments for the coming year. “To be honest, I think this made sure folks stayed around until the end to get the appointment book.”
Last summer as well as this summer, the COVID-19 pandemic caused large in-person gatherings to be unsafe, so clergy appointments were finalized by Bishop Dindy Taylor over a digital screen.
“As to why it was done at the Clergy Session, it just seemed a logical place to do it,” Goodman said. “We will reference that this action has been done as a part of the Virtual Annual Conference report this coming Saturday [on June 12].”
Holston Annual Conference 2021 has been planned as a “hybrid” gathering including both online and in-person meetings on several dates, beginning with the June 8 virtual Clergy Session and concluding Aug. 28 at MeadowView Conference Resort and Convention Center in Kingsport, Tennessee.
Pastors consult with their district superintendents at the beginning of each year about the coming year's appointment. Throughout the spring, the bishop and her cabinet make the ultimate decisions about whether clergy will stay or go to new ministries. However, in Holston Conference, clergy are not free to announce or discuss their projected appointments until a set date (this year, it was May 1). Pastors also say their district superintendents emphasize their appointments are not definite until the bishop makes it so at annual conference.
Goodman referred to paragraph 416 in the Book of Discipline when explaining the bishop’s role in “fixing” the appointments, which traditionally is symbolized by the pounding of a gavel. (During the June 8 Clergy Session, the gavel was not at hand so Bishop Taylor rapped her knuckles on the podium.)
“If you search for the word ‘fix’ in the Book of Discipline, it occurs numerous times,” Goodman said. “This is the one place wherein it specifies that the bishop is authorized to ‘make and fix the appointments in the annual conferences.’ … As to when it is done, I think that is up to the bishop.”
Goodman added that the appointments may be official in June, but the actual “fixing” refers to July 1, when pastors officially begin a new year of ministry “or the baton is handed off to the incoming pastor.” Although it’s still possible for clergy appointments to be changed at any time ( “as the bishop and cabinet deem fit,” says Goodman), it’s less likely until the following year.
Read more about the Book of Discipline and appointment-making.
Because a United Methodist pastor goes through the appointment process every year, emotion and anxiety run high over a course of weeks, some pastors explained. The official “fixing” gives them an opportunity to finally communicate and move forward. Some find Facebook to be an ideal vehicle for that.
“I also think it is a healthy reminder to our congregations that we are appointed or reappointed on a yearly basis,” said the Rev. Betsy Switzer, who is returning to Broad Street United Methodist Church in Cleveland, Tennessee.
“For me, it’s the perfect opportunity for me to tell my folks that ‘I’m glad I’m here,’” said Gilbert of Pleasant View United Methodist Church in Abingdon.
“I am using the official announcement as an opportunity to express my gratitude to the church and thank them for their support and love through a difficult year,” said the Rev. Dawn Chesser, appointed for the second year to St. Paul (Fountain City) United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tenn.
“It is a way to show gratitude to the congregation for my return,” said the Rev. Barbara Doyle, pastor at Shady Grove/ Meadowview United Methodist Church in Abingdon, Virginia.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.
6/8/2021 | Annual Conference
2021 Appointment Book