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By Madeline Pillow White

Conference Director of Communications Madeline Pillow White interviewed the Director for the Center of Clergy Excellence the Rev. Jessie Colwell about Appointment Season in The United Methodist Church in the March 10 episode of The Audio Advocate podcast..

What is Itinerancy? How can clergy and lay members approach a change in pastoral leadership in ways that are celebratory and authentic for both the leaving and incoming pastor?

Learn more below.

In the life of our church, there comes a time when our clergy are appointed and re-appointed around the Commonwealth and connection.

Founder of the Methodist movement John Wesley was an “itinerant” preacher, traveling from town to town in England. In principle, this travel influenced the itinerant system The United Methodist Church (UMC) uses today.

According to the UMC, “Itinerancy” refers to the commitment by pastors to serve wherever their bishops send them. This action is known as an “appointment.” An appointment is for one year at a time.

Wesley, as a rather thin, austere figure. Statue by sculptor, Arthur G. Walker, dating back to the 1930s. Photo by Bob Speel.

The goal of this process is to match the gifts and graces of the particular pastor with the ministry needs of a particular congregation. While bishops make appointments, they incorporate a consultative process outlined in The Book of Discipline that includes district superintendents, pastors, and pastor-staff/parish relations committees.

“We ‘itinerate’ because it’s healthy for the church and it’s healthy for the pastor,” Colwell said. “Most of the time you know if you will be moving or you know if the Spirit has led you to have those conversations with your leadership and district superintendent. The process begins in December with an annual review. The clergy and church fill out a preference form on how it is going.”

How can lay members prepare for a new pastor in their church?

Colwell recommends naming the grief that often comes as a pastor begins their leave-taking from a church. This grief can be felt by both the clergyperson and the laity.

She also recommends having the lay leader make the announcement when the pastor is leaving rather than the pastor.

“To have your laity support you in that way and to allow you to be in that moment when it’s being shared and knowing that that lay leader is going to take the congregation forward – that’s the most important thing you can have in a transition: strong laity.”

  • Say “thank you”- This may be a reception or event in the community to include gifts from the church to the pastor such as a chalice and paten, stole, or elements of worship.
  • Pray for your outgoing pastor. Starting a new position, leaving an old position, moving, changes for family members are all parts that your pastor will have to experience. Be sure to pray for them.

How can clergy say goodbye well in their current appointment?

“To lead well and leave well you have to lead like you are leaving from the beginning,” Colwell said. “You don’t know when you will be leaving.”

  • Leading well from the beginning: Develop structures and systems when you start your appointment. Not only will your process benefit you in learning your new appointment – its ministry and community – but these records will be immensely helpful to the pastor who follows you.
  • Speaking well of the new pastor: The clergyperson who is leaving can really set the tone for being excited and sharing the gifts of the incoming pastor with the church.  “I think it’s really important the way we talk about the people who are following us because they are coming in with no one knowing them,” Colwell said. 
  • Close some doors: What ministries were spearheaded by the current pastor that might need to end before the new appointment?
    • Are there hard conversations that the current pastor can have and deal with before the new pastor starts?

How can clergy prepare for a new appointment?

  • Make time to listen

“I think the most important thing a pastor can do in their first year is to listen,” Colwell said. “Every church is different, every church has a story, and they want to tell you their story. Every leader has needs and gifts and some of those will be told to the pastor before they arrive and some of those people will already be in positions of leadership and then there are also stories that form and shape the church.

  • Share your call story

Help the church know how you were called to be a pastor and share your gifts and passions. A great way to share is in your first sermon.

Listen to the full episode on the conference website or on Spotify or Apple.

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