LAKELAND ó Who will pastor the pastors? It must be a combination of
pastors themselves, in addition to laity.
That was the consensus from the Sept. 12 Conference Table meeting at
Lake Gibson United Methodist Church here. The gathering focused on the
clergy culture and its impact on the Florida Conference, local churches
and clergy families.
At similar gatherings last year the group created mission and vision
statements, identified nine areas of concern about the conference and
focused on congregational transformation. The goal for the next two
years is for nine task groups to focus on the areas of concern and
present their research at Conference Table meetings.
The Conference Table, created in 2002, is a venue for clergy and
laity to discuss the connectional life and current context of the United
Methodist Church in Florida in the 21st century.
Focusing on the clergy culture, Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W.
Whitaker emphasized Christ has gifted clergy and they, in turn, must
share those gifts with others. He said that becomes difficult, however,
when clergy are emotionally, physically and spiritually depleted. He
said they could be more effective if they take better care of
"Clergy can experience the replenishment of their gifts from Christ,"
Whitaker said at the start of the meeting. "Clergy give of themselves,
and they need to be cared for by the church."
The church specifically allows clergy an opportunity to take time for
themselves, as noted in the denominationís "The Book of Discipline" in
paragraph 349.3, according to Whitaker, who took renewal leave this year
in Virginia. He summed up his time away by saying he enjoyed being
outdoors and "hanging the clothes on the clothesline." He suggested
clergy might receive that same feeling of relaxation if they practice
self-care and if congregations properly care for their clergy.
"What is the morale of clergy? Many think it is low across the
[various] denominations," Whitaker said. "I think there is a profound
satisfaction, love of their work, and deep frustration and
dissatisfaction with their lifestyle."
The meeting, facilitated by the Rev. Dr. Anne Burkholder, the Florida
Conferenceís Connectional Ministries director, and Trudy Rankin, a
licensed therapist and certified spiritual director, included contrasts
of how ministry has changed throughout the past 40 years and how pastors
handle those changes.
The group of about 160 clergy and laity spent a portion of the
meeting in small groups discussing their stresses and elected a
representative from each table to share their ideas with the entire
The Rev. Bill Roughton, who joined the conference in 1948, shared
insight he wishes he had learned before he retired in 1990. Throughout
his tenure he was appointed to a variety of churches, including a
three-acre vacant lot where he grew the church from the ground up to
churches of more than 1,000 members. Yet, he said his most exhilarating
ministry has come since he retired.
"Iíve been set free from the nitty-gritty routine of administration,"
he said. "Meetings every night of the week take a lot of pastorsí time.
I wish I had done a better job of enabling lay people. I could have been
a better pastor, husband and father."
Terrell Sessums, conference lay leader, said laity cannot take on all
the responsibilities of the pastor.
"Laity have work and family responsibilities, along with health and
economic burdens that make it difficult, or impossible, to do more,"
Sessums said after the meeting. "Some larger churches have a larger
number of successful business and professional members who may be able
to do more, and some others have some active retirees with good health
and financial resources that will enable them to do more.
"Overall, however, most laity have less income, benefits and free
time than the clergy, so it is unrealistic to expect them to attend more
meetings, training events and to do more. Nevertheless, a few can,
should and will do more if they are really committed."
Miami District Superintendent the Rev. Clarke Campbell-Evans said it
is possible for clergy to transform a culture that has been built
throughout the decades.
"I think it was good that we could share together what we could do to
be a more intentional, healthy, vibrant culture," he said after the
meeting. "I donít think we got to everything, but it was a good
The Rev. St. Clair Moore, pastor of Rogers Memorial United Methodist
Church in the Sarasota District, said while the church is addressing how
congregations deal with pastors, pastors should address how they relate
to one another.
"I think pastors are competitive and there is a lack of trust there
so that they cannot honestly share with one another for fear of being
judged or stereotyped," he said.
Burkholder said, overall, she was pleased with the meeting. "We were
hoping for 125 people on the high end and we got 160. Weíre pleased with
the interest and the level of engagement."
Information and feedback shared at the meeting will be compiled and
made available to the public in the coming months.