Continuing my observations I move now to the topic of Local Preachers and consider as in previous posts the topic based on my own knowledge and experience.
I suppose that we could expect equality among local preachers but if you were to ask me if there was equality I think I would have to say that I do not believe there is but then this is equally true in the other areas I have spoken about.
In my previous experience of Methodism (20+years ago) there seemed to be very much a pecking order with the longest serving preacher being spoken of as the senior local preacher. While I realise that this was referring to the length of service there was a perception that in the same way we have senior stewards who act as the lead person among our stewarding team this applied to the local preachers. The perception was not helped by the fact that this particular preacher who incidentally had not preached for a number of years was almost always the person who assisted the minister with communion and always played a lead role in the church anniversary celebrations. I note from most of the plans I have seen that preachers are listed according to their year of accreditation and remember a couple of years ago when there were proposals put forward to change this and list preachers alphabetically by name which was sadly defeated by local preacher feedback. From a purely personal point of view this change at the current time would mean that I would stay more or less in the same position on the list so there would be no benefit to me and it could be argued I have no particular axe to grind.
While I recognise that many of our preachers have been ‘on plan’ for extremely long periods of time I do wonder about the presentation of long service awards to preachers who are no longer active or have had a long period of inactivity. I am aware of one preacher who took almost a twenty year break but is still being considered for a long service award for forty years of local preaching, I am aware of another case where a 50 year certificate was presented and I am not aware of the person taking a service for at least ten years.
In respect of long service of preachers why do we not count the time they are on trial as part of their service, in my own case I would often take five or six appointments a quarter during my period on trial and prior to that I had been a visiting preacher for a number of years so have effectively served the Methodist Church as a preacher (local because it was in the area where I live and work) for many more years than the four since I have been fully accredited, and yes I know it could be argued I could have done the course much earlier, but it was only when we moved to our current church ten years ago that somebody immediately challenged whether I should be allowed to continue on plan as a visiting preacher. I really didn’t think this was an issue because we were not members at that time but merely attendees. As soon as we became members the wheels were set in motion for me to take the Faith and Worship course and yes I did take four years to complete but like many of our folk I have a family and a full time job as well as other church commitments. It seems to me that there is an inequality here when periods of inactivity can count towards long service but not periods of activity that were not within the ‘fully accredited’ status. I should say I suppose in case anyone thinks there are any sour grapes here that I would be 90 years of age before i qualified for a forty year certificate.
In respect of training of Local Preachers there is it seems a reluctance on the part of many preachers to embark on any sort of training once they have reached that ‘fully accredited’ status and I am aware of the requirements for those who complete Faith and Worship to embark on a program of Continuing Local Preacher Development I wonder how well this is applied or who polices it. I suspect there is an onus on the Circuit Superintendent and the Preachers Meeting to be involved but wonder how often or how much this happens. I am aware from conversation with other preachers and circuit secretaries that CLPD is not often taken up by the circuits and in fact we struggle with it greatly in our circuit. The Leeds (North East) Circuit have a very good website that is dedicated to CLPD http://www.preacherdevelopment.uk7.net/index.htm and it is well worth having a look at. I suppose there is a question of how do we encourage folk who have been preaching for almost as long as I have been alive to take part in any ongoing, on the job training. (I know local preaching is a calling not a job but I was trying to illustrate the point effectively).
I really do believe there should be a method of appraisal for local preachers, perhaps once a year and possibly something as simple as the same type of assessment that our local preachers in training are subject to. I always say I am quite fortunate because my wife is my fiercest critic and believe me she will certainly take me to task if she thought I had not done particularly well. I really do think though as good as my wife may be it would be helpful to have an independent assessment on what we are doing. Again in our circuit there is one church that I lead worship at where I know one member will always have some good in depth comments to make at the end of the service – I may not always agree with what is said but it certainly makes me think both in planning the service and writing the sermon and about what is said to me.
I am tempted to say that there is an inequality in the planning of local preachers but realise that this is partly because of the necessity to cover appointments quite often and the lack of evening services in some of our churches. It has to be said however that one of our preachers came to our church last year and said that it had been something like four years since he had preached at our church and yet during the same period he had been planned at his own church almost 50 times. He wasn’t really complaining but making an observation. I have to say in defence of the plan makers though that having planned a three circuit pulpit swap last year I have a little understanding of the difficulties involved and the things that have to be taken into account. On the subject of our planning and possible inequality there was a comment made at our last District Local Preachers meeting about the number of dates offered by preachers and how some folk seem to be out every week while others might only do a couple in a quarter. There were of course a number of responses to the point many of which were to do with the increasing age and often infirmity of our preachers but there were also some which indicated that some preachers had only ever offered two or three appointments at the most. Perhaps I am mad because I offer any dates when I am not playing the organ at my own church or already committed to preach outside the circuit and it should be said that wherever possible I commit to my own circuit first before taking other appointments.
I think finally on the topic of local preachers I am concerned at the lack of younger people taking up local preaching, and yes I know that there is a correlation between this and church membership but when I look at our preachers meeting there are possibly four people who are younger than I am, and at 54 I still consider myself to be reasonably young. I remember a couple of years ago there was a survey carried out and at that time the vast majority of preachers in training were in there late 40’s and I think 49 was the age with the most people in it. Obviously the age issue has a number of ramifications – some people find the course difficult because the method of learning is very different possibly from anything they experienced when they were younger – the potential for long serving ministers is curtailed as this is the route that ministers take and if the average age is 49 and then the person goes on to ministry training we are fortunate if we get ten years of ministry from such people – it does of course mean too that some of these preachers are less likely to give forty or fifty years service as many of their colleagues have done and are doing.
Well again a fairly long piece and I am not really sure how well it addresses the question of equality and I am sure there will be a whole range of experiences and situations in other places but these are some of the things I have seen and experienced and feel quite strongly about.
In closing I would recommend anyone who is having difficulties with CLPD to check out the Leeds website and if you have any ideas or suggestions of how you deal with CLPD I would be pleased to hear them.
This may be my last post of this year so can I thank all my readers especially those who have commented on posts during this year and wish you all a very happy and Christ filled 2009.