If there is one thing about the Methodist Church that people, both inside and out, find difficult to understand it is the idea that Ministers are generally itinerant (ie they move around from appointment to appointment).
This summer I will complete my first 4 years as a Methodist Minister and so will go through our process of extension and possibly stationing. So I thought I would write a little about all this. However, don't get your hopes up. You are not going to learn things before it is appropriate and this is in no way an expose or anything nasty. Instead I hope it will at least help make what happens a bit clearer. Please note that there are two different orders of Methodist Minister namely Deacons and Presbyters. The process that leads to a minister being stationed in a Methodist Circuit varies between the two orders, what I write will focus on the process for a presbyter.
My first appointment was for five years, that is the norm which is only changed in rare circumstances. Again as is the norm, I spent the first two years as a probationer before my Ordination at the Methodist Conference in Blackpool in July 2007. Probationers are treated as a special case when it comes to the stationing process. So the process that applies to those whose current appointments end in August 2010 is different to that of probationers being stationed for the first time in 2010.
So let us begin by considering how I ended up in Raunds, in the Nene Valley Circuit which is in the Northampton District. Note that essentially neither probationers not circuits are given any choice in the stationing process. When a circuit agrees to accept a probationer for an appointment then someone will be chosen and their task is to welcome and support them – there is no interview or chance to say no. Potential Probationary Presbyters do fill in a form with preferences and my experience is that the Church does it's best to honour the most significant elements of that (no not perfectly). Once they have sent that form off the next thing a Probationer hears is the name of the Circuit, the location of the Manse and the Churches they are going to serve. If memory serves that was in February for a move into the manse in the August ready to start serving on 1st September. Although it is worth noting that at least in theory nothing is final until confirmed by the Methodist Conference in June or July.
Now at the end of April in the 4th year the process that decides whether you stay in the current appointment or move to another in 16 months time begins. I should at this point make it clear that not everything about the process is yet clear. For example the detailed timetable provided by the district is not yet available.
I have just come back from a "Time to Reflect" retreat, that was for 4 districts and was a time for reflection on who we are, where we are and what comes next. It was not a decision making time nor is there any reporting back from it, instead it is a gift from the Church to support those who are entering this process for the first time. I personally found it extremely encouraging and helpful.
Over the next few weeks Districts will be training the Circuit Stewards (who are lay people elected by the Circuit Meeting – which consists of people elected from the Churches) in their part to play in the process (a central role).
At some point in the summer the Circuit Stewards will hold an informal conversation with the minister to discover if they wish to apply for an extension. It can sometimes happen that a Circuit feels that it needs to reduce the number of ministers on their staff in which case I guess that that is a rather different conversation. I would expect that if that were the case it would not come as a surprise to the minister as they will be aware of the circumstances in the circuit. I understand that the final deadline for the minister to express their chocie is on or about the 1st of September (although I believe Circuits generally prefer it much sooner).
If the Minister wishes to apply for an extension (between 1 and 5 years) then the Circuit Stewards will hold a series of conversations with the Churches and other groups served by the minister. They will then form a recommendation to the Circuit Meeting on whether the Minister should be invited to stay for an extension.
If the Circuit is going to stay at the same number of ministers (or presumably if they are going to seek to increase that number) and the minister wishes to stay, then the Circuit Meeting in September goes through a process which ends with a vote on the extension. Upto a total of 10 years within the Circuit a simple majority is sufficient, after that the percentage increases.
At this point if an extension has been agreed then the process ends until 16 months before the end of that extension (although in many cases the process next time will be shortened as it will be clear that there will not be another extension for whatever reason, quite common with one or two year extensions, I believe).
If an extension is not agreed (because the minister does not seek one, or because the Circuit cannot offer one or because the Circuit chooses not to offer one) then the process of stationing starts for the minister and potentially for the circuit. This post is already long enough so I'll put that in a separate post (see 42: Methodist Stationing 2).