What's a Pastor Like 3: The Third Chapter
I mentioned above that, as West Ohio UM clergy. we're being required to cluster, and I don't count this as a bad thing. In fact, it's probably one of the best things the conference has required for clergy.
To put it into perspective, I came into the UMC back in 2001, ordained in another denomination. Because of the way things go in the UMC, I was placed in the ordination track with a whole bunch of other people - we were in a Supervised Years peer group. Our peer group had two (ordained) facilitators and seven un- (or under-) ordained clergy. The first meeting was hell. We had no say in the group we were in; there was simply a list. There was one guy in our group who raised cain about the process and how horrible it was (I pretty much agreed with him, but he was the one saying it). I didn't hit it off well with one of the facilitators at all. We weren't given much direction other than a large binder of what-we-were-going-to-do-over-the-next-three-years. There was little to no reason given for the group or the structure.
Little did I know at that time, the woman who had been instrumental in building and shaping the process, a woman who many of the leaders knew and loved dearly, had very recently passed away. I wonder if that had something to do with the poorly organized first meeting?
Anyway, fast forward... We had met together monthly (summers off) for three years, and several members of our group were being ordained. Another guy and I didn't have all our stuff in (for me it was UM seminary courses that I really couldn't do while being absolutely swamped at Salt Mines UMC), and another two got turned down after the interview stage. The rest of the group all decided on their own that they wanted to stick together for another year to see the rest of us through the process.
Why did this happen?
Although we'd started off on the absolute wrong foot, things gradually changed. We went through difficulties (changing appointments, children being born, illnesses in our families, deaths of family members, and so on). The facilitator who I didn't hit it off with turned out to be a really awesome person, one I always look forward to seeing.
After the initial unhappiness wore off and as we started regularly meeting together and sharing "headlines" and having a meal that we all took part in preparing, we started to actually care for one another. But it took each of us going beneath the surface at some point or another to get to that point. A couple of us had some tough issues with our churches, and there were meetings when we'd throw out the rest of the agenda to care for those issues.
The tragedy was when one of the members told us some bad news, and nobody knew that there was anything going on -- we found out that he'd been just playing surface ball with us and we realized that he'd been guarded when he shared anything with us. It took me two years to take my guard down in that group, but after four, his guard wasn't down at all. This particular person isn't in ministry right now.
Back to the clusters: if we allow them to do what they're supposed to, and if we take the time to get to know the others in our groups and to take our guards down and be real with each other, we'll be better off for it. And when the pastors are better off, so are the churches we serve.