Friday, July 20, 2012

The Age of Bishops - Does It Reflect Our Church?

The United Methodist Church is currently approaching the end of electing a new group of bishops.  They have so far elected nine with one more to go.  But a pattern that is very similar to what has gone before has also repeated itself, which is that the church seems to have a problem with electing anyone under the age of 50.

Going into this weeks elections, the average age of a United Methodist bishop was 63.  The median age was also 63.  Of those who have been elected the average age is 53 and the median is 54.  The average is brought down because of two under the age of 50.  But that also means that of the 48 active bishops in the United States, only two will be under 50.  (I am missing one new bishop in these tabulations because his biographical information says he was born in 1900, which I really doubt, but he is clearly at least in his 50s.)

With the new bishops and retirements the average age will drop to 60 and the median age drops to 61.  That means that our bishops' average and median ages will be older than the average and median for both our congregations and clergy, which seems close to impossible since those are also just south of 60.

Now I am not saying that there is anything wrong with these candidates.  What I am pointing out is the fact that it seems to be that being 50 seems to be a qualification point.  There are clergy younger than 50 who have been in the ministry for more than 15-20 years and yet almost be default they are excluded. If this was another demographic, such as only 4% of bishops were women, or Asian, or African-American, then this would be pointed out. (Now one of the problems with age is that it changes every year, and by the next election all of our bishops will be four years older, all the averages and medians will increase, and we will no longer have any bishops under 50).

The church is continuing to say that they want to attract and retain the best and brightest young clergy, but they also clearly demonstrate at each episcopal election that they don't trust us in leadership positions.  The way the church currently operates, Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke, the first two bishops of the church, could never ever be elected because they were 37 and 38 respectively when they were made bishops, and they had already been playing significant leadership roles before it was recognized in their titles.

I have hope that as the church continues to "rethink church" and as our delegates to general and jurisdictional conference reflect younger clergy that things will change, although I am not holding my breath.  I am not arguing that those older than 50 should be disqualified, because that is obviously not true, but I am arguing that those younger than 50 should not be disqualified either.  Let us try and locate and chose the best candidates for the position regardless of their age.

I know that many of these bishops are amazingly qualified and will be excellent leaders of the church.  But I am a little tired of people twenty years older than me telling me what my generation and those younger than me need and want in our churches.  On the positive, I only have 11 more years before I will be qualified to be a bishop

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