By Dr. Derek W. McAleer
I know many United Methodists are frustrated with the continued delays of General Conference. While I am aware and sensitive to the problems COVID-19 has caused for gatherings and travel, that does not lessen my frustration. I, along with other traditional United Methodists I know, have been holding forth for what we view as traditional Bible-based beliefs. We thought we were finally at the point of no longer being “unequally yoked,” to borrow St. Paul’s language. Just when I think there is a light at the end of the tunnel, the point of decision continues to be just out of reach. The actions of those who oppose our traditional Biblical stance continue unabated. And when it finally seemed we were coming to some terms around amicable separation, it feels like we aren’t being allowed out of a troubled relationship. As you can see, I am not unbiased about the issues facing my church. I have strong views.
If I am so frustrated, why am I staying and waiting on the long-delayed General Conference to meet? Why don’t I just leave?
To put it simply, I am very concerned about the needs of our retired and disabled clergy brothers and sisters. I do not want to leave them exposed or unprovided for. St. Paul also reminds me to “look not to my own interests, but to the needs of others.” I cannot leave now and obey the scripture.
Our retired clergy count on retiree medical benefits. These benefits are funded annually through our apportionments and assets. If we all just leave The United Methodist Church, who remains to see those benefits are paid? Similarly, our disabled clergy have their health insurance provided by the conference through apportionments. If we abandon this responsibility, who will provide for them? I can’t just walk away from my friends, colleagues, and mentors.
We have funds available to cover these costs as we work together now. With appropriate legislation at the General Conference level and considered action by our own Annual Conference, we can decide how we will cover these needs, using the assets available and perhaps future offerings. These assets belong to the Annual Conference and were gathered with specific purposes in mind. I would not want them split up in ways that do not meet the intended purposes. Nor do I want to spend half a million dollars of offerings on legal bills just because I did not have the patience to wait on a proper solution.
I am mightily weary of the battles which have been going on my entire ministry (I was ordained in 1981, and we were debating human sexuality then). I am very tired of being asked to fund our connectional church by those who are breaking the connection. I am at the point of walking away from the church which I have served my entire adult life, and it is hard. I grieve this loss, but I am weary. I want to move on and move forward.
But I am staying, waiting on that elusive General Conference. I am staying because my duty to the retired and disabled saints of the South Georgia Conference compels me to wait. I am staying because giving in to my frustration would be self-centered when God calls me to be concerned about the needs of others. I cannot promise I will stay forever, but I am staying while my duty seems within reach.
Our Conference met the challenge of funding the Pre-82 pension plan. We met the challenge of raising our Past Service Rate for older pastors to the current standard. We are slowly meeting the challenge of getting benefits debt paid. We can meet this challenge of perseverance. I believe we have the possibility of amicable separation where these needs can all be covered, and I hope to work for that. I invite you to consider the needs of others also, and wait with me.
Dr. Derek McAleer serves as Director of Administrative Services, Conference Treasurer, Conference Benefits Officer, and Conference Statistician