So, what impact does being a Local Licensed Pastor (see blog on August 11) have on rural ministry?
First, my impression is that the majority (vast majority?) of LLP's are appointed to Small Town and Rural (STAR) churches throughout the denomination. Here in Minnesota approximately 10% of the appointed clergy are LLP's. Half of those are full-time and half are part-time. Of these 35 pastors only a couple of them are serving in metropolitan or suburban areas. All of the rest are serving STAR churches. This is not a bad thing but I do wonder why the District Superintendents and Bishop have it skewed in this direction.
Secondly, the LLP track for ministry is designed for those entering ministry in their later years and who do not want to take 3 years out of their lives to attend seminary (see 8/11 blog). (Of course, there are many LLP who have gone to seminary and choose to serve the denomination as an LLP or have not yet met some requirement to become a commissioned provisional elder and are serving as an LLP until they are commissioned.) Those entering ministry in their later years are often coming from other careers or have retired from a career. I was a music teacher and a bookkeep/accountant prior to becoming a pastor. This, I believe, brings a positive attribute to ministry: life experience! Think about it - we who come to ministry in our later years have often raised a family, gone through the joys and heartaches of relationships with spouse, children, in-laws, and neighbors. We have worked with our hands and minds; been subject to good and lousy bosses; made mistakes at home and work and lived through the consequences; and had successes in those same places and felt the personal satisfaction. This doesn't necessarily make us better clergy then young people who go from high-school to college to seminary to an appointment. It is just that a longer life experience brings us different perspectives.
Third, our older age at entering ministry means we come with more health issues. Churches and parishes where we are appointed will experience more absences as we see our doctors more often, get more medical tests, and are out more often with injuries and illnesses that younger clergy don't get. That, of course, means that our conference health insurance plan will have higher costs to bear which drives the cost of insurance up for all churches. This impacts STAR churches at a disproportionate rate as they struggle to balance their budgets and pay their pastors. Pay packages for full-time pastors typically include: salary, health insurance, retirement, continuing education, professional expenses, mileage, and the use of a parsonage or a housing allowance. These costs are often 60 to 80% of a small church's budget.
Finally, many STAR churches cannot afford a full time pastor and cannot or will not share a pastor with 1 or 2 other churches. There are many reasons for this situation which can be discussed at a later date. Fortunately, in the United Methodist Church these churches can be served by a part-time LLP. Because the pastor is licensed by the bishop to fully serve the church, the church does not lose having the sacraments of baptism and communion being offered to them. Part-time LLP's have many reasons for not wanting to serve the church full-time therefore the paring of these STAR churches and part-time LLP's is a wonderful solution and keeps the UMC presence in rural communities alive.
Of course, the majority of STAR churches, at least here in Minnesota, are served faithfully and successfully by full-time ordained clergy, both young and old. United Methodist rural ministry is rich and varied and can be a personally satifying ministry to all who choose to serve.
Peace and Blessing,