Quick and Easy Guide to United Methodist Polity

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Anne L. Burkholder, Thomas W. Elliott, Jr.
  • Nashville, TN: 
    General Board of Higher Education & Ministry
    , February
     2018.
     254 pages.
     $28.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781945935121.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Anne L. Burkholder and Thomas W. Elliott Jr.’s Quick and Easy Guide to United Methodist Polity is an incredibly useful resource for students enrolled in courses on United Methodist polity in seminaries, Licensing School for Pastoral Ministry, and the Course of Study, by individuals writing papers for commissioning or ordination, and for United Methodist pastors who find the Book of Discipline challenging to navigate. 

The Quick and Easy Guide contains approximately 250 entries on a wide array of different topics. Each entry is structured the same way. The authors begin with a quotation from an older edition of the Book of Discipline or another historic text relevant to Methodist history. The quotations are occasionally humorous and always directly relevant to providing background information on that topic. The authors then provide a succinct explanation of the meaning of the term, a brief historical overview, and conclude by referencing a book or website where the reader can learn more. In cases in which they are relevant to the entry, the authors also include related paragraph numbers in the Book of Discipline. This inclusion is especially helpful to readers who are relying on the text as a starting point for a deeper exploration of a topic. It should be noted though that the authors do not limit themselves to topics mentioned in the Book of Discipline.

The format mostly works. The entries are short, informative, and easy to understand for anyone with a cursory knowledge of United Methodism. However, there are a few cases where the format does not completely serve the subject matter. The primary examples of this are the entries on Methodist theology, such as “Wesleyan Way of Salvation” (209). While there is nothing inaccurate in that entry, the historical addendum provides little clarification on the remainder of the entry and leaves the reader with a variety of unanswered questions. While it is a minor quibble given the scope of their project, the entries on theology are also a little simplistic. Given the contemporary scholarly debates engendered by topics such as Wesley’s understanding of grace, “Articles of Religion” (6), “Sacraments” (182), “The Lord’s Supper” (134), “Ordinances—Means of Grace” (154), and “Quadrilateral” (176), it might have been helpful if these entries were a little more nuanced and detailed. 

The authors include entries on essential matters relevant to United Methodist polity such as each of the major standing committees that a local congregation is supposed to support, the various boards and agencies of the denomination, the orders of ministry, the Social Principles, the Judicial Council, and the various different types of conferences that make up the Methodist connection. More interestingly, the authors also include entries on issues of practical concerns for congregational ministers and lay leaders, such as “Closure/Discontinuance of a Local Church” (36), “Copyright Laws” (52), “Cross and Flame—UM Insignia, Use and Limits” (54), “Local Church Structure—How to Change It” (132), “Membership Records and Removal” (137), “Merger with Another Church” (140), “Ushers” (204), and “Worship Wear” (214). These entries are a particularly helpful addition to the book and will greatly aid pastors and lay leaders hoping to grasp a quick overview of complicated matters relevant to their own contexts. The entry on “Merger with Another Congregation,” for example, provides an excellent cursory overview of a step-by-step process that two or more congregations would need to follow in order to combine into a single church. Each of these practical entries is welcome and will be of tremendous aid to future and current United Methodist pastors. 

The Quick and Easy Guide to United Methodist Polity is a wonderfully constructed resource that evidences both thorough understanding of the topics contained within its pages and deep concern for practical issues relevant to pastors and lay leaders. It is well-written, accessible, and incredibly useful for any student or pastor that is occasionally befuddled by the intricacies of the organization of the United Methodist Church. It is also book that will make a wonderful addition to any course on United Methodist polity.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Michael K. Turner is Associate Professor of the History of Christianity and Wesleyan Studies and Director of Methodist House Studies at the Memphis Theological Seminary.

Date of Review: 
October 30, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Anne L. Burkholder is Associate Dean of Methodist Studies and Professor in the Practice of Ecclesiology at Candler School of Theology, Emory University.

Thomas W. Elliott Jr. is Assistant Professor in the Practice of Practical Theology, Director of Contextual Education II, Teaching Parish, and Ministry Internships at Candler School of Theology, Emory University.

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