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by Victoria Rebeck

Facing the delegates of United Methodist General Conference 2016, meeting May 10-20 in Portland, Ore., are a few legislation proposals that could affect deacons. Most significant is the proposal from the Study of Ministry Commission that ordination take place earlier: at the time of election to provisional membership rather than at the time of election to full membership.

A few groups and individuals have submitted proposals related to the conditions in which a deacon might preside over the sacraments. I’ve grouped these together at the end, to make comparison easier.

It’s worth reading the Study on Ministry Commission report, to learn the reasons and commitments that inform their proposals.

You can read all of the legislative proposals related to clergy (including those below) in the Ministry and Higher Education Legislative Committee section of the Advanced Edition of the Daily Christian Advocate, Volume 2, Section 2, pp. 1078ff.

Following is an overview of legislative proposals that could affect deacons or those aspiring to be ordained deacons. (Arguably, other proposals could also affect deacons, to a lesser degree. I leave that discernment to the reader of all of the thousands of legislative proposals facing General Conference delegates.)

This is just an overview; readers are urged to read the petitions in their entirety and in their contexts to consider the nuances.

Paragraph 305

Petition 60484, from the Study of Ministry Commission

This proposal would adjusts some of the wording related to the ministry of the deacon and the ministry of the elder. Changes are not profoundly substantive and would not change the ways in which deacons minister or are appointed.

Paragraph 324

Petition 60507, from the Study of Ministry Commission

Perhaps part of the most significant legislative proposals that could affect all who are pursuing ordination, this proposal would move ordination to the time of election to provisional membership rather than the time of election to full membership. This would apply to candidates requesting ordination as a deacon or an elder. Election to full membership would take place after a two-year minimum appointed service period. This is foundational to several of Study of Ministry’s legislative proposals.

Paragraph 324.5

Petition 60716, from J. Miles, Arkansas

Would remove the age 35 minimum from the education option that allows candidates for deacon’s orders to take the Basic Graduate Theological Studies courses plus earn certification, but not complete any kind of master’s degree. It retains the phrase “in some instances,” but removes the definition of it (which currently is the minimum of age 35). This proposal relates to the level of education expected of ordained clergy.

Petition 60507, Study of Ministry Commission

This lengthy petition that reshapes the ordination process would also remove the age 35 minimum in the option that would allow a deacon candidate to forego a master’s degree.

Paragraph 326

Petition 60188, from the Alabama-West Florida Conference

Would remove the two-year-minimum service requirement for provisional member deacons or elders. The provisional member would need to complete the conference’s residency program.

Paragraph 328

Petition 60508, from the Study of Ministry Commission

This would remove “In Full Connection” from the headline. This accompanies their proposal that ordination take place at about the time of election to provisional membership.

Paragraph 329.3

Petition 60497, from the Study of Ministry Commission

Would clarify the membership rights for ordained deacons in provisional membership. This is part of the committee’s broader proposal that ordination will take place at about the time of election to provisional membership.

Paragraph 324.9 K

Petition 60363, from General Board of Higher Education and Ministry

Would require candidates for deacon or elder ordination to explain their understanding of the distinctive vocations of the order of elder and the order of deacon as well as answer, “How do you perceive yourself, your gifts, your motives, your role and your commitment as a provisional deacon or provisional elder in the United Methodist Church?” This would require candidates for either ordination to be able to describe the ministry focuses that are distinct to elders and deacons.

Paragraph 330

Petition 60189, from Alabama-West Florida Conference

Would eliminate the minimum two-year service requirement in provisional membership. It would allow conference Boards of Ordained Ministry to approve the colleges from which a deacon candidate could earn a bachelor’s degree. It would further remove the expectation that a deacon would have a master’s degree or even any graduate-level education.

Paragraph 330

Petition 60366, from General Board of Higher Education and Ministry

Would require three-fourths majority vote at clergy session for deacons to be approved for full membership. It is consistent with other GBHEM proposals that all clergy session affirmative votes require three-quarters majority (for consistency and clarity).

Paragraph 330.3

Petition 60365, from General Board of Higher Education and Ministry

Would clarify that all Basic Graduate Theological Studies courses must be completed before ordination.

Paragraph 33.04

Petition 60367, from General Board of Higher Education and Ministry

Would re-order the list of requirements for ordination so it is consistent with para. 335 (requirements for elder’s ordination) and clarify that “the candidate’s reflections and the board’s response” refers not just to the “making disciples for the transformation of the world” project but to all of the requirements in the list.

Paragraph 330.5(a)(5)

Petition 60638, from General Board of Higher Education and Ministry

The question in this part of the paragraph is redundant with the question in para. 330.5(a)(f). It asks how one’s experience in ministry has affected one’s understanding of the meaning and significance of the sacraments. This proposal would remove the repetition of the question.

Paragraph 330.7

Petition 60232, from the Council of Bishops’ Office of Christian Unity & Interreligious Relationships

Would remove the phrase “bishops in other communions” and replace that with “judicatory leaders from full-communion partners and other communions” in the list of those who participate in the ordination of deacons.

Paragraph 331

Petition 60498, from the Study of Ministry Commission

This is part of the committee’s proposal that ordination will take place at about the time of election to provisional membership. This would, in the description of where deacons can be appointed, remove “and provisional deacons.” If their broader proposal passes, all deacons and elders, whether in provisional or full membership, will be ordained. Thus this phrase would be unnecessary.

Paragraph 331.1

Petition 60653, from Rebekah Miles

This would clarify that deacons could be appointed to attend school in research doctoral programs or as instructors, professors, or administrators in UMC-related colleges, universities, and schools of theology.

Paragraph 331.4

Petition 60369, from General Board of Higher Education and Ministry

This would move the section about deacons’ being eligible for endorsement by the UM Endorsing Agency from the elder’s appointments section to the appropriate deacon’s appointments section.

Paragraph 337.3

Petition 60373, from the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry

This is the companion legislation to 60369 (above).

Paragraph 331.4d

Petition 60190, from Alabama-West Florida Conference

This would change the language about how General Board of Higher Education and Ministry may assist Boards of Ordained Ministry and cabinets in validating whether a proposed setting beyond the local church is appropriate for a deacon appointment. This simply removes the requirement that GBHEM prepare guidelines. (Note: guidelines are suggestions and not requirements.) It would retain the current Disciplinary requirement that the cabinet be the initiator of consultation from GBHEM.

Paragraph 351.3

Petition 60720, from Nelson-Clarke Dice, N.J.

Proposes that every year, at least one clergy person in each district be granted a “formational and spiritual growth leave of up to one year.”

Paragraph 354.2-3

Petition 60377, from General Board of Higher Education and Ministry

Would limit Transitional Leave to just one year, non-renewable.

Paragraph 357

Petition 60656, from Laura J. Barlett, Ore.

This would require that clergy on medical leave identify a charge conference relationship.

Paragraph 358.6

Petition 60502, from the Study of Ministry Commission

Would clarify that a deacon or elder could receive an appointment in retirement, when so requested by the bishop or cabinet.

Paragraph 363.1

Petition 60803, from John Lomperis

Would institute a specific complaint process and penalties for clergy who officiate a same-sex marriage ceremony (one year suspension for first time found guilty; removal of credentials for second time).

Paragraph 363.1c

Petition 60804, from Bethlehem UMC Social Action Committee

Would require a specific penalty for clergy found guilty of officiating a same-sex marriage ceremony (suspension without pay for one year).

Paragraph 350

Petition 60493, Study of Ministry Commission

Would require clergy serving congregations to engage with the district superintendent in a process of annual evaluation. Deacons appointed beyond the local church would have an annual conversation with their district superintendent about their ministry. Some of the details:

  • Personal and professional assessment would take place every eight years.
  • The process would take 6 months to complete.
  • The Cabinet, Board of Ordained Ministry, and order and fellowship chairs would design and implement the process.
  • The process would include a formal review and a renewal opportunity, like a retreat or coaching or mentoring sessions.
  • The formal review would include a self-evaluation and metrics appropriate to the appointment setting.
  • Conferences would have until Jan. 1, 2020, to develop a plan for this process.

Paragraph 351.1-6

Petition 60494, from the Study of Ministry Commission

Would require each annual conference, through the orders and fellowship, to provide spiritual enrichment opportunities and covenant groups for deacons, elders, and local pastors. Would require (rather than recommend) that clergy to take continuing education and spiritual growth leave at least one week each year and at least one month during one year of every quadrennium.

Deacons & sacramental leadership

Paragraph 328

Petition 60489, from the Study of Ministry Commission

Would permit deacons to preside at the celebration of the sacraments (baptism and Holy Communion) where “contextually appropriate and duly authorized.” Would change the authorization process to entail the bishop only and removes “a pastor-in-charge or district superintendent” from the request process. Would clarify that the bishop, and not other elders, makes appointment decisions related to deacons.

Petition 60636, West Ohio Order of Deacons (4 other similar)

This proposes that the deacon “may” administer the sacraments within the deacon’s primary or secondary appointments. It would remove the need for a bishop to authorize this on a case-by-case basis. This is similar to the limitations on local pastors for presiding over the sacraments. It would not give deacons blanket responsibility for presiding in any ministry context (as is the elders’ responsibility).

Petition 60637, from G. Williams, W.Va.

Would change the situations in which a deacon might preside over the sacraments. It would adapt the “in the absence of an elder” limitation to “within a deacon’s primary appointment or if the primary appointment is to a local church, in the absence of the elder-in-charge.” This would retain the current requirement that a pastor or district superintendent must ask the bishop to allow a deacon to preside over the sacraments. However, it would change “pastor-in-charge” to “an elder-in-charge.”

Petition 60638, from Rocky Mountain Order of Deacons

This would remove the permission-asking process for authorizing a deacon permitted to preside over the sacraments. It would retain the current limitation that the deacon “may administer the sacraments in the absence of an elder, within the deacon’s primary appointment.”

 

Again, this is merely an overview. Read the legislative proposals in full to determine your understanding of them. Discuss them with your order and your conference’s delegates to General Conference.

Victoria Rebeck is director of deacon ministry development, provisional membership, and certification programs for the United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. This blog post represents her understanding of the topics mentioned therein and does not represent the opinions of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

By Rev. Susan Mullin

Rev. Susan Mullin is a Minnesota Conference deacon and a member of the six-person United Methodist Creation Care Team. Mullin represents North America on this new team, created by the General Board of Global Ministries.The group represented the international United Methodist Church at the United Nations climate change conference in Paris, Nov. 30-Dec. 11, 2015.

Our Global Creation Care Team had the opportunity to travel to Paris the first week of December to participate in the civil society events surrounding the climate talks. We are a team of six United Methodists from around the world, including representatives from the United States, Argentina, Switzerland, Liberia, Fiji, and Cambodia.

Susan Mullin (second from right) meets with people from around the world at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris.

Susan Mullin (second from right) meets with people from around the world at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris.

Members of the team have powerful stories of what is happening in their countries as a result of climate change. Jefferson Knight from Liberia talked about returning last year to a village along the Suakoko River, where he grew up, and finding that the tree-lined river he remembers is completely dry and the trees have been cut down. He was shocked. Another member, Sotico Pagulayan, shared that in 2015, 13 (out of 24) provinces of Cambodia experienced crop failure. Extreme drought and flooding have combined to threaten the livelihood and food security of farmers.

As a team, we are committed to energizing local churches to take action on climate change and other environmental crises. This was only our second opportunity to meet together, so about half of our time in Paris was devoted to discussing how we can best work in our own regions and with the General Board of Global Ministries.

Highlights of our time in Paris included a round-table discussion on the intersection of faith, race, and climate and a conference devoted to women on the front lines of climate change that included powerful, passionate indigenous women leaders from the U.S., Canada, Ecuador, Sweden, and the Maldives.

How many lives are we willing to sacrifice?

Thilmeeza Hussain, founder of Voice of Women, told us that the Maldives “might be a small group of islands, but our lives are not small.” She pointed out that for her people, food security, clean water, and housing are all impacted by climate change. “Climate change is not distant,” she said. “People are dying. How many lives are we ready to sacrifice?”

Meanwhile, Josefina Skerk, vice president of the Sami Parliament in Sweden, also said that her country is seeing the effects of climate change. If the earth warms an average of two degrees Celsius, it will mean an increase of eight degrees in her northern lands. “We are not white strawberry jam,” she said. “We don’t want to be preserved: We want to guide our own development.”

Eriel Deranger, communications manager of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation of Canada, reiterated what many poor and endangered peoples have said: “Our voices are left out of the discussions.” She added, “We are people of the delta. Our entire system is threatened.”

Worshipping and sharing a meal with the members of Resurrection United Methodist Church was also a powerful experience. Most members of the congregation immigrated to France from Ivory Coast, and both their worship style and the wonderful meal they provided reflected their cultural heritage.

We met with the team from the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society (GBCS) on multiple occasions. This team was credentialed to enter the blue zone, where the actual climate negotiations were taking place. The feeling from the team was cautiously optimistic throughout the negotiations. They worked very hard lobbying leaders from the U.S. and around the world to make sure there would be adequate financial provisions for countries that have not contributed significantly to the problem of climate change but increasingly will suffer loss and damage. They recorded daily videos of their work that are available on the GBCS Facebook page.

The final accord is worth celebrating. For the first time, we have a worldwide agreement with a goal of limiting global warming to “well below 2 degrees Celsius” (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial temperatures. Nations also agree “to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius” (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). These goals are much more ambitious than many people expected to see in this accord. But…this is only an agreement! Now we have to actually achieve the goals we have set for ourselves.

Climate change exacerbates all injustices

If there is one thing that I take away from this experience, it is the many ways that climate change intersects with issues of social and economic justice. After hearing the pain in the voices of sisters and brothers from all around the world, after learning how their ability to provide food, housing, and water for their families is threatened and disrupted by climate change, it is no longer a matter of facts and figures, or computer models that predict the future. Climate change exacerbates all injustices, including race, poverty, gender, and age. As United Methodists, we say that our task is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Our team reflected on the vision of Ezekiel (47:7-12): a river of fresh water flowing from the sanctuary, bringing life where there is no life. We challenge ourselves and all United Methodists to look for places where the waters of God are bringing life where there is no life, and to join in the healing of our world.

Rev. Susan Mullin is a deacon who serves as minister of faith formation and community outreach at Faith United Methodist Church in St. Anthony, Minn. This article is reprinted with permission from the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, which initially published this reflection.

By Rev. Lois Rogers-Watson

Many thanks to the Board of Higher Education and Ministry for the financial help I received toward attending the DOTAC 2015 meeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil! What a rich experience it was!

Lois Rogers-Watson

Lois Rogers-Watson

Highlights of the Conference for me were several. First of all, the worship was deeply spiritual. It was well planned and executed. Our music leader was exceptionally fine and the chosen music was not only beautiful and easy to sing but it was theologically sound, in my humble opinion. Naturally, we servant leaders identified with the call to serve and to work for justice about which both the music and the liturgy spoke.

The evening worship services led by Lutherans were truly beautiful. We United Methodists could learn from the liturgies of other denominations. Our Anglican heritage speaks to me and I yearn at times for the orders of the day. In our personal devotions, my husband and I have a somewhat “order of the day” that is both challenging and satisfying.

Another highlight was the fellowship. To sit at a table with the same people for the entire conference was very special because one felt that you became a community and I appreciated each of my tablemates very much. They were diverse and yet we had so much in common. I came to love these people! Each is obviously a devoted disciple of Christ and each works in different but wonderful ways in their home communities. We only had one Portuguese person at our table and it would have enhanced our fellowship to have another but our dear sister was so lovely and I came to identify with her at a deep level.

Likewise, to interact at meal times with conference participants was special as well. Those of us who did the site visits together also had the opportunity to develop relationships through our shared experiences there.

The site visits were, indeed, a highlight. Our first site was similar but not the same as Ronald McDonald Houses in the USA. This site was more modest but certainly faith-based and that came through in several ways. Operated on a shoestring, it is providing housing for those awaiting transplants and/or checkups following transplants. The director is loving and enthusiastic about her work. The second site was the “Bread Project,” which is also exciting. Youth from distressed neighborhoods spend half a day three days a week at this project. They learn to bake and they learn computer skills. In addition, they take far-reaching field trips which expand their horizons beyond their neighborhoods and city. The staff at this site is very fine and well-skilled. They receive government funding and I pray that will continue because it is making a huge difference in the lives of these young people. While we were there a mother came to enroll her child because she has seen the results of the program in the lives of youth she knows. It, too, is faith-based and it is located in a church which gives not only space to it but also spiritual support.

The speakers were also inspiring. It happens I have not been in many situations where I needed translation and I found that to be an excellent experience. My language skills, despite some language study, are very, very poor outside the English language and I am humbled by those who are fluent in various languages beyond their native ones.

Lois Rogers-Watson stands by the UMC Deacons banner used in the opening processional at the DOTAC conference.

Lois Rogers-Watson stands by the UMC Deacons banner used in the opening processional at the DOTAC conference.

The content of the talks by these able speakers spoke to my heart. They underscored readings that I have recently done and just reaffirmed my commitment to justice activities. So many are eating bread crumbs in our world today! So many don’t even get the crumbs. We must take back the Kingdom in our churches and help our churches see that our call is to be counter-cultural. Fortunately, my current pastor gets that to some extent and I know I am looked to as the speaker for social justice. But, I need to be even a stronger voice and this conference helped equip me in that role.

It was my privilege to present a workshop on Israel and Palestine at the conference. Though attendance was light at the workshop, I pray that attendees saw the injustices of the occupation of Palestine and left with a determination to learn more and to speak out for the Palestinian people while at the same time praying for the Israeli government to change its ways.

Finally, while in the country of Brazil, friends and I took advantage of some travel after the conference. We went to Iguacu Falls, Salvador, and Rio de Janeiro. Since Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, we hardly saw a speck of it but nonetheless we learned a great deal from the various guides we had and the other people with whom we interacted. It was our privilege to meet Diana, a lovely young Methodist woman, in Salvador. All with whom we talked were discouraged by the corruption of their government and some of the stories they shared were not unlike things happening in the United States. It is time for the crumbs to become full communion in Brazil, the United States, and the world at large!

Many thanks again for helping make my pilgrimage possible. It was deeply spiritually, culturally, and socially enhancing and I thank God for it.
Rev. Rogers-Watson is a retired deacon and retired home missionary serving in East Lake United Methodist Church, Palm Harbor, Florida. She is a Stephen Minister and is involved in justice ministries on the local level and also an active advocate for ending the occupation of Palestine. She is a member of the Indiana Conference and an associate member of the Florida Conference.

By Rev. Rick Tettau

You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy.—Psalm 16:11

Porto Alegre, Brazil, hosted the 13th Diakonia of The Americas and Caribbean (DOTAC) conference. Porto Alegre means “Happy Port” or “Joyful Harbor” in English. According to the Portuguese translator on our bus tour, the city was named after a couple who were happily married.

Extending a joyful welcome to visitors is a characteristic of those who live in Brazil. After we got settled on the bus, our guide said, “Welcome to Brazil!” His welcome to us was sincere and authentic. He went on to explain that when somebody welcomes you to Brazil it means you are always and forever welcome in Brazil. I found his words to be true throughout the conference. I gratefully received a joyful welcome with lots of hugs everywhere that I went.

Rick Tettau (far left) examines the Bread Workshop facilities in Brazil, a site that educates at-risk youth.

Rick Tettau (far left) examines the Bread Workshop facilities in Brazil, a site that educates at-risk youth.

DOTAC is one of three regional organizations in the World DIAKONIA Federation. World DIAKONIA is an association of diaconal communities around the world. At our conferences brothers and sisters in diakonia from different countries come together to share stories about servant ministry, to learn from leading educators, share best practices, and fellowship in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The regional meeting of DOTAC is a smaller version of our world gatherings.

The DOTAC Conference in Brazil opened with a worship celebration at Igreja da Reconciliação (Church of the Reconciliation IECLB). I was honored to carry the banner for the United Methodist Deacons and Diaconal Ministers. Our theme for this conference was “The diakonia of Jesus—from crumbs to full communion,” based on the story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7:24-30. The conference aimed to help us see those who are feeding off the crumbs under the table and welcome them into full communion at the table of abundant grace, where Jesus Christ sits himself.

We had three speakers for the conference: Dr. Felipe Gustavo Koch Buttelli, a professor of religion at the Municipal University Center of São José, who studied in Brazil and South Africa; Dr. Rodolfo Gaede Nero, a professor of practical theology at the Faculdades EST in São Leopoldo; and Deaconess Irma Schrammel, who serves at the Heliodor Hesse Social Center in Santo André.

Overall, the speakers spoke about how Jesus’ ministry is shaped by the heavenly banquet. At the heavenly banquet we will share table fellowship, food, and an abundance of blessings. At the heavenly banquet there is a seat at the table for all. Since an open community meal is indicative of the heavenly banquet, Jesus acts accordingly in his ministry on earth: God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Since the heavenly banquet makes sharing at a table one of the main characteristics of Jesus’ ministry, it is no surprise that Jesus relates to all sorts of people at the table. There are feeding stories, dinner parties, weddings, breakfasts, and suppers noted in the Bible. All are welcome at the table with Jesus. Jesus is so closely associated with eating and drinking with people the Pharisees accuse him of being a glutton and a drunk (Matthew 11:19). On example of Jesus’ teaching on the heavenly banquet comes from the story of a father who throws his prodigal son a party upon his return home.

A challenge in Jesus’ time was the struggle against those who wanted to privatize the table. In the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Lazarus begs to eat at the rich man’s table, but the rich man denies him the opportunity. Likewise, the Pharisees want a closed, private table (Luke 7:39). In the early church the apostles worked to deconstruct the barriers to the table, so the blessings of the kingdom of God were not particularized. The Christian church became a place where Jews and Gentiles could eat together (Acts. 10).

The speakers pointed out how the Syrophoenician woman in the story was different than Jesus. She was a woman, non-Israelite, and a pagan worshiper. Yet, Jesus heard her story. He heard the pain in her failed attempts at receiving healing for her daughter. She admitted as much that the crumbs of Jesus’ abundance were good enough for her. Through his conversation with the woman Jesus comes to welcome her to the table and grant her request for the healing of her daughter. In this act of mercy Jesus unites the community. The community is made whole when those who eat from the crumbs under the table enter into full communion at the table with Christ.

The speakers encouraged us to consider those who survive off crumbs under the table today. They pointed out that people who feel marginalized, suffer violence, are abandoned, and hunger and thirst are all living off crumbs. Each speaker challenged us to seek a new paradigm of sharing God’s abundance. Mark 7 is an example of how an open table overcomes the fragmentation of human community. At God’s table there is plenty to care for the well-being of all people. Jesus eats with all and all are satisfied. This is authentic reconciliation. Diakonia works toward authentic reconciliation. An open table overcomes a fragmented human community. When all sit at the table of grace in the midst of cultural differences and diversity we will gain a wholistic perspective.

I saw the practice of an open table in action at two mission sites in Porto Alegre. The first mission site I visited was St. Luke House (Casa de Pasagem São Lucas). St. Luke House provides free housing to those waiting for medical treatment. Porto Alegre is recognized for being a leader in health research and services and this attracts from the countryside and even from other states in Brazil. Many of these people do not have a place to stay while they are waiting for medical treatment. For these people, the Evangelical Lutheran Church (IELCB) created in 2002 this residence alongside of a church. All are welcome to stay, eat, rest, and recover from their medical treatments at St. Luke House.

The second mission site I saw was the Bread Workshop. The Bread Workshop was created by St. Mark Lutheran Church in 1993. Its goal is to educate at-risk adolescents coming from local and neighboring communities offering them the possibility of generating income through working in cooperative and commercialized bakery production. The Bread Workshop teaches the art of baking bread while promoting faith and citizenship.

To help us unwind after a busy week we enjoyed a cultural celebration at the Churrascaria Galpão Crioulo, a Brazilian barbeque that offered live entertainment. The celebration of this culture night was dedicated to Nazgul “Naz” William, a United Methodist lay deaconess who was tragically killed in a random act of violence in China two years ago.

Brazil is a wonderful place with many wonderful people. From the beginning of the conference until its close after Sunday worship I felt the warm welcome of the Brazilian people. This experience of hospitality along with the teachings on our theme reminded me of what it means to be fully included as a guest. As we are all guests of Jesus at the table, this conference gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation for hospitality in the church. As our tour guide explained about the meaning of “Welcome to Brazil,” we need to live into a vision of the church where all are forever and always welcome, because the church is a place where all are loved by God and God’s love never changes. The church is a place where those who are living off the crumbs can enter into full communion with Christ at the table of grace.

Rick Tettau serves as a deacon at Faith Community United Methodist Church in Xenia, Ohio. He is an alternate on the DOTAC central committee.

 

By Rev. Gregory D. Gross

On Nov. 2 I joined the latest Moral Mondays Illinois rally and action. Over 1,000 people gathered for a rally at the state building in downtown Chicago and marched through the streets of the Loop to the target of that Monday’s action, the Chicago Board of Trade.

Moral Mondays

Rev. Gregory Gross takes a stand for the poor in protest of a proposed Illinois state budget.

For over four months, we have been rallying, protesting, and acting while the state of Illinois has been without a budget since July 1. The Illinois General Assembly has passed a deficit budget, which the state’s new governor has vetoed because it is not a balanced budget. The General Assembly has suggested balancing the budget with additional revenue but has not yet approved any new taxes. The governor has refused to even discuss new revenue unless the General Assembly passes his pro-business legislation, which restricts union bargaining. In short, state bills aren’t being paid.

In the meantime, the most vulnerable in our state are suffering the consequences of all this political maneuvering. State programs serving those on the margins, like subsidized childcare program, have been cut. Social service agencies with state contracts aren’t being paid—if they still have contracts. The new governor had already ended other contracts that were awarded under the previous administration.

As a result, social service agencies providing services for Illinoisans have begun closing their doors, some permanently. The most vulnerable, those experiencing poverty, severe persistent mental illness, unstable housing, chronic disease, and homelessness, many of who are children and people of color, are bearing even more of the brunt of the state budget than they already are.

This summer a group of clergy and community activists began organizing Moral Mondays Illinois to draw attention to the budget impasse and to raise awareness of those most affected. Our movement is based on the Moral Mondays social justice movement that started in North Carolina as a response to actions of their state legislature. Moral Mondays Illinois has focused upon inequality in taxation and revenue for the state.

And so we rallied at the Chicago Board of Trade. The governor and others have said that there is no alternative to the state’s fiscal problems other than to make further cuts. They say there is nothing else that that can be done than to eliminate these vital services.

We went to the Board of Trade to say otherwise; to bring attention to other options. We chanted, we raised signs, we yelled. We gave voice to the voiceless. Services don’t need to be cut. Instead, the state can tax corporations and big banks that do business on the Chicago Board of Trade and Mercantile Exchange. We called for the governor and state legislature to support the “LaSalle Street Tax,” which would be a $1 to $2 tax on every transaction done at these entities. This translates to a .002% tax on these financial transactions, but could in turn generate an estimated $10 billion dollars for the state each year. Since the chairman of the Board of Trade had failed to respond to requests to meet with him, we went to him.

Once at the Board of Trade, I joined a group of 60 clergy and other community leaders in engaging in civil disobedience. We split up and covered all 25 doors leading in and out of the trade building. We then blocked them, stopping people from leaving or entering the Board of Trade. For over an hour, we shut it down to bring attention to this unjust system. Some people sat in the revolving doors. Others of us stood in front of the doors to stop others from trying to enter. When traders and others approached us seeking to enter the building, we explained that the building had been shut down in order to get corporations to pay their fair share through the LaSalle Street tax.

Moral Mondays 2

Rev. Gregory Gross sits in a police wagon after being arrested for blocking entrance to the Chicago Board of Trade, as part of a demonstration for justice for the poor.

Traders who were prevented from entering were not happy. I was pushed and shoved. Some taunted us to, “get a job” or “go back to your parents’ basement where you live.” One trader kicked in and shattered a glass door to get inside. A group of seminarians had hot soup thrown on them. The love of money makes people do shocking things. But we did not back down.

As a deacon, I am called to serve those on the margins of our society; to use my voice to advocate for those who have no voice; to use my whole self to call for justice. And yes, to call for a fair and just budget, for we know a budget shows what we prioritize. It is a moral document, and when it is immoral, we must speak up. Is this not what the incarnation calls us to do?

I stood my ground. I did not move. A trader asked me, “What makes this legal?” I said, “No one is saying our actions are legal. That’s what makes it civil disobedience.”

I stood my ground, chanting, until the Chicago Police officers told me I was under arrest. I was handcuffed and led to the paddy wagon. And as a police officer helped me into the back, he said, “Thank you for being here and doing this.” To which I replied, “Thank you for doing your job.” This was the common refrain throughout my twelve hours in police custody. As I was booked and processed, fingerprinted and mugshot, one by one the officers asked me what the protest was for and then thanked me for raising awareness.

I used my whole self to call for justice and compassion, even risking arrest. As I sat in my cell I wondered if it were worth it. But then I looked around at who else was being booked: all were young African American men and women. They are the ones who will continue to be most negatively impacted by our states policies. Just before midnight, I was released and given a court date for Dec. 21. What better time to stand before a judge for advocating for the forgotten: mere days before the celebration of the one who was told, “There’s no room for you here.”

Rev. Gregory D. Gross is the chair of the Order of Deacons in the Northern Illinois Conference. He was elected clergy delegate to the 2012 and 2016 General Conferences. His primary appointment is as the community health manager at The Night Ministry, a social service agency that seeks to provide housing, healthcare and human connection to those experiencing poverty, housing instability or homelessness in Chicago. His charge conference is Berry United Methodist Church in Chicago.

By Rev. Betsy Hall

When I went to seminary in 1985 I had no intention of going into local church ministry.

I had become a Christian three years earlier through a campus para-church organization and was convinced God had left the church. Imagine my surprise while in a field education placement in a church I felt God say, “Yeah and you thought I’d left church.” It was then that I changed directions and explored church ministry.

The first call was to full-time ministry in a suburban megachurch. After eight years and burn out I quit. I found myself working in an agency in a new town, attending a small membership church. Our little church merged with another church. Over the years I found myself doing what deacons do—bridging the world with the church and the church to the world.

An opportunity to help with a new church plant came up and I jumped at the chance. What I didn’t realize at the time was this was the first of two new churches I’d help plant!

Why a deacon?

I think deacons can thrive in new church planting because many of us are used to jumping in and getting ministry done. Many of us have had to work with what we had and make it work, with limited resources. We can be a colleague for an appointed elder—a safe, listening ear and a fellow clergyperson “who gets it.” I personally like being part of a team but not having to be the pastor-in-charge.

Three things I’ve learned

1. What I know became what I had to relearn or unlearn.

I have been challenged to think in new ways—what works in one setting may have to be tweaked in the other or changed completely. However, compassion and love are timeless.

2. What I did is not necessarily what I do.

I found you do what needs to be done. That phrase I learned in seminary, “servant leader,” got practiced in new ways—at times cleaning bathrooms, mopping, and taking out the trash.

3. What I thought was needed to ‘do church’ became less cumbersome.

The new-church-start where I currently have my secondary appointment, Providence United Methodist in Mount Juliet, Tenn., has a plastic tote box with “Worship” written on the top. It contains everything we need to set the table for communion. A church that was closing gave us Providence.tote.webtheir altar table—a simple table that holds the essentials of bread, juice, a cross, candles, and a bowl and pitcher. At East Bank Church the table is a recycled packing skid. We used something we had to create something new.

Rewards of working with a church plant

I’ve gotten to see what “church” is becoming and serve alongside younger clergy who give me great hope for our denomination! Their love of God and for the people in their communities drives them outside the walls, leading us along with them.

I’ve felt great joy in seeing new people come to believe in Jesus Christ and find healing and wholeness. I’ve gotten to see what God can do through a small group of committed Christians using spiritual gifts with love and compassion.

It’s hard work, it’s hectic, messy, at times even chaotic but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It’s as if God says new everyday “Yeah, I’m here—watch what happens next!”

Betsy Hall is project manager for Congregational Resource Development at Upper Room Ministries, Nashville, Tenn. Her secondary appointments are to Providence United Methodist Church in Mount Juliet and East Bank Church in East Nashville.

 

 

By Rev. Amelia Boomershine

Jesus talked a lot about the kingdom of God. One time he asked a rhetorical question: What is the kingdom of God like?

He answered with the parable of the mustard seed. So we named our emerging ministry project “Seeds of Grace.” The Seeds of Grace team leads a weekly Circle of the Word program called “Sacred Stories” for women at the Montgomery County (Ohio) Jail in downtown Dayton. In these Circles I experience the kingdom of God when stories of a deeply personal nature are shared in the safe place that our Sacred Stories Circle becomes as we creatively engage biblical stories.

Amelia Boomershine

Amelia Boomershine

We had a full room for our first Circle of this past summer: three of us from Grace United Methodist Church (Dayton) and eleven from the jail. The two suggestions for connecting to the story of “Hagar Conceives a Son” (Gen. 16:1-6) were invitations to tell about “someone you know who couldn’t have a baby, or a time you were treated with contempt.” I started with a story about a friend who couldn’t have a baby. Then all but one of the others chose to speak on that connection. Every situation described was unique, including recognition that sometimes the issue is with the man and a story to illustrate. The woman who chose the contempt theme shared an experience much like that of Sarah and Hagar. Some of the stories were sad; some had happy endings; all were poignant.

In these times of sharing I sometimes feel like Jesus reaching out to touch a leper, getting in touch with deep sorrow, pain, shame.

Monday Morning Prayer Group supports Circle of the Word participants through prayer.

Monday Morning Prayer Group supports Circle of the Word participants through prayer.

But I am not Jesus, and initially was not sure I could shoulder the burden of these troubles in a helpful and healthy way. As Gregory Boyle asks in his book on ministry with gangbangers in L.A., “How do those who ‘sit in darkness’ find the light? How does one hang in there with folks, patiently taking from the wreck of a lifetime of internalized shame, a sense that God finds them (us) wholly acceptable?” I’m convinced that internalizing certain stories from the Bible in a creative, safe atmosphere is one approach to answering these questions.

Another approach developed as I considered how church members might participate in the Seeds of Grace project besides those who join me as Circlekeepers in the jail. Out of this came the prayer card activity. At the close of each Circle the women are invited to write prayer requests or just their names on an index card, if they would like Grace’s Monday morning prayer group to pray for them. Most accept the invitation and write with sincerity and concentration. Sometimes they write their own prayers or express gratitude for the prayer group. Occasionally a request will be dictated to a Circlekeeper if writing is too much of a challenge.

After reading and praying with the cards myself, I pass them on to the Grace prayer group. On Monday morning prayer group participants begin their hour of prayer by reading aloud each prayer card. They conclude the reading of each card with, “Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.” The person who reads the card will take it home and pray over it daily during the week. The prayer group has been doing this ministry for over a year—every week Sacred Stories Circle is held. It is a boundary-crossing spiritual experience for members of the prayer group, as well as for those of us physically going into the jail. Several Circlekeepers are also in the prayer group.

Grace’s senior pastor, Rev. Sherry L. Gale, is a member of the prayer group and has observed how the cards have impacted it: “Through the prayer ministry for the women, our Grace prayer group has connected with a world outside themselves. This connection has brought a growth in the prayer group participants’ understanding and experience of God’s love and God’s people.” For myself, I have learned as never before the importance of local church spiritual practice. I am grateful to have been shown a way to mobilize that practice in response to the needs of women in the jail.

Rev. Amelia Cooper Boomershine is appointed to GoTell Communications, Inc., and Grace United Methodist Church (Dayton, Ohio). Seeds of Grace received an Emerging Ministries grant through the United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry for projects developed by deacons. Visit Circle of the Word to follow the Sacred Stories jail ministry and to learn how to start one in your community.

By Rev. Patty Meyers

I am a member of the Oregon-Idaho Conference Order of Deacons. I serve in another annual conference at a United Methodist university nearly 3,000 miles away. Why not transfer my conference membership?

Deacons of the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.

Deacons of the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.

Because the Oregon-Idaho Order of Deacons is my spiritual family, my faith community, my church in the very best meaning of the word. I would not give up my membership in this order if you paid me.

Some of the things that this order does well:

1.      It is collegial. The order has co-chairs, not just one. It includes diaconal ministers. As one who served as a diaconal minister for 19 years before becoming an ordained deacon, that is important to me, as it is to active and retired diaconal ministers.

2.      It stays in touch with retired deacons, diaconal ministers, and those in candidacy on a regular basis.

3.      It holds spiritual days apart, sometimes retreats, in addition to meeting at annual conference and has done so for many years. For those who serve outside the bounds of Oregon and Idaho, I can tell you that the notes from those who attend those gatherings are encouraging and keep us connected to the order.

4.      The order really does support its members in their ministries and its retirees. Blessed by a deacon who is an artist, Oregon-Idaho retired deacons receive a sterling silver towel and basin pin made by her, which every recipient treasures. She also created a unique pin for those in the order when they become members of the order either by transfer, commissioning, or ordination.

5.      Tuesdays are Prayer Days for deacons in the Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Conferences. PNW deacons started it and it’s a wonderful blessing to pray for one another intentionally every week. Each week we receive an e-mail message with a thought for the day or focus that helps us hold each other accountable to one another and deepens the bonds between us.

6.      Our Order of Deacons sometimes works with the Order of Elders to provide continuing education opportunities.

The annual conference makes sure that deacons, elders, local pastors and diaconal ministers are equally represented on boards, committees, and task forces as well as provide leadership at the meetings of the annual conference.

I realize that the things I’ve described here are no more than what The Book of Discipline says that an order should do. I’m a witness that when an order does those things, they make a difference in the life and service of its members. I am deeply grateful for my colleagues in the Oregon-Idaho Order of Deacons.

Dr. Patty Meyers is professor of Christian education and church music at Pfeiffer University in Misenheimer, N.C. and is a deacon in full connection in the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.

by Rev. Patty Meyers

The photo with this post is of the heavenly promise given upon our arrival and was fulfilled during class at Iona, Scotland.

Iona is a small island off the west coast of Scotland, where in 563, Columba founded a Celtic monastery. In the middle ages it was the site of a Benedictine abbey and over the centuries has attracted thousands of people on their own pilgrim journeys. It is peaceful and beautiful with rock-strewn meadows leading to sandy beaches and turquoise blue waters, and far more sheep than people. George MacLeod described Iona as a “thin place,” where the material and spiritual worlds seem separated only by the thinnest of veils.ionarainbowmyers

I recently led to Iona a group of eight graduate students who are seeking United Methodist professional certification in spiritual formation. Some of them are also candidates for the ministry of the deacon. Some are elders and deacons doing continuing education in this field. While the course meets academic requirements for certification and for Pfeiffer University students on the pastoral counseling track of the Master of Arts in Practical Theology, this course involves much more than classroom work. It is a one-week intensive that students say is life-changing.

My goals for the course are that students will:

• grow in their faith maturity and relationship with the Holy One;
• learn to offer spiritual friendship and guidance to others as they receive spiritual direction and practicing with a prayer partner;
• practice spiritual disciplines, especially prayer, lectio divina, examen, solitude, silence, community and celebration;
• be well-grounded biblically, theologically and historically in spiritual formation and direction;
• demonstrate knowledge of spirituality and grasp of ethical issues inherent in spiritual direction;
• begin experiencing the art of spiritual direction;
• know themselves better and create plans for future development to be faithful servant leaders.

Every student I’ve ever taken to Iona said it was a transformative experience.

“The sense of community and Christian love I experienced in our group and when we prayed the Lord’s Prayer in worship in all our different languages and versions and voices, it was like Pentecost and deeply moved me,” said Debra Crawford.

“The spiritual direction intensive class . . . gave me the necessary space to expand my own spiritual pilgrimage and allowed me to explore other ways of integrating pastoral care with my hospital patients, coaching clients and personal family-friend supports,” said Sherry Waters.

“Each morning I looked forward to the walk to the Abbey—even if the weather was more appropriate for ducks—because I knew this would be that sweet time of community that I long for at home. There was a prayer we prayed at each service, a prayer of confession. I cried several times as we spoke it in unison: ‘Before God and the people of God, we confess to our brokenness: to the ways we wound our lives, the lives of others and the life of the world.’ The response is full of the spirit of Iona: ‘May God forgive you, Christ renew you, and the Spirit enable you to grow in love.’ My hope is to now live completely into that sense of community in my day to day life at home,” said Merit Wolff.

“The Iona experience for me, helped me realize what true Koinonia truly is! Being together as equals in community is what God truly wants for [us]. Another revelation that I had after pondering our trip is being still and listening to others and to God,” said Scarlette Pless.

“It was one of the most profound religious experiences of my life. The trip, the things I learned, and the hearts I grew closer to will remain with me for a lifetime,” said Jennifer Grainger.

Practicing the presence

It’s an intensive week of taking care of body, mind, and spirit, because “you can’t give what ain’t got.” Students focus on attentiveness to God, listening skills, psychological awareness, personal spiritual disciplines, biblical and theological foundations of spiritual direction, historical background (including formative Wesleyan spirituality), and ethical issues for fostering this supportive relationship of spiritual guidance.

Dr. Patty Meyers

Dr. Patty Meyers

It includes readings in Christian classics, experiencing the practice of spiritual companionship, and training in ways of offering spiritual guidance in congregations. Each day begins and ends with worship at the abbey with people from around the world. In between are classes, meeting with spiritual directors and prayer partners, study, hikes, naps, shopping, and sight-seeing.

I teach the class at Iona every other time it is offered. The class is held on Pfeiffer’s traditional campus in Misenheimer, N.C., when I don’t lead a group to Iona. It is hard to describe what a special, sacred experience Iona is to live, learn and be the body of Christ together with students in this place. As a deacon teaching deacon and certification candidates, I have the great privilege of bridging the church and world in deep, meaningful ways. Students who take this class often experience international travel for the first time. They learn far more than any classroom can hold or words can say.

“In Iona of my heart, Iona of my love . . . ere the world come to an end, Iona shall be as it was.” (St. Columba)

Dr. Patty Meyers is professor of Christian education and church music at Pfeiffer University in Misenheimer, N.C. and is a deacon in full connection in the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.

by Rev. Tom Lank

I was perhaps more surprised than anyone to be elected to the 2016 United Methodist General Conference delegation from Greater New Jersey Annual Conference. To be elected first, and consequently become the chair of the delegation, made me fall out of my seat.

Thomas Lank photo 1 cropped

Tom Lank

Back in February 2015, the chair of our order contacted me to ask if I would stand as a nominee on behalf of the diaconate. We wanted to at least have a face and a voice from the deacons represented in the pool. It proved too difficult for the deacons who have their primary appointment outside the local church to commit to taking the necessary weeks off from work in order to represent us at GC. So it fell to the handful of us who had primary appointments in the local church. I agreed to stand as a nominee because I geek out on the legislation and church politics. My first jobs out of college were as a campaign manager and legislative aide. When I entered the ministry I largely put those skills aside until annual conference came around, but relished the opportunity to bring them back into use as a GC delegate.

I did not campaign for votes ahead of annual conference session. I find it feels too much like self-promotion and indulges my ego in an unhealthy way. When other clergy have done it, I’ve found it distasteful. I was content to let my reputation stand and let the Spirit work as it would. The pre-conference booklet had bios for each of the 15 candidates and our answers to a few questions, but they didn’t even have a photo on file to put with my bio. I have been part of the conference for 11 years (though only five as clergy) and I don’t think half of them could have picked me out of a lineup.

When we convened in clergy session on the first morning of annual conference, we were instructed on voting procedures with the new electronic voting system. We did two sample ballots where we voted for our favorite disciples. Thomas was one of the disciples we “elected.”

Then each of the nominees was given one minute to speak to the session before the real voting began. This is what I said:

“My name is Thomas Lank, and I am an ordained deacon in full connection. I repeat, my name is Thomas and I am a disciple . . . so I believe I was already elected a moment ago.” (That got some laughter!) “For 20 years, deacons have worked alongside elders. For 20 years, deacons have operated as equals in the ministry with elders. For 20 years, deacons have bridged the church to the needs of the world and the world into the arms of the church. And for 20 years, deacons have not had their voice represented in the delegation from this conference. It is time for that to change. I have experience in legislative politics and am involved in innovative ministries with young adults in both Greater New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania. I would be honored and humbled to have your vote.”

Moments later, when the balloting began, we voted for our top four choices. Within seconds, the results were up on the screen. I had the plurality of votes, but fell short of the needed number for election. Without any time for discussion or back room conversations, the second ballot was taken. Seconds later, the results were posted. I had 177 votes and needed only 175 for election. I was the first delegate elected!

Advice and strategy for electing deacons

There are several things that make my experience hard to replicate, but I believe that there are some general ideas that might apply to all deacons who are seeking election as delegates.

  1. Diversity is important in the delegation and that means not only gender, race and ethnicity, but also diversity of representation of the orders of ministry.
  2. Emphasize how many deacons there are in your conference and in the denomination as a whole. There are more and more candidates who are choosing the deacon track each year. We deserve representation.
  3. Deacons are more often on the frontiers of the next generation of ministry because we are forced to be entrepreneurs. There is no single dominant road map for deacon ministry. Many of us are more itinerant than elders and have already figured out how to do ministry in the UMC without guaranteed appointments. Emphasize the ways that you bridge church and world. Even more than that, emphasize how you bridge the present church to the future church.
  4. Make sure that you have elders who are allies and who understand deacon ministry. Especially if your conference does paper ballots, there will be time between each ballot when nominees and their supporters will be trying to convince their friends to switch votes. If they understand the importance of having a deacon on the delegation, they can reach more people than you can on your own.
  5. Delegates at the 2012 General Conference. UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

    Delegates at the 2012 General Conference. UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

    If you have the opportunity to make a speech, make it brief, make it memorable, and do it from memory. The more you can look people in the eye, the more power your words will have. Most of my colleagues read their speeches from iPads and tried to cram in veiled language that indicated how they would vote on certain issues. They spoke too fast. Somehow their preaching skills vanished when they were in front of their clergy colleagues.

  6. Intentionally try to be friendly and show human kindness to colleagues who are very different from you theologically. It’s as true in the clergy session as it is in the congregation – they don’t care what you know until they know that you care.

Good luck to those of you who have yet to go through this. I pray that the Spirit would work in you and through you and that I’ll get to meet you at General and Jurisdictional Conference next year!

Rev. Tom Lank is appointed as an associate minister at Haddonfield United Methodist Church in Haddonfield, N.J., with a focus on missions and youth and young adult ministry.


 

(General Board of Higher Education and Ministry will help connect and coordinate deacon delegates in advance of General Conference.)