Archives For Chaplaincy

Jason Ciarlante

by Jason Ciarlante

I am a 40-year-old Sicilian Methodist born, raised, and residing in Staten Island, New York. Being Sicilian I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church, but was saved and called to serve in the United Methodist Church.

So I left behind aspirations of law school, supported my wife’s medical career, and became a stay-at-home father for our two boys, Jason and Joshua. I have recently earned my master of divinity degree from Drew Theological School and am seeking to become a certified candidate within the New York Annual Conference toward deacon’s orders.

I have served as a youth pastor for a year at Vincent United Methodist Church in Nutley, New Jersey, and am currently enrolled in a yearlong clinical pastoral education residency at Eger Rehabilitation and Nursing Home, Staten Island, earning my last three credits toward board certification as a chaplain.

It was in these last two years of chaplaincy that I came to the realization that the deacon track reflected a genuine response to my calling. My growing theology of grace and mission in the world are fully actualized for me in the coupling of the diaconal walk and my work as chaplain. One of the revelations that helped bring this surety to fruition was my love of something very dear to Wesleyan methodology: small groups.

Young Adults: For Us—By Us

My time as a youth pastor at Vincent helped me see this more clearly. As the first youth pastor this church I wanted to build on the group’s already solid foundation. They were eight to ten youth, ages thirteen to sixteen, who attended every Sunday with their parents. I wanted to understand the spiritual and emotional context of this group. I began with a series of questions to get honest answers for how they felt about church: what they liked and disliked, what they would change and why. This gave me a better understanding of where these youths “were” within their own spiritual walks.

Three things were blazingly clear by their answers. First, they found it hard to relate to anything in what they referred to as “their parents’” church. Second, the church itself wasn’t really speaking to them, or at least not speaking their language. Last, if they could change anything, it would be the music and the atmosphere.

I found an empty room in the building that we cleaned and painted. We took old couches we found around the church and created a lounge-type ambiance. Here I invited the youth to create their own space for worship and devotion. The name For Us—By Us was inspired by the popular FuBu clothing line.

At a For Us—By Us gathering, one youth brings in a Bible passage and another brings in a song that they connect with. The only requirement was they had to really feel that song; other than that, they could bring ANY song. The group would each read the biblical passage one at a time and then say what they heard, what they felt, and what they found interesting. Then, the youth who brought a song would briefly explain why they picked it and how they felt about it. Then we all would listen to it. Again, we would each talk about what we heard and how we felt. In this way we heard the scripture and music communally, but each of us was then able to say how it affected them individually as well. This is important because it gave each of them a chance to express themselves and be heard.

This created genuine opportunities for them to identify with each other on a deeper, peer-to-peer level. It offered me the chance to more practically apply the scripture to the context of their lives, thus connecting the practical reality they face every day with our scared text. Many of them would often say later that it was in that connection that they found meaning, hope, and a way to express their faith in a more genuine way. Working with these young adults is something that I will never forget.

Men’s Cigar-Shop Ministry

While serving as a youth pastor I became increasingly aware that I was always seeing and talking with mothers. Where are the fathers, I wondered?

I began by telephoning the fathers. Many replied that they were simply too busy on Sunday mornings with work, leisure activities, or other things. All of them, when pressed, admitted that Sunday worship just wasn’t for them: they did not feel at home there and preferred other ways to find fellowship and connect with the Spirit. Most of these other ways were secular activities that had potential for a deeper, more spiritual atmosphere. Yet rarely did anyone see it that way. In fact, many of them get more spiritual nourishment from the comradery and companionship that comes with activities like meeting at a local cigar shop to have a smoke with good friends.

This gave me the idea to start a men’s group Bible study at a nearby cigar shop. For these meetings I carefully selected Bible passages that would directly relate to and tease out many of the issues men face. Issues of love, sex, and violence, such as found in stories of the rape of Dinah, the Tamar and Judah story, Abraham in Egypt, as well as other scripture portions that are rarely discussed in congregational and other communal settings, as Prof. Danna Nolan Fewell noted in the syllabus for her course “Love, Sex, and Violence in the Hebrew Bible” at Drew Theological School. I envisioned a circle of comfortable chairs, a smoke-filled room, open Bibles and deep discussions about marital stresses, masculinity, and how men relate to their wives, children, each other, and God.

Many of our conversations at the cigar-shop Bible studies addressed the difficult topics that so many of our religious and political leaders keep pushing folks to have.

They talked about privilege, race, sex, and masculinity, all prompted by the Bible passages we read. The comfortable, masculine atmosphere of the location offset the usual discomfort that often accompany these sacred conversations. The collective trust and comfortable setting allowed the men to tolerate a lot of shared unease about such hard topics.

The men gathered twice monthly for the better part of year. Once we incorporated some locals from the shop, one of whom then came to church one Sunday.

Sinatra & Cannoli

Harbor House, the assisted-living facility related to Eger Nursing Home, asked me to begin a group for the male residents. After talking with many of the men I learned that a majority shy away from the usual bingo or craft activities. These just did not seem “manly” enough for them. I also discovered that a large Italian population resides here. Being Italian myself, I knew that two things are always beloved and never balked at by older Italian men: cannoli and Frank Sinatra.

I decided that the medium would be music, and specifically for this audience and context, Frank Sinatra. Sinatra songs have powerful narratives that touch on many of life’s practical issues. “I Did It My Way,” “That’s Life,” and “You’re Nobody Until Somebody Loves You” stir up questions and musings about life, faith, and meaning.

Usually, it would have been an uphill battle to get a group like this to discuss such topics. Here the music made space for them to acknowledge some of the 500-pound gorillas in the room. For example, “I Did It My Way” sparked confessions like “my divorce was probably my fault because I did things my way, the [man’s way], and that’s how I lost my wife.” This led to conversation on emotions, patriarchy, marriage, and compromise. “That’s Life,” which in its own way addresses theodicy and the reality of accepting life on life’s terms. The context was made more intimate and more comfortable by the cannoli I brought. This beloved Italian treat evoked a living-room, after-dinner atmosphere that many of them fondly missed.

In our second year we have moved onto other music they’ve suggested: songs that connect them to their wives, who have passed, or their childhood homes and the love they remember there. Some of these songs are from the 1920s and ’30s. When I find them on YouTube and play them, the emotional connection is so strong that many times we all simply just listen in silence or at times we weep together for the days that have gone by. Here, the spiritual awareness has comes in an appreciation of where they are within this life instead of being resentful and ashamed. Many of them have remarked that this group has given them perspective and on where they have come from, where they are going, and perhaps most importantly, where they are today.

The Power of Small Groups

The sense of community in each of these fellowships has shown me the power of small groups. The feeling of belonging and making genuine connections are miraculous. Here it’s OK to cry, laugh, and feel all the feelings that one might otherwise suppress. While in such a group, participants are free to be their genuinely broken but beautiful selves. Brene Brown says in her book on shame, I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t) (Avery, 2007), “Where gratitude and appreciation live, shame cannot exist.” Furthermore, I believe that with a grateful and appreciative heart, anyone anywhere can open up to find a connection with God.

As a chaplain on the diaconal walk, I am called more and more to create sacred spaces outside the church walls for this very reason. In these moments in those shared sacred spaces I have witnessed endless possibilities to nudge the everyday stories of people’s lives into a deeper connection with God and our scripture.

Jason Ciarlante is pursuing certified candidacy toward deacon’s orders in the New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

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.