Archives For Conference Order of Deacon

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. 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. 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.)

Welcome new deacons into the order and honor those retiring with a tangible sign. GBHEM’s office of deacons and diaconal ministers offers the following opportunities:

  • Deacon pins: Order chairs, let us know how many deacons in your conference are being ordained this spring, and we will send you a deacon emblem to give them. Send a message to the UMC office of deacons and diaconal ministers.
  • The United Methodist Deacon book: this new volume by Rev. Margaret Ann Crain (a knowledgable interpreter of the order) is a great gift for anyone, but especially for those being commissioned. Contact the UMC office of deacons and diaconal ministers to purchase the book for only $10 per copy (orders of 10 or more are shipped free).
  • Joaquin Garcia Scholarships: Named for the deacon who led the GBHEM Section on Deacons and Diaconal Ministry until 2003, the scholarship will assist students enrolled full-time in graduate work toward deacon’s orders. Consider making a donation (or inviting your order to make a group contribution) in honor of retiring deacons, as a way to pass the mantle of leadership. Write checks to GBHEM Joaquin Garcia Scholarship Fund and mail to GBHEM, PO Box 340007, Nashville, TN 37203-0007.

Ordination ordinal

Be sure your conference is using the most up-to-date order of worship for ordination.

Becoming a clergy deacon entails more than getting a title. Upon election into full membership, the deacon becomes an accountable member of an order, the community of deacons in your conference. Help people in candidacy learn about your order, its commitments, and its members. Create a kind of “novitiate” program for candidates.

A few ideas:

  • Invite the candidates to certain gatherings of deacons (perhaps at annual conference).
  • Introduce them to other deacons, so they can learn the breadth of deacons’ ministries, perhaps meet someone who is in a similar ministry, and develop a deeper understanding of the ordained diaconate. Although candidates have candidacy mentors, the more deacons the candidate meets, the broader the perspective the candidate will obtain. (Be careful to observe boundaries with deacons who are Board of Ordained Ministry or District Committee on Ministry members, so they will not have to recuse themselves from board/committee discussions of the candidate.)
  • Share your order covenant with the candidates.
  • Prepare a prayer calendar that includes praying for the candidates as they take steps through the process.
  • Send a note of general encouragement to candidates every year when they return to school (or a DCom interview) in the fall.
  • Keep them informed about deacon training events in your conference or across the connection.