Archives For Interpreting the order

The 2016 Book of Discipline has just become available in print, in Kindle format, and a free online version. Now is the time to renew your acquaintance with some key passages.

If you are an ordained United Methodist clergyperson, you should be familiar with The Book of Discipline. Some parts of it may not be of direct relevance to you. However, there are sections you need to know well in order to advocate for your ministry and educate others about the diaconate.

Here’s your guide to reviewing the Discipline.

Paragraphs 301-304: Ordination

Like many deacons, you may be asked why you don’t become a real minister or why you have to be ordained to do your ministry, or are told that the order of elder is “above” the order of deacon, etc. You need to be able to explain to people (and this may include your district superintendent, Board of Ordained Ministry, and elders) the meaning of ordination in the United Methodist Church.

The Discipline section on the origins of the diaconate is limited, so I recommend you read up on the history of the diaconate. You should also read the ordination ordinal–particularly the vows and the theological and liturgical introduction–which does a fuller job of presenting our theology of ordination. Among other things, it points out that ordination is significantly about the relationship of the ordained to the church:

Ordination of elders and deacons is both to an office and, when the ordained are later elected into full membership, for a lifetime of service. Ordination confers a new role in the life of the church as well as authority for leadership in specific forms of ministry. The new role of the ordained in the life of the church is claimed in relation to Christ and his call to leadership and service among the baptized for the life of the world. The authority given is exercised in stewardship of the mysteries of the gospel and of the church’s mission in the world. Ordination itself is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit. . . . Upon ordination, ordained elders and deacons become accountable to the whole church, to the community of the ordained, and to the order of elders or deacons of which they are a part. [Services for the Ordering of Ministry in The United Methodist Church, 2017-2020, as Revised by Action of the 2016 General Conference (The United Methodist Publishing House, 2016), p. 7; emphasis added]

As you read, identify key words and phrases that define ordination. That will help you in your interpretative work.

Paragraphs 305-309: Clergy Orders

In the United Methodist Church, clergy orders are not just categories, but also covenant communities. Read these paragraphs to learn how you DeaconDiscipline2.best.smare accountable to your order and what your order could be doing to support the ministries of its members.

Paragraphs 310-314: Candidacy

Are you a certified candidate, or pursuing candidacy, for ordination? Are you a candidacy mentor? Read these paragraphs to better understand the process. Do not passively wait for someone to define it for you. They may be mistaken. And you may have to advocate for due process for yourself or the candidate you are mentoring.

Paragraphs 324-327, 330: Education and Provisional Membership

If you are in process toward ordination or are a clergy mentor, read these paragraphs to understand the educational requirements for ordination.

If you are a provisional member, read these paragraphs so you understand the process, how you may be appointed, voting rights, and ordination requirements. Again, do not passively wait for someone to define this for you. They may be mistaken. And you may have to advocate for due process for yourself or for a provisional member you are mentoring.

Paragraphs 328-329: Deacon Ministry, Authority, and Responsibilities

These paragraphs spell out our roles of clergy leadership in church and community as well as voting rights. While elders order the life of the congregation and church, deacons lead the faithful to live out their baptismal vows in their communities, workplaces, etc.

Note that the process for requesting the responsibility to preside at communion or baptism has changed a bit (see paragraph 328). The bishop in the area where the deacon is appointed is responsible for deciding on a deacon’s request for such responsibility. (Note that presiding is a responsibility and not “a right” or “authority.”)

Paragraph 331: Appointment Settings, Pay, Benefits

Read through this paragraph so you are clear about where and how deacons serve in primary or secondary appointments, in congregations or beyond the local church. You’ll find here:

  • Places of appointment
  • Requesting appointment
  • “Secondary” appointments
  • Initiating a ministry
  • Pay and benefits
  • Charge conference membership
  • Process for termination from a church appointment

Paragraph 349: Evaluation Process

General Conference 2016 approved a new evaluation process for clergy. It’s rather detailed so it is worth reading paragraph 349 in its entirety. Your annual conference has three years to develop and initiate a plan, so it may not begin until Jan. 2, 2020. You will want to know, however, what lies ahead.

Paragraph 350: Continuing Education

You have rights and responsibilities to take spiritual growth leaves. Learn how to request and account for fulfilling these opportunities.

Paragraphs 351-356: Leaves

There are a number of voluntary and involuntary leaves. Before you request one, find out what they entail and ask for the one you need. General Conference 2016 limited Transitional Leave to just one year. If you are between appointments, you may want to request a Personal Leave (paragraph 353.2a) instead.

Paragraph 356: Retirement

If you are approaching retirement, read this paragraph to learn when and how to ask for this relationship with the conference.

Paragraph 359: “Ineffectiveness” Remediation

If a bishop believes you are ineffective in your ministry, the bishop is required to follow a process to identify what she or he sees as your shortcomings and develop with you a plan for improvement. Know the process so you can fully understand the steps and make sure they are not overlooked.

Paragraphs 361-362: Complaint Procedures

There is a fair process for discontinuance of provisional membership, involuntary leaves or retirements, and administrative location (paragraph 359–see above). Likewise, there is one for complaints that a clergyperson has violated the sacred trust of the people. Even if you do not anticipate facing any of these situations, it is still worth the time to read through paragraphs. You may one day be on the Board of Ordained Ministry, or find yourself counseling a colleague. Again, know the process so you can advocate for your or others’ rights.

The Social Principles (Part V)

Given that the deacon’s ministry is one of compassion and justice, the Social Principles are among our key resources. It is worth reviewing these to refresh your memory as well as noting if there have been changes since you last read them. Many claims are made about what the Social Principles say; know how to check the facts.

Carve out a couple of hours to read these paragraphs. (It probably won’t take even that long.) Don’t be in the vulnerable position of asking others what The Discipline says and risk being told something inaccurate. And by knowing the Discipline, you will be a helpful guide for others as well.

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.)

By Rev. Amy Aspey

In his blog Do Less, Live More, Terry Hershey recounts this memorable Communion moment:

As Alan Jones celebrated Eucharist one Sunday, in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, he couldn’t help but notice a young man standing at the very back of the sanctuary. His clothing (atypical of “church attire”) and his uneasy demeanor gave him away. Alan could not tell if the visitor was entering, or wanting to leave.

Even so, the young man stood against the back wall for the entire service. As members of the congregation processed to the altar for the bread and wine, the young man waited, unmoved, at the back wall. His curiosity piqued, Alan made a point to seek out the young man. In conversation he learned that this young man lived on the city streets, that life had been unforgiving, and is now fighting a most formidable foe, AIDS. “We’re glad you are here,” Alan told him. “But why did you stay in the back of the church? Why didn’t you come down to the table for communion?”

“I didn’t think I would be allowed in,” the young man replied. (“Where Do We Hear the Voice of Grace?,” July 22, 2014).

Haven’t we all been there? An outsider looking in. Unsure if we belong. Feeling left out. Longing for an invitation. Playing the comparison game (me/them) and always coming up short. How many people in our communities and world are wondering, “Are we allowed in?”

Rev. Amy Aspey

Rev. Amy Aspey

Some of our predecessors in servant ministry (perhaps in a way the start of the Order of Deacon), Stephen and his co-workers, invited people in by extending Christ’s table out (see Acts 6:1-7). You may be thinking, where is the Table in this story? There is no specific mention of the Eucharist. I don’t believe, however, that when the Church responds to those in need, this can ever be separated from the holy feast. Perhaps, we could think of the seven’s ministry as being charged to become “living table leaves,” living extensions, in and of the Communion table.

When I was growing up, whenever our family had a large family meal, my mom always asked my dad, “Did you put the leaf in the table?”

It was critical to be sure that the extra space was added so that there was room for our guests. The leaves, those extra sections, extended the existing table so that others could join the feast.

Similarly, the heart of a deacon’s call is to live sacramentally. Ministry to those in need within the church and into the world can’t be separated from Christ’s ministry to us around his Table. Acts of compassion and justice are not separate from the Table; they are best understood as an extension of the Table.

In the text, it’s telling for our understanding of servant ministry that the seven are chosen to serve in a compassionate response to injustice. There was a growing racial tension within the church, which resulted in neglect of the poor. The Message phrases Acts 6:1-2 this way: “As the disciples were increasing in numbers by leaps and bounds, hard feelings developed among the Greek-speaking believers—“Hellenists”—toward the Hebrew-speaking believers because their widows were being discriminated against in the daily food lines.” People were being left out. Differences were becoming divisive. Leaves were needed in Christ’s Table because people were having trouble living the connections between the Communion table and the kitchen table.

While proclaiming the Word was not initially an aspect of this ministry, it didn’t take long before Stephen and others were known for preaching and miracles. Perhaps, this was because it is impossible to care for the poor, to love the neglected, to offer hope to the marginalized without proclaiming the Word. The Gospel of Jesus is always good news to the poor.

In our culture that kowtows to VIP titles, celebrates climbing the corporate ladder, clamors to be part of exclusive clubs, and measures worth by material possessions, the values of Christ’s table are confusing. Extravagant grace, radical love, transforming forgiveness and open-to-all are counter-cultural. When I began to understand deacon ministry as a means for extending Christ’s Table everything changed. All of the many beautiful ways of “doing”–creating community partnerships, leading teams in mission, serving in clothing rooms, sitting at a bedside in a mental hospital, preaching in prison, connecting our community to a Freedom School, equipping people in endless ways to live out their commitment as disciples of Jesus, when my heart bridged the serving with the sacrament–these acts of “doing” became a means for being and re-presenting Christ in the world.

When we understand our ministry as living leaves, which extend Christ’s table, acts of compassion and justice become the bread of life and the hungry are fed. Works of mercy and dignity become the cup of hope for those who are thirsty and the parched are renewed. Living out the vows of Word, Service, Compassion and Justice become the means by which additional places are set and each place card reads the name, beloved child of God.

May our servant ministry forever extend Christ’s Table out so all may know they are welcomed and invited to join us.

Rev. Amy Aspey, a deacon who is director of clergy leadership development for the West Ohio Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, preached this sermon to the Provisional Member Deacon Formation Event in October 2014.

They dress and look like their neighbors. But within their human appearance, deacons are empowered by the Holy Spirit to help transform the world into the realm of God.

They are more than meets the eye.

The Rev. Nick Nicholas never tires of seeing the result of combining his love of ministry and a passion for justice.

“You just know you’ve done something right when God, through the Holy Spirit, opens a person’s eyes to see things they ordinarily would not see,” he says.

TransformeriStockBrendanHunter

@iStock.com/Brendan Hunter

Nick is a deacon residing in Philadelphia who serves as coordinator of United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (VIM) in the Northeastern Jurisdiction. His secondary appointment is with at Arch Street United Methodist Church.

He is one of the deacons featured in the article “Deacons show Christ to a hurting world” in the Sept.-Oct. 2014 issue of The Interpreter magazine (the source of the above quote).

A number of other deacons are featured in this issue, which focuses on ministry in the United Methodist Church. It shows the breadth of ministry leadership that deacons provide.

Dr. Margaret Ann Crain speaks in another article in that issue about the ways deacons lead United Methodists in the denominational mission of transforming the world:

“One of the gifts of the order of deacon is that they have permission to stay focused on the ministry of all Christians and the transformation of the world,” says the Rev. Margaret Ann Crain, professor emeritus of Christian education at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and author of The United Methodist Deacon (Abingdon, 2014). “Because deacons are not focused on ordering the church, they have the freedom to focus elsewhere, specifically on the transformation of the world—or, to put it another way, to participate in bringing to fruition the reign of God. Deacons are always looking for opportunities to connect resources and people to needs in the wounded creation.”

Check out the issue and consider ordering extra copies for your ministry of helping people discern their ministry callings (whether those are lay or clergy callings).

Doris Dalton E PA

Doris Dalton

by Rev. Doris K. Dalton

I am an ordained deacon serving in the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference. I am currently serving in two deacon-elder ministry partnerships, in a primary appointment beyond the local church and in a secondary appointment developing a community of faith. Both of these appointments speak to God’s vision of ministry for me: extending God’s table of Love so that all can eat and be full.

District ministry

My primary appointment is to the Central District office in the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference as district resource assistant, and I work in partnership with the district superintendent. Generally, this means I manage the district office in supporting the work and vision of the district superintendent and provide resources to the churches in the District. We have a mutually beneficial working relationship as a deacon/elder team and as colleagues.

In my primary appointment to the district office, my ministry calling is to provide resources to congregations and clergy so they are able to fulfill their ministry purposes. In this way, I am able to fulfill my desire to make disciples and servant leaders through empowering the district superintendent, clergy, and congregations. Together, we are able to model what deacon/elder partnerships are able to accomplish across a district.

First love: economic justice

My secondary appointment is to the creation of a new faith community, Plumbline Community in Philadelphia, where I work with an elder. She is a church planter who is gifted in vision and worship and has a deep sensibility on how to call communities into existence. Together, we are doing the exciting work of foundation-building and planting seeds of a new community.

Here I have many opportunities to live out my “first love” of ministry, which is economic development and justice. In planting a community of faith, I am able to speak directly to my passion to create a ministry that is able to bring positive impact to the disenfranchised and marginalized. In the visioning process for planting a community of faith, I work with the vision team in establishing justice-oriented values and theological touch points that can guide this community of faith to live within the tension of diversity, multiculturalism and interculturalism. My elder colleague in this appointment and I share many common theological starting points, and we are enthusiastic about working together in this season of our ministry journey.

I have worked in partnership with three elders so far (my first deacon-elder partnership was in a local church in an economically oppressed area of Philadelphia). In all three of these partnership experiences, I have found that successful partnerships between deacons and elders require the following factors:

  • alignment of calling and vision
  • establishing communication agreements
  • understanding and respecting roles
  • know thyself
Aligning calling & vision

Each person of the ministry partnership must embrace his or her particular calling and vision for ministry. These callings and visions for ministry do not need to match, but they do need to align in order to accomplish the ministry purposes at hand. God brings deacons and elders together for a particular ministry purpose and for a designated ministry season, where these ministry callings and visions align for a time. In each instance where I “found” my ministry partner, it was truly more of a Holy Spirit movement than anything that my partner or I did to produce the partnership.

Communication agreements

Deacon-elder partnerships also work best when we have established agreements about the importance of communication. Just like that awkward stage when relationships are beginning to bloom, my elder and I would have that “moment” where we began to be honest with each other about our needs, vulnerabilities, sensitivities, and ministry desires. These conversations can be intentionally done in the beginning or occur naturally over time; however it is important to pay attention to each other and honor communication agreements once they are established. Each partnership is unique and evolving, therefore the parameters regarding communication are different. However, the similarities in communication boundaries are many: maintain open and honest communication, tell the truth, put aside personal agendas and ego, be honest about our vulnerabilities as well as our strengths, and hold each other in love. Good and intentional communication is vital for ministry partnerships.

Respecting roles

Another important factor involves understanding and respecting roles. Each partner in the ministry team is very clear on the roles and ministry of deacons and elders, how they are similar and different, complementary yet unique. This helps each person to respect boundaries as well as invite each other to live out their ministry callings to the fullest extent for the universal benefit of the ministry partnership. We are able to celebrate our unique gifts and roles and welcome other deacons and elders around us into that celebration.

Know yourself

Finally, knowing myself and being honest with myself allows me to approach ministry partnerships and collaborations with an elder colleague with confidence in my own power, my own authority, and my own abilities. It also allows me to give myself grace for my weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Working with an elder colleague with the same confidences of her own strengths, challenges, abilities and authority means that we are able to work together without fears of being rejected, manipulated, or undermined. One of the best things I ever did was to take a training session with one of my partnering elders on understanding our conflict modes and typical patterns of action and reaction in different situations. It allowed us to finally articulate why we work together so well, giving us a greater insight of how we can continue to effectively collaborate in the future. Once we are able to understand ourselves and each other, we have a better vocabulary for informing, inspiring and inviting others into deacon-elder ministry partnerships.

For deacons who are in the process of developing healthy partnerships with elders, I recommend that you continually develop self-awareness, be your best advocate, and establish good communication practices from the beginning. Also, be forgiving of your ministry partner’s challenges, and at the same time ensure you have boundaries to keep yourself healthy and balanced.

Start shifting the culture

For those who are looking for ways to promote deacon-elder partnerships within a district or conference, there are a number of things that can be done to begin this cultural shift.

  • Establish visibility that will allow you to share information about Deacons. One way to do this is to ask Deacons to serve in their roles at communion services and worship services at annual conference or district events. As people are able to visualize deacons and elders in their roles, the ability to imagine the possibilities of deacon-elder partnerships begins to rise.
  • Use opportunities to demonstrate the roles of deacons and elders together. Eastern Pennyslvania’s Bishop Peggy Johnson always brings a deacon with her when she visits churches within the conference. This allows her to share information about the roles of deacons in ministry and invite other elders to include deacons in their worship services. District superintendents can adopt this practice as well.
  • Hold retreats and training events that focus on deepening ministry partnerships and invite deacons and elders to attend for the purpose of strengthening existing ministry partnerships and creating potential ministry partnerships. Many elders are reluctant to engage in a deacon-elder partnership because the details and responsibilities can seem daunting. Demythologizing assumptions and sharing concrete details can provide for a smoother beginning to ministry partnerships.
  • Educate leaders first. Take or make opportunities to share information with district Committees on Ordained Ministry, conference Boards of Ordained Ministry, the bishop, and Cabinet. Sign up to lead trainings at district or conference laity training events, particularly those to target Staff-Pastor-Parish Committees.

A ministry partnership between a deacon and an elder is hard work because it requires collaboration and compromise between each other, and the willingness to understand one another. However, the benefits and rewards of a ministry partnership between the deacon and elder are exponential. We are able to work with mutual support instead of in isolation. Our efforts in ministry have a wider impact because of our collaboration rather than if we were operating on our own. We can share responsibilities that play to our gifts and talents while we develop new skills. Most importantly, our work together demonstrates the church’s capacity to touch and minister to the whole need of the world around us.

Rev. Doris Dalton is a deacon in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, serving in the Philadelphia area. She is called to extend God’s table of Love so all can eat and be full.

Our sacramental ministry

Deacons —  June 16, 2014

Often we hear that the difference between the ministry deacons and elders (and by extension, between elders and lay people) are the sacraments. We’ve heard it said that elders have “sacramental authority.”

The Rev. Sharon Rubey assisted with Holy Communion during opening worship at the 2008 United Methodist General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.  A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

The Rev. Sharon Rubey assisted with Holy Communion during opening worship at the 2008 United Methodist General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

To some, this phrase suggests that elders have a special relationship (perhaps even ownership) of the sacraments; that elders somehow care more than others do about the sacraments.

Maybe the sacraments do NOT constitute the dividing line between elders and all other Christians.

Rev. Taylor Burton Edwards, director of worship resources for the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Discipleship, challenges the accuracy of the term “sacramental authority” as applied to United Methodist ordination:

“The Ordinal of The United Methodist Church, true to our biblical ontology and understanding of the Spirit’s work in the world, in baptism, in Holy Communion and in ordination, nowhere posits the ordination of elders somehow transmits to these persons some sort of “substance” (Greek!) that brings with it what is often commonly referred to as ‘sacramental authority,”‘ Taylor notes in his blog post “Ordination, Pneumatology and Ontology, Part 3: Ordination and Sacramental Authority.”

He adds, “Perhaps it’s time to reclaim the fullness of what the Ordinal provides. ‘Take authority as an elder . . . to administer the Holy Sacraments . . .’ The work of presiding is not a right, but a service to the body, a solemn and joyous responsibility the body entrusts principally to the elders the Church has ordained.”

The sacraments (baptism and Eucharist) are God’s gifts to the church. They belong to all of us. We all practice them. Elders are responsible for administering them with care and providing the people of God frequent opportunity to practice them.

The deacon has a role, by Discipline, to assist the elder in the administration of the sacraments. The deacon’s ancient, early-church role of representing the church’s servant ministry (in worship and elsewhere) is as crucial as the elder’s role of representing the church’s priestly ministry. The two are interrelated aspects of Christ’s ministry (see Matt. 20:28, for example).

And of course, lay people, no less than clergy, have an essential role in sacramental practice. The liturgy—the work of the people—is essential to both sacraments. We have not practiced the sacraments when we have excised the crucial work of the people.

Deacons’ leadership both in these acts of worship and in ministries of compassion and justice connects the two. Deacons “interrelate worship in the gathered community with service to God in the world.” This service is one of love, justice, and service, “connecting the church with the most needy, neglected, and marginalized among the children of God” (United Methodist Book of Discipline, para. 328). By equipping the worshiper for compassion and justice ministries done in Christ’s name, we help the church live sacramentally in the world.

Rev. Dr. Dwight and Rev. Linda Vogel remind us that, according to Augustine, a sacrament is a “sacred sign” or a “visible word.” “In a sacrament,” the Vogels say, “a reality beyond our immediate apprehension is perceived by our senses. What we perceive is a sign of something more than what is immediately at hand. In them, a mysterious and transcendent reality comes into the world of our experience through signs/acts we perceive” (“Deacons as Sacraments of the Table,” by Dwight W. and Linda J. Vogel, © 2006).

“Deacons are ‘sacred signs’ and ‘visible words’ of the unity of service and justice with the ministry of grace,” the Vogels say. “Through embodying that unity in their own ministry, the Church can perceive in and through them a reality beyond our immediate apprehension.” (They encourage a similar analysis for the ministry elders and all the baptized.)

I urge deacons to claim their responsibility to act as sign/acts of God’s grace through Christ’s service. Teach elders what this means in the context of the partnership of worship leadership. Demonstrate it through the ways you follow the ordination charge to “take authority as a deacon to proclaim the Word of God and to lead God’s people in ministries of compassion and justice; in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Take responsibility for living and interpreting these sacramental ministries. In so doing you challenge the perception that sacraments are the property of a group of clergy. You equip all believers likewise to live sacramentally, to point to God’s grace, through their own worship and ministry.

Rev. Margaret Ann Crain, respected author of A Deacon’s Heart, has recently released The United Methodist Deacon: Ordained to Word, Service, Compassion, and Justice (Abingdon, 2014).

“I think one of the answers for this shrinking denomination [the United Methodist Church] is more deacons,” says Crain, professor of Christian education at Garrett-Evangelical Theological School.  “Deacons serve in that space between church and world. When they are based in the institutional church, they help turn United Methodists’ faces toward the world and their mission there. When deacons are based in the world, they represent the church in that place, doing ministry on our behalf. Their work is focused on the convincing the world of the reality of the gospel. When they succeed, the United Methodist Church is stronger and more vital.”

The new volume describes the clergy deacon’s calling, relationships, missional ministry, and role as an ordained clergyperson. It also clarifies common concerns related to appointment, compensation, and benefits.

“Every elder as well as deacon should have a copy in order to help people discern a call to the deacon, to know how to best deploy the gifts of a deacon, and the insure the rights as well as the responsibilities of a deacon,” Bishop Sally Dyck states as printed on the book’s cover.

“Margaret Ann Crain deftly brings together Bible, church history, and legislative initiatives with the stories of real people to help us see the gift and the opportunity we have to be more robust in our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” observes Bishop Gregory Vaughn Palmer, also in a cover quote.

Purchase a copy of the book at special discount. The cover price is $16.99, but the book can be purchased for $10 per copy (plus shipping; free shipping for bulk orders of 10 or more) from the Office of Deacon Ministry of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. Send a request for an order from to deacons@gbhem.org.

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.