Archives For Leadership

A Deacon’s Eye for Writing

Deacons —  June 14, 2017

by Rev. Darryl W. Stephens

How might writing augment your ministry as a deacon, leading congregations in interpreting the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world (Discipline 2016, para. 328)?

Rev. Darryl Stephens

We live in a world awash with words. Facebook posts, Twitter feeds, the 24-hour news cycle, countless websites, and books on every topic imaginable—anyone with anything to say, it seems, can contribute to the cacophony. Why, then, would a deacon choose to write as an expression of ministry?

It is tempting to claim silence as a counter-cultural witness, to hide behind the words so often attributed to St. Francis, “Preach Jesus, and if necessary use words.” Cannot our actions be our witness?

Yet, many of the most powerful influences in our lives come through the written word. The Bible, that theologian you read in seminary who stretched your thinking, a love letter, or a thank you note—written words powerfully express ideas and feelings. Other people’s writings help us interpret our world and God, who created it. Your writing can do the same.

The written word is an exercise of leadership, helping others see what you see as you look upon the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world in light of God’s good future.

As deacons, we share a distinct perspective, seeing the world though what I have called a “deacon’s eye” for compassion and justice. You don’t have to be as eloquent as Annie Dillard (The Writing Life) or Barbara Brown Taylor (The Preaching Life) to make writing a part of your ministry. You just have to be intentional about using the written word to communicate what you see, hear, and experience in your ministry.

I offer four encouragements:

  • Writing is a spiritual discipline. Writing, like prayer and peacemaking, is a spiritual discipline. It requires intentionality and practice. There will be many distractions and impediments. Start small and grow from there. Daily writing time can include personal letters, substantive emails, blogs, newsletter articles, and more. As you write, consider how your perspective as a deacon shapes and is shaped by the words you write. I find that writing helps me better understand my own spiritual journey.
  • Writing is a form of witness. Proclamation is not just for the pulpit. Your words indicate what is important to you. As a deacon, when you write, you write not only on your own behalf but also on behalf of the church that authorizes your ministry. Writing can be a powerful, public proclamation of what motivates you in the ministry of Word, Service, Compassion, and Justice. When you write about your ministry, you can proclaim not only what you do but also why you do it. God will speak through your words. People will be inspired and challenged.
  • Writing is a tool for justice. Words perform. There is no neat distinction between words and actions. When you write, your words have effect. To motivate others for the work of justice, your words do not have to be profound, poetic, or overtly prophetic in their advocacy. Trust your call. Your deacon’s eye gives you a distinct perspective on the world around you, a viewpoint that is inherently suffused with justice. Sometimes, just drawing attention to an overlooked injustice can be enough to stir others to meaningful action.
  • Writing is an exercise of leadership. As a commissioned or ordained deacon, you have a role as a servant leader, both in your congregation and in your community. No matter your area of specialization, writing will enhance your ability to lead, connecting the church and world in ways that only God can fully anticipate or understand. The written word is an exercise of leadership, helping others see what you see as you look upon the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world in light of God’s good future.

Isn’t that worth sharing? Isn’t that worth writing about?

Darryl W. Stephens is a deacon of the Texas Annual Conference and author of many articles and books about the church and its ministry. His most recent book, Methodist Morals: Social Principles in the Public Church’s Witness (University of Tennessee Press, 2016), is accompanied by a six-session study guide. Read his commentary “Christian ethics in volatile times,” which exemplifies his use of the “deacon’s eye” in writing.

 

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 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. 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.

 

 

The Center for Courage & Renewal invites young United Methodist clergy (deacons and elders age 35 and younger) to apply for “Courage to Lead for Young United Methodist Ministers: A 6-Month Leadership Intensive for Faith Leaders to Renew, Reflect and Reconnect.”

This Courage to Lead Intensive offers young faith leaders a rare opportunity to listen to God, connect deeply with committed peers, engage significant questions, and build their capacities for sustainable leadership over the long haul. Three separate cohorts across the country will meet in the Atlanta, Milwaukee and Denver areas for opening and closing retreats focusing on “Leading from Within” and “Habits of the Heart for Healthy Ministry.” Between retreats, small groups of five will engage in once-a-month facilitated Peer Learning Calls to deepen the learning and integrate principles and practices into their faith journeys and ministry contexts.

Courage to Lead for Young United Methodist Minsters is open to young clergy serving United Methodist congregations or in another ministry setting. The cohorts will primarily consist of, but not be limited to, men and women ages 35 and under. They are using an application process to allow us to convene dynamic and diverse cohorts, specifically attending to a diversity of ministry settings, race, gender and geographic representation. Applications are due by January 16, 2015.

Learn more at the Courage to Lead site.

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.

By Rev. Donnie Shumate Mitchem

I am an ordained deacon in the Western North Carolina Conference. I am in primary appointment as a psychologist who works with adolescents with mental health diagnoses in a Title One middle school (over 75 percent of the children in the school receive free or reduced- price lunch).

What place do I have in ordained ministry?

This was the question that I struggled with for years. I felt a call into the ministry; I would spend hours looking

Donnie Mitchem (third from right) joined other deacons on the 2014 Wesley Pilgrimage in England, led by the General Board of Discipleship.

Donnie Mitchem (third from right) joined other deacons on the 2014 Wesley Pilgrimage in England, led by the General Board of Discipleship.

at seminaries on line and then delete my viewing history because I did not want anyone else seeing this! But I did not feel that my call was to lead a church and to preach every week. Because of this I spent many years just thinking I was crazy and that there was no way that God was calingl me into the ordained ministry. Then through a series of unfortunate events, job loss, worries and lots of prayer I found myself in the office of Kathleen Kilbourne at Pfeiffer University reading paragraph 328 in the Book of Discipline: “Deacons fulfill servant ministry in the world and lead the Church in relating the gathered life of Christian to their ministries in the world . . .and lead the congregations in interpreting the needs, concerns and hopes of the world.” Ministry does not just have to happen in the church! My heart soared!

But wait—is this really ministry?

I went to seminary, I studied, I went to district committees on ministry and Boards of Ordained Ministry and passed tests and exams. But for a part of that time I think I felt like I “wasn’t a real minister.” I wasn’t working in the church like many of my colleagues and I wanted to defend my status or try to make myself legitimate to others in the ministry. Through prayer and reading and seeking God’s direction, I am now able to see my work ALL my work as ministry. A pivotal turning point was hearing Adam Hamilton speak about Church of the Resurrection and how they write letters and pray for teachers in their area. I felt a little spark inside me. This is something I could make happen in my community. Could it be that my call is to connect the church to the school? Is this even possible in this day and age?

And so it began

Today, I still get up five days a week and go to school and do individual therapy, group therapy, and family therapy. But I go to a school where every teacher receives cards from church members saying they are praying for them; this has been happening for three years. I go to a school where every sixth grader gets a book bag filled with school supplies that church members have packed and prayed over. I go to a school where we church members have cleaned the desks in the classrooms and prayed for the teacher and students who meet in those rooms.

Donnie Michem and children 2014 croppped

Donnie with children served by the church.

I now know that my distinct call is to connect the church that I worship in to this school that is less than a mile from our church. My church states that it wants to be a beacon for Christ in our community. To do this the church must go out into that community and find the needs in that community.

One story of transformation

One of the many things that I lead the church in doing is showing faith-related movies on Friday nights throughout the school year. We provide dinner, a movie and discussion. While I was cleaning up after we showed the film Unconditional, a parent came up to me and said, “Thank you so much for this movie.” “You’re welcome; glad you came,” I responded. But then she said “No, you don’t understand. God drew me here to hear this message. My husband died last year. This year my son died. I did not have any hope in the world and God drew me here to hear this message.” God uses this ministry in the cafeteria of a local school to draw people back to him.

Yes, this really is ministry

God calls the deacon out into the world to do ministry in ways that others are maybe confused about. But God calls us still. God calls us to use distinct gifts to lead the world to a Christ that heals, loves, and provides hope. Deacons who are called to do ministry beyond the walls of the church may struggle for a bit to try and see how they fit into the picture. You will have to stop and explain your ministry a few thousand times. But I believe that there is a place for us in the picture. It may require us taking a step back and looking at things a little differently but when we are faithful to God’s call GREAT things for the Kingdom happen.

Donnie’s secondary appointment is to Christ United Methodist Church in Charlotte, N.C.

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.

Deacons who are appointed beyond the local church also have appointments to a local congregation, where they are to take missional responsibility for leading other Christians into ministries of service. The Discipline does not say much about what such secondary appointments look like (¶331.5), leaving a lot of flexibility for the deacon and congregation to shape the appointment.

Plan your secondary appointment to meet your gifts, interests, and availability. If, like many deacons, you serve a demanding primary appointment beyond the local church, you certainly need not consider the secondary appointment an additional part-time job. Offer reasonable ways you can provide leadership.

Also consider entering into a secondary appointment covenant. This can confirm agreement on matters such as time commitment, office space, continuing education funds, worship participation, and more.

Here are just a few suggestions to get you thinking. Again, customize your ministry to fit your gifts, the church’s ministry priorities, and your availability.

  • Preach on occasion
  • Conduct weddings or funerals on occasion
  • Facilitate a seasonal study group (Lent, Advent, other)
  • Lead a spiritual formation group or a retreat on reflection/action
  • Assist in worship leadership/lead worship on occasion
  • Assist elder in the administration of the sacraments
  • Extend communion to those who cannot be present (see This Holy Mystery)
  • Inform the congregation about opportunities to participate in and support United Methodist missions
  • Share with the congregation (in worship, newsletter, other) prayer requests for needs in the community and world
  • Lead laypeople into a community ministry (one-time event or ongoing): food drive, disaster-relief kit drive; school-supplies drive, public-policy advocacy (contacting legislators about policy that affects those on the margins), environmental stewardship, clothing drive, mission trips, promote volunteer outreach opportunities
  • Train lay people in worship leadership practices (reading scripture, assisting with communion, etc.)
  • Serve as a chaplain at a shelter or community meal
  • Mentor and guide laypeople as they explore where God may be calling them into ministry (lay or ordained)
  • Mentor a confirmand
  • Lead a confirmation session/new membership session on discipleship & compassion ministries