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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Petition 60365, from General Board of Higher Education and Ministry
Would clarify that all Basic Graduate Theological Studies courses must be completed before ordination.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Petition 60373, from the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry
This is the companion legislation to 60369 (above).
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.
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.”
Petition 60377, from General Board of Higher Education and Ministry
Would limit Transitional Leave to just one year, non-renewable.
Petition 60656, from Laura J. Barlett, Ore.
This would require that clergy on medical leave identify a charge conference relationship.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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
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.