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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.