Ministry commission puts recommendations, survey online
A draft report by the Study of Ministry Commission for the 2008 General Conference proposes eight recommendations about the ordering of ministry, including the creation of three classifications of ordained elders and separation of ordination from full conference membership.
The report, which is framed in the historic form of Methodist conferences as "minutes of several conversations," is available at www.gbhem.org, along with an online survey for reactions to the report.
"The commission is determined to draw on the collective insight and wisdom of all United Methodists in preparing this important report. And so we offer this initial draft of the report for examination and comment," said Bishop William H. Willimon, who leads the denomination's Birmingham (Ala.) Area and chairs the Study of Ministry Commission. "The commission will consider all contributions in preparing the final document."
The commission is inviting people to read the report and take the online survey by logging onto the Web site and clicking on the Study of Ministry button.
A catalyst for discussion
The Rev. Mary Ann Moman, a commission member and staff executive with the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry's Division of Ordained Ministry, said the draft reflects the commission's work in addressing the General Conference request to bring clarity to the ordering of ministry.
"We are pleased with the Wesleyan model of questions and response. It is our expectation that this teaching document will become the catalyst for The United Methodist Church to discuss these important issues," Moman said.
The commission recommended classifications of itinerant elder, associate elder and local elder. Itinerant elder is essentially the same as the current classification of elder. All three could administer the sacraments, but associate elders and local elders could do so only in the charge to which they are appointed.
Additional key points
The other recommendations:
- Pastors-in-charge who are not ordained as elders will be licensed lay pastors. This will incorporate certified lay ministers, student local pastors, part-time local pastors and full-time local pastors who have not completed either the denomination's Course of Study or a master of divinity degree.
- Every licensed lay pastor shall be authorized, blessed, and sent out annually for his or her appointment through a liturgy to be conducted at annual or district conference each year.
- The United Methodist Church must sustain the traditional Wesleyan understanding that the authority to celebrate the sacraments derives from ordination as an elder by the presiding bishop upon election by an annual conference. Therefore, licensed lay pastors shall not administer baptism or Holy Communion in the charges to which they are appointed. Itinerant elders designated as presiding elders shall be assigned by the cabinet to circuits of local churches served by licensed lay pastors to administer the sacraments on a regular, rotating basis. The bishop may grant provisional authority to administer the sacraments to certain licensed lay pastors under exceptional circumstances, in order to advance the mission of the church in a particular place. Deacons are not ordained to administer the sacraments but to assist in their administration and to lead the congregation in extending the table of Holy Communion into the world.
- Deacons and itinerant elders will be ordained at the conclusion of educational and examination requirements rather than at the end of a probationary process. This realigns ordination and conference membership, granting sacramental authority to at least an additional 2,000 pastors under appointment in any given year. Under the commission's proposal, these ordained elders and deacons will have full authority for ministry. Elders will continue on trial to become full members of the Order of Elders, while deacons will also be on probation for a period.
- Elders shall be ordained to Word, Sacrament and Order, while deacons are ordained to Word and Service.
- All deacons and itinerant elders will be reviewed every five years by a group of peers from within their respective annual conference orders.
- The commission will propose that 2008 General Conference authorize a study of the diaconate during the 2009–2012 quadrennium, including a review of how the office is being practiced across the connection and what challenges remain in fulfilling the potential of the office of deacon.
Concerns at General Conference
The draft incorporates issues identified by the commission, as well as comments from the focus groups and results from an earlier survey.
The 2004 General Conference established the commission because of questions, concerns and uncertainty regarding the two ordained clergy orders — deacons and elders — and local pastors. Both the 2000 and 2004 General Conferences received a large number of petitions related to certified lay ministers, local pastors, deacons and elders. The Study of Ministry Commission was established to "theologically discuss and clearly define the ordering of our shared life together in The United Methodist Church."
*Brown is an associate editor and writer in the Office of Interpretation at the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
News media contact: Tim Tanton, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.