Jamaica: Wesley Diaconal Community of the Methodist Church in Caribbean and the Americas
Website: Wesley Diaconal Community – MCCA
History (source: MCCA Deacons)
The starting point for the history of the Diaconate in Caribbean Methodism could begin in 1910 when deaconesses from the Methodist Church in Britain were stationed in Haiti to assist in the educational ministry of the church there. Unfortunately the work in Haiti was short lived.
It was not until 1928 that at the request of the Jamaica District two young Wesley Deaconesses were sent by the Women’s Work Department of the Methodist Missionary Society. These two deaconesses (Sister Jessie Kerridge and Sister Muriel Ellis) came brimful of ideas and enthusiasm to enhance the churches ministry with and among women and girls. Starting first in Kingston, but later spreading their influence throughout Jamaica, the deaconesses ministered among women and girls through the Girls’ League, Young Adventurers, Brownies, Girl Guides, camps and conference. Training Courses were held for young women and soon a regular feature of their ministry was the Easter Conference for the Girl’s League. Deaconess Sister Vera Gridley noted in the book Forever Beginning that the work of the deaconesses “was not merely for recreation and interest of girls and young women; always there was a goal in view – the development of a consecrated Christian leadership which would spread, far beyond the walls of the churches, out into community life . . .” The work and influence of the Wesley Deaconesses was soon to spread beyond Jamaica. Sister Jessie Kerridge visited many of the Districts in the eastern Caribbean. With the spreading of their work a strong ministry of Christian Education was encouraged throughout the region.
In 1939 the Wesley Deaconess Order of the West Indies came into being when a Jamaican, Elsie Bemand, offered herself for training and service as a deaconess. After Sister Elsie, many others were trained as deaconesses. Among those who came after Sister Elsie including Vera Richardson, Althea Jacobs, Julia Davis, Eileen Shanks, Cynthia Clare Hyacinth Boothe (who would latter become the first female Presbyter in the MCCA), Joyce Bailey, Amy Leslie, Olga Brooks Smith, and Erma Rose (this list is by no means exhaustive.)
The Deaconess Order was a religious order of lay women. While the deaconess was ordained she remained a lay person and not admitted to the meetings of the Ministerial Session.
With the autonomy of the MCCA in 1967, the Deaconess Order now became the Wesley Deaconess Order of the MCCA. The President of the MCCA was, ex officio, the President of the Deaconess Order. The deaconesses, however, would gather every four years for Convocation when they would, among other things, elect a Vice President from among themselves. The Vice President of the Deaconess Order was the main officer of the Order.
The anomaly of having a lay order of ordained persons continued in the church until 1997 when the Deaconess Order gave way to the Diaconate of the MCCA.
In 1997, the Connexional Conference made fundamental changes in the churches understanding of the ordained ministry. The Conference agreed that there was one ordained ministry in the MCCA which has two forms. One form being the diaconate and the other being the presbyterate. The Diaconate was to be made up of the former members of the Wesley Deaconess Order of the MCCA and all other persons who would have candidated for the Diaconate. The Diaconate would be open to men and women and the members of this form of ministry would be called deacons.
The Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas has one ordained ministry with two forms of ministry: presbyteral and diaconal. The two forms are to be equal in status with certain differences in focus and function. By stating that there was one ministry with two forms the church was affirming that the presbyter and the deacon would be equal in all ways and would differ only in how they function in the church.
The MCCA recognises deacons as a called, representative ministry. Deacons are defined as “representative” because they act under the authority of and “on behalf of” the MCCA and because they “re-present” or “present again” the ministry of Jesus Christ. While all Christians are called to do this, deacons are called to specialised forms of service. The church affirms that particular persons are called to “representative” ministries of leadership within the body in order to help all of the membership of the church fulfil their ministry of service. This representative ministry is in no way a substitute for the servant responsibility of each of the members of the church; instead it exists to intensify their servanthood by equipping them to serve more effectively in both the church and the world.
The ministry of Deacon is open to men and to women. The ministry of Deacon is not a required stepping stone to becoming a presbyter, although an ordained deacon may offer to become a presbyter.
Deacons can become members of the Wesley Diaconal Community.
Aim of Wesley Diaconal Community – MCCA: to empower and inspire deacons of the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas to a life of service through mutual support in prayer, counsel, communication and commitment to the evangelistic and social mission of the Church, and the promotion of human wholeness by presenting the liberating Christ through an evangelistic and social witness placing special emphasis on children and young people.
Marks of the Wesley Diaconal Community – MCCA
1. Affirmation of a sense of call
2. The Apostolic Life permeated by the Holy Spirit.
3. Evidence of Wesleyan Spirituality
4. Contemporary approach to ministry
5. Commitment to Intercessory prayers
7. Mutual fellowship and support
8. Affirmation of the diversity and gifts of all people
9. Relationship with other Diaconal communities, regional and international
Membership will be comprised of deacons of the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas.
Key focus areas for ministry
Evangelistic and social witness in the following ways:
1. Through training, seminars and other means of spiritual building call the young to discipleship, consecration and commitment.
2. Advocate/Coordinate/Support programmes for young people and children.
3. Sensitize young people and children to the needs in their communities, teaching them how they can be a part of the church’s response to these needs.
4. Promote youth and children’s work to enrich the spiritual life of the Church through culture: dance, drama, music, etc.
5. Make use of study materials recommended by Conference.
6. Evangelize and train adults for leadership among the young.
The varied nature of the diaconal ministry means that no two appointments are the same, and no two days are ever the same for the deacon. Most deacons are presently stationed in Circuit appointments, in some cases the deacon may be in a Circuit by him/herself. Some deacons may be in specialized appointments as District Directors of Mission and Education or teaching Religious Education in a Methodist High School. Some deacons, although not appointed by the Methodist Church to these capacities, serve as Librarian at Theological College and a Welfare Officer for the army of one of the Caribbean nations.
The Deacon in whatever station, appointment or occupation seeks to connect the Church with the world. They serve “many who but for (them) may never have a Christian friend.”
In the MCCA, deacons are ordained to such spheres of Christian service as the Connexional Conference may determine. As such deacons may serve
* to assist God’s people in worship and prayer
* to hold before them the needs and concerns of the world
* to minister Christ’s love and compassion
* to visit and support the sick and the suffering
* to seek out the lost and the lonely
* to help those served to offer their lives to God.
Taking as their model the way that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, deacons help people to understand the nature of God’s love and healing through acts of loving kindness. They encourage people to realise that by serving others in His name they also encounter and are served by God.
Free from responsibility for pastoral charge of churches, deacons are able to work at grassroots, alongside people within and beyond the Church community and to offer a prophetic voice from the margins.
Deacons seek to connect faith with life in today’s world in such a way that people are encouraged to articulate their experience and deal with the practical problems they encounter. They draw attention to and help interpret God’s activity in the world and daily life. There is a distinctive quality to the ministry of witness when it is not primarily linked to formal preaching, but maintains a vital link to the experience of the people who are being served.
Whilst a presbyter serves through the ministry of pastoral responsibility and pastoral charge of congregations, a deacon focuses on new and distinctive ways of serving the church and community.
A deacon’s main focus is to take care of the community’s needs and to help God’s people make the most of their faith in every day life whilst a presbyter focuses more on the delivery of God’s word to the community.
Many deacons, like presbyters, preach, teach and exercise leadership but their main emphasis is on pastoral care, teamwork and outreach. They sometimes work with community organisations and can be involved in ecumenical projects. They can encourage growth in faith and the development of skills of service.
Deacons have the privilege of belonging to a community of Deacons in the Wesley Diaconal Community of the MCCA which is a religious community.
Recognition by the church
Deacons are ordained to a permanent, lifelong commitment to the Church. Those ordained are working on behalf of, and answer to the Connexional Conference. Their title is Deacon.
Training and formation.
The MCCA has established requirements for entrance into this form of ordained ministry. Candidates for the itinerant ordained ministry of the MCCA receive their training and formation in Jamaica at the United Theological College of the West Indies, UTCWI.All Deacons are itinerant ministers.
At the United Theological College of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica, the Methodist Church joins with eleven (11) Christian denomination for the formation and training of men and women for the Christian Ministry in the Caribbean and the Americas.
At UTCWI the candidate is considered to be a ministerial student and is under the direction of the Methodist Tutors at the College. The Methodist students at the UTCWI are expected to participate fully in the life of the College and to maintain the balance between the academic work and Church assignment. The students are each year appointed by the Senior Methodist Tutor to various Circuits and Methodist Institutions in Jamaica as part of their formation.
An annual report is made on each Methodist Student to the Connexional Commission of Ministry. While at the UTCWI the Methodist student is expected to complete the Diploma in Ministerial Studies. However, the student may also take the opportunity to complete the BA (Theology) degree from the University of the West Indies.
After leaving UTCWI the students will then begin the period of probation and will become Probationer Ministers. This is usually for a period of two years.
Continuing Education and Convocation
The Convocation of the Wesley Diaconal Community-MCCA is held every three years. The last one was held in the St. Maarten Circuit, Leeward Islands District from October 3-10, 2011.
Other information that may be collected includes (but is not limited to) the following questions.
A brief history (may include links to documents and websites) – how did it all get started? What are the key dates and events? Are there documents that are part of the history (please specify)?
Does the diaconal ministry agent wear a distinctive uniform? Are diaconal ministry agents able to be married? Are they remunerated? Do they live in community (eg motherhouse) or independently? Etc.
How many diaconal ministry agents are there currently in the denomination or church agency? Any comment on trends in numbers?
Are there key people (historical or current) in the organization who have provided significant leadership. Any weblinks to their story, or a short write up?
Who are the current leaders in the diaconal association? (photos, ‘blurb’).
Are diaconal ministry agents able to preside at sacraments (communion, baptism, weddings etc)?
Who makes the appointments for diaconal ministry agents eg they apply for positions, they are appointed (eg by a Bishop, by the conference office, or another body/committee).
Is there a length of time for appointments (eg usually less than 5 years, usually between 5 and 10 years, at the discretion of the diaconal ministry agent or at the discretion of the appointing body), appointed to and remain with a particular mother house, etc.
Key issues and challenges in the contemporary ministry context
Do the diaconal ministry agents have ‘code of conduct’ or ‘code of ethics’ that inform ethical and behavioral expectations for ministry?
Key documents (historical, vision and mission etc) – links or PDF or Word files
Links to relevant articles, websites etc
Other areas of interest……
(information to Rev Sandy Boyce, President, DIAKONIA World Federation, firstname.lastname@example.org, to upload to this website)