USA: United Methodist Church Diaconal Ministry
UMC Deacons and Diaconal Ministers website.
Youtube clip on Deacons in the UMC (Ordained deacons talk about their ministries in local churches and in appointments beyond the local church. The unique service ministry of the order of deacon is highlighted as well as the variety of settings in which deacons can serve)
Quarterly Review – Deacons in the UMC
Margaret Ann Crain, The United Methodist Deacon: Ordained to Word, Service, Compassion and Justice
The blurb: “The United Methodist order of deacon represents the ever-evolving understanding of ordained ministry. But because of the continual changes, there is confusion about the call, roll, identity, and tasks of deacons. With vivid examples, this book gives a clear understanding of the order of deacon, beginning with a discussion of how its unique call sets apart persons for ordained ministry”.
“Increasingly more people are hearing the call to the diaconate. This makes sense, as the church becomes less institutional and more a covenant community of people who speak about and live out the good news for the poor for the transformation of the world. Deacons have the calling and skills for partnering with elders and laypeople for imagining active, spiritually vibrant churches that bring God’s grace to people where they are. Deacons are an important part of leading the church into a future that will always be marked by change and the unexpected”. (Rev Victoria Rebeck) (note: use of the word Elder below is the term used to signify the UMC Pastor/Minister)
What is a Deacon in the UMC?
There are several offices of ordained and licensed ministry within the United Methodist Church. Elders (pastors) are ordained to Word, Service, Sacrament, and Order, and most serve as parish ministers. Licensed local pastors and associate member local pastors also pastor churches (but are not ordained). Deacons are ordained to Word, Service, Compassion and Justice. Deacons are men and women who lead the church in relating Christians to their ministries in the world through worship leadership, preaching, teaching, nurturing spiritual vitality and leading ministries of service, love, and justice. They may work primarily in congregations or they may work primarily in settings like hospitals, social-service agencies, mission agencies, schools, counseling centers, denominational agencies, and more. Learn more about how deacons serve and lead.
Deacons are appointed by the bishop to ministry that connects the worshipping congregation to the needs of the community. In connecting the worshipping community to the needs of the world, Deacons exemplify Christian discipleship, create opportunities for others to enter into discipleship, and assist lay people as they find their places of ministry, particularly ministry to the marginalized in the world.
History The UMC diaconal ministry grows out of the Wesleyan passion for social holiness and ministry among the poor. The ministry of the deacon is a faithful response of the mission of the church meeting the emerging needs of the future. Deacons are accountable to the annual conference and the bishop for the fulfillment of their call to servant leadership. (2012 Book of Discipline paragraph 328, page 246)
In 1996 the General Conference of the United Methodist Church underwent a major re-ordering of ministry with the creation of an Order of permanent Deacons ordained to Word and Service. Many former lay diaconal ministers were ordained into the diaconate.
In 2012, the UMC General Conference clarified this to Word, Service, Compassion and Justice. Before this time individuals were ordained as transitional deacons prior to being ordained as elders (pastors). Ordination as Deacon served as a stepping stone, a provisional period before becoming an elder within the United Methodist Church. After creation of the Order of Deacons, the church ceased consecrating diaconal ministers. The Order of Deacon is unique from the Order of Elder and charged with the task of connecting the church and the world. Today Deacons are ordained to a lifetime of ministry and serve in various roles inside and outside the church.
“After the change in the ordering of ministry, I heard my calling in the order of deacon. Leading the church in its call to serve the neglected and rejected, helping lay people discern their calls to ministry, and using my ministry of the word—which I identified as primarily the written word—sounded like the ministries I was already practicing. What ordination gave me was a covenant of accountability to the greater church, the conference, and to others in an order. In 2000, after much pondering and occasionally a bit of hesitation because of the greater responsibility to the church, I became a deacon and full clergy member in the Northern Illinois Conference”.
Read some of Rev Victoria Rebeck’s call to ministry here. Victoria is director of deacon ministry development, provisional membership, and certification programs for the United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
Note: the UMC used to have a lay office called Diaconal Minister, and there are still some in active ministry, but the UMC no longer consecrates new lay diaconal ministers.
Wellsprings Journal: The Misunderstood Deacon
Diaconal ministry agents are ordained, and known by the title Rev.
Here is a link to the ordination service for a Deacon. United Methodist Deacons hold membership in the annual conference.
A deacon is appointed by the bishop. A deacon is non-itinerant. His or her appointment may be initiated by the deacon, an agency seeking his or her service, the bishop, or the district superintendent. Deacons may be appointed to paid or unpaid ministries. There is no set term for an appointment.
Deacons may be married. They do not live in a diaconal community. They do not wear a distinctive uniform, and may wear the diaconal stole.
(2014) There are currently approximately 1,900 active United Methodist clergy deacons in provisional or full membership. There are approximately 380 retired clergy deacons. There has been an average of 65 deacons ordained annually since 2001.
Placements Deacons may be appointed to serve as their primary field of service:
- agencies and settings beyond the local church, including ecumenical agencies, that extend the witness and service of Christ’s love and justice in the world and connect the church with the most needy, neglected, and marginalized
- United Methodist-related agencies, schools, colleges, theological schools, and within connectional structures of the denomination
- congregations, charges, or cooperative parishes, where they participate in leading the congregation’s mission to the world and equipping all Christians to fulfill their calls to Christian service.
Rev. Delana Taylor McNac of Tulsa, Oklahoma, helps hospice patients find loving foster homes for pets through the ministry Pet Peace of Mind.
Here are two youtube clips to view: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Q3namLRmjA
When deacons serve in an agency or setting beyond the local church, the Bishop, after consultation with the deacon and the pastor in charge, shall appoint the deacon to a congregation where they will take missional responsibility for leading other Christians into ministries of service (a “secondary” appointment). Usually, the deacon and lead elder will converse in advance about how their ministry partnership will operate in that setting, the deacon will request the appointment of the bishop, and the deacon and lead elder will develop a covenant of understanding with the congregation’s Staff/Pastor-Parish Relationships Committee.
What is the process for becoming a UMC Deacon?
First, if you know people serving as ordained United Methodist deacons, talk to them about your interest and ask them about their own sense of call to the deacon’s ministry. Then, contact your church’s pastor and let her or him know you are considering this calling. Your pastor will refer you to the district superintendent, who may recommend you to become an inquiring candidate. Once you are approved by the District Committee on Ministry to become a certified candidate, you will explore your call with a mentor, talk to others in ordained ministry, and complete your education.
Once you have satisfactorily completed the candidacy process, your District Committee on Ordained Ministry may recommend you to the conference Board of Ordained Ministry for commissioning as a provisional clergy member. After a provisional membership period of two to eight years, you may be eligible for ordination and full clergy membership in the conference.
Resources to help you as you consider whether you are called to ministry as an ordained deacon:
The United Methodist Deacon, by Margaret Ann Crain (order by sending a message to email@example.com).
The Christian As Minister, published by General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. This can be ordered from cokesbury.com.
Learn more about the process here.
Description of a call to diaconal ministry in the UMC
“Call” is God’s invitation to use God-given gifts and talents to minister in the church and in the world. A deacon is called to serve all people, particularly the poor, the sick, and the oppressed, and to equip and lead the laity in ministries of compassion, justice, and service in the world. The deacon’s leadership role exemplifies Christian discipleship, creates opportunities for others to enter into discipleship, and connects the church’s worship with its service in the world. Help in determining God’s call and specific resources are available at www.explorecalling.org.
“All in the congregation are participants in the ministry of offering praise and worship to God and in the servant work of mutual ministry. The terms presiding minister and assisting minister describe the work of those who lead and assist the congregation.” (“This Holy Mystery,” General Board of Discipleship, 2004)
Deacons are fully authorized to
- lead worship
- conduct funerals
- conduct weddings (registration for state authorization to officiate state-recognized marriages)
A bishop may grant a deacon local sacramental responsibility in situations where an elder is absent. “Those who lead worship—elders, deacons, and other leaders—should reflect in the liturgy their call and vocation in the church and the world.” (“The Role of Deacons and Assisting Ministers,” by Daniel T. Benedict, Jr., and M. Anne Burnette Hook; in Worship Matters, Vol. I, ed. by E. Byron Anderson, Discipleship Resources, 1999). As presiders, elders (and local pastors) remind the faithful of God’s grace and lead the gathered faithful into renewed relationship with God and God’s people. Deacons, with ministry of connecting the faith community to the needs of the world, appropriately lead those portions of worship that reflect the ministries of compassion, and justice. Of course, the deacon may lead worship in other ways as well.
Leadership in Holy Communion
Article (2008): UMC grants Deacons sacramental authority
Deacons are to assist elders in providing the sacraments to the faithful. The United Methodist document “This Holy Mystery” (on the Eucharist) describes the roles that the elder, local pastor, and deacon serve in Holy Communion leadership that reflect their callings to connect the people to God and to send people out in ministry to the world. “In worship it is appropriate for deacons to lead, or recruit and support others to lead, those parts of the liturgy that manifest the connection between our worship and Christian witness in daily life,” according to “This Holy Mystery.” In addition to those items listed above, the deacon should lead (or train lay people to lead) by:
- Receiving the communion elements and preparing the table before the Great Thanksgiving
- Assisting the elder in serving the elements
- Setting the table in order after serving
- Preparing and assigning roles to other participants in the service
The elder and deacon might consult as they look over the liturgy to identify which portions communicate the church’s ministry to the world (deacon) and which communicate the relationship between God and the gathered community (elder). The elder appropriately says the epiclesis (invoking the blessing of the Holy Spirit on the gathered community and the communion elements). Because deacons serve as the bridge between the church and the world, “their ministry appropriately includes taking the consecrated elements from their congregations and serving them in their places of ministry,” according to “This Holy Mystery.” This includes taking the elements to the homebound or others unable to attend, and training laypeople for this ministry.
May 2016: Anticipated new wording (pending final version in printed 2016 Book of Discipline):
¶ 328. The Ministry of a Deacon—From among the baptized, deacons are called by God to a lifetime of servant leadership, authorized by the Church, and ordained by a bishop. From the earliest days of the church, deacons were called and set apart for the ministry of love, justice, and service and for connecting the church with the most needy, neglected, and marginalized among the children of God. This ministry grows out of the Wesleyan passion for social holiness and ministry among the poor. It is the deacons, in both person and function, whose distinctive ministry is to embody, articulate, and lead the whole people of God in its servant ministry. Deacons fulfill servant ministry in the world and lead the Church in relating the gathered life of Christians to their ministries in the world, interrelating worship in the gathered community with service to God in the world. Deacons give leadership in the Church’s life: in teaching and proclaiming the Word; in contributing to worship, in assisting the elders in administering the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion, or in presiding at the celebration of the sacraments when contextually appropriate and duly authorized; in forming and nurturing disciples; in conducting marriages and burying the dead; in embodying the church’s mission to the world; and in leading congregations in interpreting the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world. For the sake of extending the mission and ministry of the Church and offering the means of grace to the world, the resident bishop of the annual conference in which the deacon is appointed may authorize the deacon to preside at the celebration of the sacraments. Presiding at the celebration of the sacraments involves taking responsibility to lead the gathered community in celebrating baptism and Holy Communion. As members of the Order of Deacon, all deacons are in covenant with all other deacons in the annual conference and shall participate in the life of their order.
Deacons – Leadership in baptism
Deacons often lead the discipleship training and mission experience of the faithful. Because baptism, as the rite of initiation into the body of Christ, is also initiation into Christian ministry, it is most appropriate that deacons participate with elders in leading the baptismal liturgy. Arguably most points in the liturgy express the covenant of the faithful to active discipleship in the world and thus are appropriately led by deacons. It may be that the Apostles’ Creed and Thanksgiving over the Water in particular are most fittingly led by the elder, as these express God’s covenant of grace with the faithful.
Training, Continuing Education and Formation
A deacon may choose from four educational routes: bachelor’s or equivalent degree and a master of divinity or equivalent degree; bachelor’s degree and master’s degree from an approved school of theology or seminary; bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in area of specialization plus the basic graduate theological studies from a seminary ; or bachelor’s degree, professional certification in specialized ministry, and basic graduate theological studies (available to candidates older than 35). Learn more about educational requirements here.Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, offers, every other year in the odd-numbered years, a gathering called Deacon Dialogue. All deacons in candidacy, provisional membership, or full membership are invited to attend. Orders of Deacons in annual conferences may also organize events.
Code of Conduct and Discipline
As ordained clergy, deacons must meet the standards required of all clergy in The United Methodist Book of Discipline.Structure Each United Methodist annual conference has its own Order of Deacons, and each Order has its own chairperson.
Key issues and challenges in the contemporary ministry context
Between 1996 and 2000, several lay diaconal ministers were approved to be ordained as deacons. Many of these deacons had congregation-based ministries (Christian education, music ministry, youth ministry, children’s ministry, and the like.) As congregations shrink in membership, fewer hire clergy full-time for such ministries. Increasingly more deacons are employed beyond the local church in ministries through which they connect the worshiping congregation to the needs of the world.Many bishops, elders, and lay people continue to re-orient themselves to the United Methodist Church’s new (since 1996) understanding of the deacon. Deacons continue to interpret the order to the church and advocate for their ministries.
Key people (historical or current)
Rev. Margaret Ann Crain – read her story here.
Director of Deacon Support, United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry
Email: firstname.lastname@example.orgPhone: 615-340-7371
Web site here.
United Methodist Deacons Facebook page here.
United Methodist Deacons Twitter feed here.
General Info on Order of Deacons Email: email@example.com
(Correct as of 12th June, 2014. Amendments or additions to Rev Sandy Boyce, President, DIAKONIA World Federation, firstname.lastname@example.org)