|Bishops adopt guidelines for granting deacons sacramental authority|
The Rev. Sharon Rubey, director of candidacy and
conference relations for the United Methodist Board Higher Education and
Ministry, prepares to serve Holy Communion April 23 during opening
worship at the denomination's 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth,
Texas. A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose.
A UMNS Report
By Linda Green*
Nov. 13, 2008 | ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga.
The United Methodist Council of Bishops has approved guidelines for
interpreting the circumstances for allowing deacons to administer Holy
Communion and perform baptisms.
The new sacramental authority for deacons -- granted by the
denomination’s top legislative body at the 2008 General Conference --
becomes effective in January.
The Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church
adopted guidelines for granting deacons sacramental authority during a
Nov. 2-7 meeting at historic Epworth By the Sea in St. Simons Island,
Ga. Nov. 13, 2008. A UMNS photo by Linda Green
According to the bishops, the new sentence in Paragraph 328 that describes the ministry of the deacon in the United Methodist Book of Discipline
— “does not fundamentally change the sacramental privileges of the
order of deacons.” That sentence reads: “For the sake of extending the
mission and ministry of the church, a pastor-in-charge or district
superintendent may request that the Bishop grant local sacramental
authority to the deacon to administer the sacraments in the absence of
an elder, within a deacon’s primary appointment.”
Meeting Nov. 2-7 at historic Epworth By the Sea, the bishops said the
new language is an attempt to describe the extraordinary missional
reasons that justify exceptions to general church practice. However, in
all cases, the Discipline gives the bishop final discretionary
authority to decide under which circumstances to grant local sacramental
authority to a deacon, they noted.
Deacons are called by God to a lifetime of servant leadership and to
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, said the delegates to the 2008
General Conference. Deacons give leadership in the church’s life, teach
and proclaim the word, contribute in worship and assist the elders in
administering the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion.
According to the bishops, “local sacramental authority” refers to the
primary field of service of the deacon, meaning the immediate community
of faith for a congregational appointment or the primary service
setting and community for deacons serving beyond a local church.
While the guidelines are the bishops’ attempt to find common ground
in implementing and interpreting Paragraph 328, the Rev. Jerome King Del
Pino, the top executive of the United Methodist Board of Higher
Education and Ministry, said the new sentence in the Discipline “alters significantly the nature and purpose of the order of the permanent deacon as enacted by the 1996 General Conference.”
Shift in 1996
The ordering of ministry underwent a major shift in 1996 when that
General Conference created two distinct clergy orders – deacons and
elders. Previously, ordination to the order of deacon was a preparatory
step to ordination as an elder. According to Del Pino, the 1996 creation
of the order of deacon “was crystal clear that the order was to engage
in radical forms of service and not replicate duties of the pastoral
The new guidelines adopted by the bishops states that “The church
provides for administration of the sacraments through the ordinary
sacramental authority invested in ordained elders, licensed provisional
clergy, and licensed local pastors, and the new language gives guidance
for the extraordinary circumstances that require the provision of the
sacraments by Deacons.”
The Rev. Jerome King Del Pino
Absence of an elder refers to the unavailability of an elder in the
congregation or community and is “not for the convenience of church
staffs or to fill gaps during vacation, but to assist in the
extraordinary circumstance where no elder can be present,” they said.
While the guidelines are to assist residential bishops in
interpreting and implementing “local sacramental authority,” Del Pino
urges the council “to take a strong minimalist approach to implementing
this truly extra-ordinary innovation that has been introduced into our
The additional sentence, he said, “upstages and presupposes” the
outcome of the work of a 28-member Commission to Study Ministry that is
examining the theological, ecclesial and practical groundings of the
church’s system of lay, licensed and ordained ministry.
The commission is to present the 2012 General Conference with
legislation that addresses the ordering of ministry, the separation of
ordination and conference membership, and the streamlining of the
ordained ministry candidacy process.
Del Pino said he fears that no amount of common ground the bishops
develop for implementing the provision extending sacramental authority
will compensate for having initiated this church-defining practice
before the study commission completes its work.
He also is concerned the guidelines will introduce unnecessarily
complications into existing ecumenical relationships and initiate a
practice that, if found to be inappropriate by the next General
Conference, will not easily be reversed.
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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