Ministry commission identifies issues, sets timeline for work
|A UMNS photo by Vicki Brown
Bishop William H. Willimon (left) listens to consultant Thomas E. Frank at a Study of Ministry Commission meeting in Nashville.
May 1, 2006
By Vicki Brown*
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) — A planned report by the commission studying
ministry in the United Methodist Church aims to bring clarity to issues
surrounding the theology of ordination.
The commission also intends to clear up confusion about sacramental authority and conference membership.
"Hopefully, the report will help us come to agreement on issues we
need to bring to the table – ordination and conference membership. A
theological and ecclesiological understanding of these will lead the
commission in its decision making," said the Rev. Mary Ann Moman, a
staff member at the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and
Ministry and a member of the Study of Ministry Commission.
The commission expects to have a first draft of the report this
summer from its consultant, the Rev. Thomas E. Frank, professor of
religious leadership and administration and director of Methodist
Studies at Candler School of Theology, Atlanta. The draft will
incorporate issues identified during a three-day meeting April 27-29, as
well as comments continuing to come in from the focus groups and survey
|A UMNS photo by Vicki Brown
the commission meeting, the Rev. Patricia Barrett, with the United
Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, talks with Zimbabwe
Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa.
In addition to ordination, sacramental authority and conference
membership, the commission identified four other issues to address:
recruitment of people in the under-35 category of non-itinerant elders
who might be appointed; lifelong learning requirements and a shorter
probationary period; educational requirements for conference membership;
and licensing deacons for pastoral ministry.
The 2004 General Conference established the commission because of the
questions and concerns 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
Bishop William H. Willimon, who chairs the commission, expressed
concern about the increasing number of restrictions in the
denomination's Book of Discipline regarding qualifications for ministry.
Bishop William H. Willimon
"I've been increasingly concerned about the tendency of General
Conferences in the last few decades to intrude themselves into the
examination and credentialing of our clergy. I believe that we have to
leave maximum flexibility for the annual conferences to perform their
historic role of forming the ministry in the light of their specific
needs," said Willimon, bishop of the denomination's North Alabama Annual
Moman said the commission also created a timeline that calls for a
final draft of the report to be presented to board's elected directors
in March. The board will consider changes, as well as possible
legislation for the 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas. An
online survey and focus group discussions about the ordering of ministry
are still under way. So far, about 1,100 people have responded to the
survey, which can be accessed at www.gbhem.org.
The Rev. Mary Ann Moman
The Rev. Grant Hagiya said the commission needs to explain the
theological foundation behind current practices. He is superintendent of
the Los Angeles District of the California-Pacific Annual Conference
and a member of the ministry study commission.
"We think the church is confused because it's not presented to them
in a way that's a practical understanding. If we can do that, we can
provide a great service to the church," he said.
"We have a dual ecclesiology, Catholic in that we have bishops and
elders, but Protestant in that we have deacons and local pastors," he
said. "There's a healthy tension about this, but it also points to the
practical ways we need to deal with polity."
*Brown is an associate editor and writer in the Office of
Interpretation, United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.