|Commission wants further study of church?s ministry|
Bishop Neil Irons and the Rev. Barrie Tritle listen to
discussion on a proposed 2008 General Conference resolution requesting
four more years of study on the ordering of ministry within The United
Methodist Church. A UMNS photo by Linda Green.
By Linda Green*
May 17, 2007 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)
The commission charged with clarifying the ordering of ministry
within The United Methodist Church will carry a resolution to the 2008
General Conference calling for four more years of study.
Created by the 2004 General Conference, the 25-member Ministry Study
Commission sought to address the "continued ambiguity in the
denomination’s understanding of lay, licensed, and ordained ministry"
and is to bring conclusions to the April 23-May 2, 2008, gathering in
Fort Worth, Texas.
The commission's resolution will include items the commission has
consensus and major agreement about and will test the proposals with the
church, said Bishop Neil Irons, retired, who chaired the May 10-11
commission meeting in Nashville. The resolution calling for further
study, if approved, will be followed by a study document suggesting
adjustments to the church's current ministry.
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.
"We have had major changes in the ways in which we order and
understand our ministry in very recent years," said Irons, of
Mechanicsburg, Pa. "So we are not rushing to a conclusion, but are
offering some suggestions as to what we think may help us go the next
step for ordering our ministries for the 21st century."
The commission has reached consensus on the process by which a
candidate comes to ordination and full conference membership. It also
agreed that the 1996 legislation making commissioning the first step
toward ordination is problematic.
The panel says the process for entry into ordained ministry and full
conference membership needs to be more timely, efficient, encouraging
and motivating, as well as more relevant to age and life experience.
Many candidates complain that the current process is too long and
cumbersome, according to a group working with younger clergy and
In the study document, the commission proposes separating ordination
from entrance into full connection in the life of the church. Currently,
a commissioned deacon or elder is voted into full conference membership
and then ordination follows in the annual conference session.
The commission agrees that a candidate first will be ordained either
as deacon or elder, and then must serve two years in residence under the
supervision of the cabinet and the board of ordained ministry before
being eligible for full conference membership. According to paragraphs
329 and 333 of the 2004 United Methodist Book of Discipline,
deacons and elders in full connection are in a covenant relationship
with all ordained individuals within the annual conference.
The commission also agrees that educational requirements for
ordination need to be adjusted. It proposes ordaining candidates at the
point of completing one-half of the educational requirements upon
recommendation of the board of ordained ministry and approval by the
clergy session. Their conference membership status then would be elder
or deacon in probationary connection. Once the education requirement is
completed, they would begin a residence program in the annual
conference. Once completed, application could be made to the board of
ordained ministry for full membership in the annual conference.
"That will be a dramatic change for us," Irons said.
"We feel that this is such an important issue that the whole church
needs to look at it for a longer period of time with a degree of
seriousness and receive feedback responses from all quarters of the
church including the central conferences," Irons said, referring to
those United Methodist conferences outside of the United States.
One concern is the language describing the probationary period before
becoming a full member of the annual conference. For younger people,
the term "probationary" is confusing because they associate it with
civil courts and the U.S. system of prisons and paroles. The commission
is exploring possible new language.
According to surveys and feedback from across the church, most elders
in The United Methodist Church were ordained deacon before being
ordained elder. "There is a strong desire on the part of many elders to
go back to that process," Irons said. "It is a procedure that we did
away with in 1996."
One question related to the 1996 ordering of ministry is whether the
church should reintroduce sequential ordination for elders but keep
ordination for deacons at only one step.
"We do have some ideas about things that ought to happen in the way
in which we deal with entrance systems into our ministries. So, this
study document will have some real specificity concerning some possible
changes that the commission thinks may be useful to the ministry," Irons
Previous reports from the commission were framed in the historic form
of Methodist conferences as "minutes of several conversations" and
offered eight recommendations about the way the church identifies and
credentials people for ordained ministry.
Irons said the church will continue to talk about the proposals
"which may lead us to some clearer understanding of whether we need to
take some radical steps or if we need to simply make some adjustments to
our current system," Irons said.
"Conversation is always important and even strong negative opinions
can sometimes help us find places where we are not ready yet to go or if
we were on the wrong path. … Those conversations will determine which
of these is not a dead-end street."
The resolution will ask General Conference to authorize a commission
to continue study of the issue – either by extending the work of the
current commission or creating a new one.
"We don’t have a sense that what we have done is anywhere near a
finished product. We think it is more important to look at an offering
of thoughtful response from the commission and participate in trying to
discern what God wants us to do with our ministry," Irons said.
Members of the current commission include representatives from
segments of the church’s ministry, including staff members from the
United Methodist boards of Higher Education and Ministry and
Discipleship and the Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious
In addition to Irons and Bishop William H. Willimon, Birmingham,
Ala., who chairs the Study Commission, the commission includes the Rev.
Philip Amerson, Evanston, Ill.; the Rev. Aslam Barkat, Morgantown, Va.;
the Rev. Kenneth H. Carter Jr., Charlotte, N.C.; the Rev. David A.
Dodge, Lakeland, Fla.; the Rev. Holger Eschmann, Reutlingen, Germany;
the Rev. Delia P. Estrada, San Antonio, Texas; the Rev. Grant Hagiya,
Los Angeles; the Rev. Charles Hicks, Ripley, W.Va.; the Rev. Robert A.
Hill, Boston; Cecelia M. Long, Dayton, Ohio; J. Rose McLean, Anchorage,
Alaska; the Rev. Rebekah Miles, Dallas; Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa, Harare,
Zimbabwe; and the Rev. Barrie Tritle, West Des Moines, Iowa.
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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