The Order of Deacons (1996-2021)
At the 1996 General Conference of The United Methodist Church, the Order of Deacons was voted into existence. The church has long had a consecrated class of servant leaders known as Diaconal Ministers, Deaconesses, and Home Missioners. But they are not an ordained class of clergy ministers.
With the creation of the Order of Deacon, the doors were flung wide for more outreach and mission, especially with people living in the margins of society. Ordained Deacons can be in ministry anywhere and everywhere. Their mandate is to “connect the church to the world.” Thus, they are called to ministries of “Word, Service, Compassion and Justice.” (Book of Discipline, para. 329)
As ordained leaders, Deacons serve in conferences under the supervision of Bishops and cabinets, who officially set their appointments. They undergo the same rigorous examination process as Elders. And they must be elected to this office by the conference Board of Ordained Ministry and the Clergy Session of the annual conference. They also have higher education requirements to complete as part of their preparation.
2021 marks the 25th anniversary
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Order of Deacons. In the 12th year of their existence (2008), I was elected to the episcopacy. I have had the privilege of walking alongside the amazing Deacons of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference and the Peninsula Delaware Conference.
I stand in awe at the breadth of their ministries. They are:
- chaplains in hospitals, hospice, mental health and senior centers;
- teachers, professors and seminary directors;
- local church pastors, church musicians, Christian educators and missionaries;
- doctors, surgeons, hospital and disability services executives;
- directors of camps, retreat centers, food banks and volunteer mission trips;
- therapists and counselors;
- leaders in HIV/AIDS agencies, disaster recovery, immigration advocacy;
- church development consultants; and
- many more fields of leadership and service.
Deacons in ministries outside the local church also have secondary appointments in local United Methodist congregations. There they interpret the needs of the world to the congregation, as they call disciples to serve God’s people from the pews to the pavement, from the sanctuary to the streets.
Deacons also assist the bishop as needed. Many have accompanied me as I travel to churches on Sundays for preaching engagements. They read Scripture, tell the story of the Order of Deacons, and give the “sending forth” at the end of the service.
Wherever service is needed
They have assisted me and other elders during Holy Communion, Baptisms, and Ordination and Commissioning services. Their ordination gives them the privilege of conducting marriage ceremonies and officiating at funerals and celebrations of life. Wherever service is needed they offer the “basin and towel” of humble, self-giving ministry, out of love for Christ.
Even after 25 years of service, the Order of Deacon is still not understood in the minds of many. Generations of folks remember young preachers who were first ordained as Deacons, and after a probationary period became “full-member Elders.”
The Order of Deacons created in 1996 is no longer a transitional step to becoming an Elder. It confers full-membership clergy status, equal and distinct from the Elder track. Deacons have a claim on ministerial compensation, annual conference voting rights and ministry supervision, the same as Elders. The Order of Deacon is a gift to the church and its potential has yet to be fully utilized for the ministry of Christ.
I say to the Deacons of the Philadelphia Area: Happy Silver Anniversary!! The Deacons that have gone before you paved the way for you to take ministry out into the remote places of the world where Christ’s love and compassion is desperately needed the most.
Silver is a precious metal that reflects radiance, strength and beauty. Deacons embody all of these attributes; and I celebrate the light and blessings that they bring to The United Methodist Church always but especially during this milestone year.