This was originally published in the April 2016 issue of the Virginia United Methodist Advocate. The focus of this issue was the 20th Anniversary of the Order of Deacon.
A group of church leaders had gathered for a meeting. The district superintendent mentioned the possibility of hiring a deacon to help the congregation reach beyond the church walls. A woman sitting across the table looked back at the DS with a quizzical expression. “Wait,” she said, “What’s a deacon?”
It’s not the first time that question has been asked. For twenty years, the United Methodist Church has been struggling to articulate the answer, “What’s a deacon?”
Rev. April Casperson spoke at the Methodist Theological School of Ohio in October 2013 about the ministry and role of the deacon. She has done a great job of explaining some of the differences between elders and deacons.
From her talk:
In the United Methodist Church, some people are called to ordination – a set-apart life of ministry and service. There are two orders within ordained clergy – elders and deacons.
Elders are ordained to Word, Order (the ordering of the Church), Sacrament and Service. Elders are primarily pastors; while elders can and do serve in extension ministries outside of the local church, an elder’s identity is rooted in the pastoral role, and being a pastor.
Deacons are ordained to Word, Service, Compassion and Justice. Deacons are not pastors – we are ministers. We can certainly be pastoral! But our identity is based in being a minister rather than being a pastor.
Deacons are called to specialized ministry. We have a specific area and skill in which we connect the people of God, the church and the world with compassion and justice. This is a challenge and an opportunity at the same time.
Read the complete article here.
“From among the baptized, deacons are called by God to a lifetime of servant leadership, authorized by the Church, and ordained by a bishop.” ¶328, 2008 Book of Discipline
Once upon a time before one was ordained as an elder, he or she would be ordained as a deacon. In this way, being ordained as a deacon was a “stepping stone” toward the goal of becoming an elder.
The 1996 General Conference changed that. Since the 1996 Book of Discipline, the Order of Deacon is a permanent order of persons ordained to a lifetime of ministry of Word and Service. The important part of the role of the deacon is that he/she is called to ministry in the community and within the congregation in a way that connects the two. The image most used to illustrate this calling is that of a bridge. The deacon builds a bridge between the community and the congregation. In this way, the two can be in ministry together.
Ministry of the Word includes teaching, preaching, and modeling the word of God. In addition, Deacons assist the Elder in the administration of the sacraments, conduct marriages and funerals, and empowering disciples. Ministry of Service includes servant leadership, serving the congregation and the community. Service is often seen in ministry with the poor, the sick, or the marginalized and involvement in mission trips. But it also involves equipping the congregation in interpreting the needs, concerns, and even the hopes of the world, often in their own community.
In contrast the Elder is called to Word, Sacrament, Order, and Service. You will notice that the differences are in a calling to Sacrament and Order. The Elder provides pastor leadership in ordering the life and ministry of the congregation. But, more on those differences later.