Study commission says to wait, conference leader disagrees



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Study commission says to wait, conference leader disagrees

Oct. 5, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011 
tparham@flumc.org  Orlando {0749}

An e-Review Feature
By Erik J. Alsgaard**

LAKELAND — For the past 60 years, Methodists have debated and studied how their clergy should be ordained. Since 1996, that discussion has intensified with the creation of a new order of deacon, independent from the order of elder. 

Previously, it was presumed that a person ordained as a deacon was headed, ultimately, for ordination as an elder.

As United Methodists approach the 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas, they find themselves in a familiar position: another study commission with another report seeking to clarify the ordering of ministry.

During the Milestones in Ministry service at the 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event, Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker invited all who were contemplating entering the ministry to the altar for prayer with him and others. Here, the Rev. David Dodge prays with a young adult who accepted that invitation. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #07-0683.

The Study of Ministry Commission’s 49-page report, available online at http://www.gbhem.org, carries eight recommendations, including separation of ordination from full conference membership, discontinuing the category of associate member and expanding the range of those who qualify for ordination as an elder, according to United Methodist News Service.  The commission would also eliminate the current practice of “commissioning,” which it calls a “poorly developed intermediate step” to ordination.

The commission wants to wait until 2012 to implement any changes, however. What is needed, according to the commission’s report, is more time, more conversations and building a consensus.

The Rev. David Dodge, director of the Florida Conference Center for Clergy Excellence, is a member of the study commission. While he agrees with most of the report’s recommendations, he doesn’t agree the denomination should wait to begin the report’s recommendations.

Dodge is part of a small group of commission members who have issued a “Friendly Minority Report” asking the 2008 General Conference to pass legislation about “the ordering of ministry,” using the report “as a guide for all relevant legislation.” Instead of waiting until 2012, Dodge is urging General Conference to do what it can in 2008.

“All we’re saying is that we don’t have to not do anything” about the report, Dodge said in an interview.

“The commission’s report is a road map,” Dodge said. “What we’re saying to the 2008 General Conference in our ‘Friendly Minority Report’ is that if there are pieces of the road map the General Conference likes, if there is legislation in harmony with the report and would help bring items to fruition sooner rather than later, do it.”

One example Dodge offered was in the area of deacons serving sacraments. Currently, ordained deacons are prohibited from performing the sacraments of baptism and communion. The report notes: “Deacons lead in service and equip others for this ministry. They teach, lead worship, assist in the sacraments, and proclaim the Word.” 

The report adds a recommendation, however, that “exceptions must be made under circumstances that demand — to borrow Wesley’s term — extra-ordinary ministry.”

The commission proposes that, “for the sake of the ministry and mission of the church, bishops may grant local sacramental authority in the place of appointment to persons who are not ordained elder but who are approved by the board of ordained ministry and appointed by the bishop.”

Dodge, himself an ordained deacon in full connection, is a delegate to the 2008 General Conference.  He, along with three other signers of the minority report, will serve on the legislative committee that will consider this issue at General Conference.

According to the full commission’s report, more time is needed to implement or act on any of the recommendations. “We believe that every annual conference should have an opportunity to study the vision and road map,” the report states.

“We essentially ran out of time,” Dodge said. “If we had had another two meetings or more time available to us, we might have been done with the whole thing.”

Instead, the commission is calling for study through the 2009-2012 quadrennium “for the purpose of clarifying the vision and building consensus.” The resolution also asks for the commission to develop legislation for the 2012 General Conference based on those conversations.

According to United Methodist News Service, the panel notes 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 the current process is too long and cumbersome, according to a group working with younger clergy and ministerial candidates.

“Many people have said it takes too long to become ordained,” Dodge said. “This is a response to that.”

In the study document, the commission proposes a “provisional membership” category for clergy. A licensed local pastor would be granted this status upon finishing licensing school and receiving an appointment or being enrolled in a graduate education program. After completing one-half of the Course of Study, licensed local pastors in provisional membership may be ordained an elder or deacon in provisional membership.

This change, Dodge said, is an attempt by the commission to increase the number of ordained clergy in the denomination. Currently, there are about 6,000 local pastors in The United Methodist Church. Unlike ordained clergy, local pastors do not have the right to vote in the clergy session on constitutional amendments, election of General and Jurisdictional Conference delegates and matters of ordination. 

The commission also 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 recommends that a candidate be ordained either as deacon or elder and then serve two years in residence under the supervision of an annual conference’s cabinet and Board of Ordained Ministry before being eligible for full conference membership.

The commission also recommends 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 at annual conference. 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. Upon completion of the residence program, application could be made to the Board of Ordained Ministry for full membership in the annual conference.

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This article relates to Ordained Ministry.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Alsgaard is director of communications for the Florida Conference.




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