From the moment the 1996 General Conference of The United Methodist Church reordered its ministry and adopted the new Order of Deacon, there has been much speculation on the meaning of the new Order, how it should be developed, and what difference it should make. (Some saw no reason for the new Order or could not grasp the reason for such an Order, and others thought they knew all the answers and have judged the establishment of the deacon on their understandings.)
The Section of Deacons and Diaconal Ministries in the Division of Ordained Ministry has the responsibility of resourcing the church in the establishment of the deacon and was very conscious of these varied responses to the new Order. They decided that an appropriate way to assist the church would be to develop a vision statement and then lead toward that vision. After much study and struggle, the following vision statement was adopted as a work in progress.
The ministry of the deacon (diaconate) distinctively embodies and gives leadership to servant ministry of compassion, mercy, and justice. Laity and clergy are transformed through worship which connects faith and daily life so that the people of God serve a hurting world as faithful disciples.
The section was aware that if the new Order of Deacon was to develop appropriately, enhanced understandings of how the Order connected to church traditions were needed. Much study, work, and reflection on the purpose and work of the deacon must take place.
It was realized that one of the most important groups of teachers would be the present ordained deacons in full connection. Their work and the fact that each one is appointed to a local church makes them crucial as interpreters and teachers on the new order.
The Deacon: Ministry Through Words of Faith and Acts of Love, is a resource for the deacon and for the church. It will assist with the dialogue and reflection on the Order and help the church be more effective as a lay-centered, lay-led body that is missional at its very core.
Carefully studied, the work will help the reader reflect on biblical images related to the ministry of the deacon. The relationship of worship and service, so distinctly linked to this new Order, is prominent in the scripture study. In addition, the authors have amplified the images with models from the lives and ministries of deacons at work today.
Paul Van Buren and Ben Hartley have produced a superb work by providing insights on how the United Methodist deacon can relate to a world in need and provide a needed flexibility in ministry similar to that of the early days of Methodism on the frontier of the United States.
I believe one of the most significant elements of this booklet is the scriptural visions of the deacon. The writers have effectively enhanced the church’s dialogue by sharing scriptures that reflect servant leadership.
This book will be useful if deacons, elders, and all church leaders will study it for understandings that will shape the day-to-day work and relationships of the deacon. That study and dialogue will assist the church in solidifying a paradigm of leadership.
85 pages. Published by United Methodist Church, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, Division of Ordained Ministry, Section of Deacons and Diaconal Ministries (1999). http://www.gbhem.org/