Tuesday, March 29, 2016

20 Years Old - And not a day older!

2016 marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the United Methodist clergy deacon in full membership.Ordained deacons connect the church and the world through word, service, compassion, and justice. In this capacity, deacons lead the church in relating the gathered community to their ministries in the world, thus connecting the church’s worship with its service in the world.
To celebrate we asked deacons from North Georgia's first class to reminisce about the start of the order. Here are a few of their responses:

I can still remembering attending the deacon discernment retreat that the GBHEM held at Simpsonwood for those of us who were diaconal ministers. During a designated time of prayer and self-reflection on what this new order of deacon meant, I found myself sitting at a picnic table outside the Simpsonwood chapel. With tears streaming down my face, I felt God leading me to say yes to this new order. It was like all the pieces had come together. I had been consecrated a diaconal minister ten years before, yet I felt like there was something missing. It seemed as if there was to be more to my response to God's call in my life, but I didn't know exactly what that was. However, with the new order of permanent deacon, it was as if my response to my call would now be complete. It was not only God's call, but an affirmation of the Church for what I felt was a lifetime response as I saw my gifts in teaching, serving and connecting the church with the world.

Since my ordination in 1996, I have seen a greater understanding of the order of deacon, but there are still many misunderstandings. In my years of serving on both the district Committee on Ordained Ministry and the conference Board of Ordained Ministry, there were many times I had to answer questions like, "When will you become a real minister?" or "Why aren't you called to preach?" However, there have been far more times that people have said, "You have really helped me to see how there are a variety of gifts in ministry" or "You broaden my understanding that ministry is not just one way." I am so thankful that twenty years ago the United Methodist Church opened up a new way for me and so many others to fully say, "Yes, Lord!"

-Rev. Margaret Freeman, Franklin UMC

I remember the 1976 General Conference decision to create a new “office” of Diaconal Minister. We were “Certified Lay Professionals” before that and had to prayerfully consider a “calling” to Diaconal Ministry. During the discernment time, I remember questioning whether the “office” would truly be embraced and understood by the general church. We were encouraged to “live into it” and help educate the church about Diaconal Ministry. I don’t believe the church ever really understood. I remember on the Annual Conference level, Diaconal Ministers were laity but not seen as such by the laity in local churches and of course Diaconal Ministers were not clergy. I remember putting up with clergy and laity alike making fun and calling us Diagonal Ministers. We just focused on serving Christ and doing our ministry. Diaconal ministers were few and one of the great celebrations was we were very close to one another.

Then at the General Conference in 1996 a new order of “Permanent Deacon” later to be called Deacon in Full Connection was created. Those of us who had been “living into” the Diaconal Ministry for twenty years were asked to prayerfully consider a “call” to Ordination. We were encouraged to “live into it” and help educate the church about the new Deacon. We were told what the Ordained Deacon was called to be and what the Ordained Deacon could not do in the church. After “living into” the role for twenty years the form of ministry continues to evolve which is a great blessing but the functions of ministry continue to be confusing to the laity and some clergy in the local church. Still, we just focus on serving Christ and doing our ministry. Seems like twenty years is a magic number doesn’t it. Some of us are called to be trail blazers! Thanks to the Order of Deacons, we are a supportive and loving group. Congratulations to all who answer the call and live into the joy of serving Christ for the next twenty years and beyond.

Rev. Walter Jones, Snellville UMC

I have been thinking and reminiscing a bit. A couple of things keep coming up for me.

One is of Bishop Davis talking to all of us at the rehearsal. There was some initial confusion over whether our spouses and significant others would be allowed to participate in our ordination. The initial decision had been that they would not be allowed to stand with us. That changed pretty quickly with our loud objections to that lack of inclusion of the ones who had been our strength and support over many years. The bishop went on to say that in his view we were the "entrepreneurs" of the denomination. We had the ability and gifts to move our ministries to the people and places where they were most needed. I have remembered that as I have moved and served in three conferences and two jurisdictions. Each time I have been warmly welcomed and my ministry reaffirmed.

The other is looking to my right and to my left as we were kneeling waiting for the bishop to lay hands on us. I had chosen to bring the bible given to me by my home church in Wilmette, IL when I was in third grade. The persons on both my right and left were also holding their bibles received from their home churches when they were in third grade. I was struck then and am still struck by the power of the many ways in which congregations across the connection nurture children. Some even turn out to be ordained ministers!

-Rev. Debby Fox, Connectional Ministries, Associate Director

My Deacon journey has two parts - Journey to being a Deacon and Journey in being a Deacon.

Many people know about Journey to being a Deacon. Originally, I thought that God was calling me to be an Elder. At that time, the ordination process was a two step process of being ordained a Deacon first then ordained an Elder. I was ordained a Deacon after my first year of seminary in 1977. After my graduation from seminary at Perkins, I began my journey going to Elder. As I served the local church, I learned something was missing. I did not have the gifts to be an Elder. That was painful to realize. At the same time, I felt a calling to be a Deacon for life. Yet, our denomination did not have that type of order at that time. The Diaconal Minister was an option in the United Methodist Church which was the lay order of Deacon.

In October of 1983, I went to a Christian Educators Fellowship Retreat on St Simons Island. Part of the program for that retreat was to talk about a new order of Deacon that our denomination was looking at. With that new order, Deacons would be ordained to the Order of Service and Word. This legislation was sent to General Conference in 1984 but did not pass. In the meantime, I felt led to switch ministries to become a Consecrated Diaconal Minister. My gifts and graces fit Diaconal. I was approved and consecrated a Diaconal Minister at the 1987 North Georgia Conference.

The legislation to establish the new Order of Deacon was sent to General Conference for approval in 1988 and 1992. The legislation failed each time. After 200 plus years of the two part ordination process (Deacon then Elder), our denomination was not ready for it.
At the 1996 General Conference, everything changed. To our surprise and delight, that General Conference passed the legislation creating the new order of Ordained Deacon in Full Connection as well as the new Order of Elder in Full Connection. History was made and 200 years of tradition was changed. At the 1997 North Georgia Conference, I was honored to be one of the 40 plus Diaconal Ministers who were ordained to the conference's First Class of Deacons in Full Connection. What a joyous celebration that Ordination Service was that night. My true calling to be an ordained Deacon for life was finally fulfilled due to both my Gifts and Graces fit this new Order of Ministry.

That night, my Journey in being a Deacon began. After the ordination celebration was over and Annual Conference had finished for that year, we had to work to pioneer and establish the new Order of Deacon. That came with educating ourselves even more about it as we taught it and talked about it to our congregations and even other clergy. I thought it would take the next 30 years after the 1997 ordination to truly establish this Order of Ministry. There have been been many great and wonderful times over the years establishing the Deacon. At the same time, it was not easy. Some of us experienced very challenging times and even hardship serving as Deacons. Yet, it was all part of the pioneering process. We hope that some of the hardship that we experienced would eventually help the future Deacons down the road of life and ministry.

Looking back over the last 20 years, I am so thankful that the Order of Deacon was established. I am very honored to help make history in our church. Most of all, I am extremely grateful to serve as a Deacon.

-Rev. Don Thrasher, Toccoa First UMC

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