In the United Methodist Church, we have two “orders” or categories by which our ordained clergy fall into:
- Elders are ordained to Word, Sacrament, Order, and Service.
- Deacons are ordained to Ordained to Word, Service, Compassion, and Justice.
The second item on the Elder’s line means that only Elders can officiate over Sacraments of Baptism and Communion. Deacons cannot officiate and bless the elements of Communion. Or can they?
In 2012, the doctrine was changed such that Deacons became allowed to bless the elements of Communion under particular circumstances:
For the sake of extending the mission and ministry of the church, a pastor-in-charge or DS may request that the bishop grant local sacramental authority to the deacon to administer the sacraments in the absence of an elder, within a deacon’s primary appointment.
para 328 of the Book of Discipline
Really vague, right? Other people thought so too and started asking their Bishops to interpret it for them. So in 2013, the Florida Annual Conference asked for clarity from their Bishop as to what his interpretation is. Today, he issued his ruling: Bishop Ken Carter’s ruling. It’s a bit long and very theological (not a bad thing!).
To give a short version of Bishop Carter’s ruling, a Facebook commentator interpreted it in this way:
- IF a deacon is serving outside the local church (but still within their primary appointment and “in the world”)
- AND IF there is no elder either assigned, otherwise present, or able to pre-consecrate the elements
- AND IF it extends the mission and ministry of the church
- AND IF requested by the pastor-in-charge (of what I’m not sure if the deacon is outside the local church) or district superintendent,
- THEN Bishop Carter will grant extraordinary sacramental authority.
As the commentator concluded:
So this is a “no” to youth ministers out on retreat, a “no” to those leading worship when the pastor is on vacation, a “no” to those who might serve on the International Space Station (definitely not “in the world”), and a “maybe” to those who are chaplains or serve in non-church contexts.
Essentially, the Discipline now allows for Deacons to become temporary local pastors: people given sacramental authority over a limited physical area. Local pastors cannot officiate over communion outside of their appointed area.
I wonder about this ruling. I know some people find it odd that an ordained clergy cannot officiate over communion. I know some people find it odd that an ordained person wouldn’t feel called to officiate communion. I know some people think that people having to be given permission to wave magic hands over bread and juice is just plain weird.
That’s all fine. My only wonder is this.
If I, as an Elder, am not right with God and have fallen short on significant sin, the grace in the act of the Sacrament still flows through me. No blockages, no leaking of my sin on those who take communion from me. And the person receiving the elements receives grace fully, I won’t refuse communion even if they are horrible people, and there are no blockages from God to them no matter how great their sin. Communion is a free channel of God’s grace from those expected by the Church to lead to those who come with willingness to know Jesus in their hearts. No other restrictions. So when a Deacon is granted permission to officiate, what component of a Deacon’s ordination doesn’t allow them to be that channel except with the Bishop’s permission? What is substantially different in the communion moment when one has the Bishop’s permission?
Any thoughts from the Peanut gallery? Has your bishop given similar rulings or clarifications for your conference? Are they different from Bishop Carter here?(Photo credit: “Communion” by Weiers, Creative Commons share from Flickr)