Author Topic: Hearing on Word and Service Entrance Rite  (Read 1472 times)

Richard Johnson

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Hearing on Word and Service Entrance Rite
« on: August 06, 2019, 06:27:53 PM »
I'm at the hearing on the recommendation regarding Word and Service Entrance Rite. This is a controversial issue with the ELCA, as you will recall. When the various "lay rosters" were merged three years ago into a single roster of "Ministers of Word and Service" (aka deacons), they punted on the issue of whether such people are ordained, consecrated, installed, or something else. This has significant implications for how we understand this ministry--which is to say, do we regard deacons as "clergy" or as "laity." this then impacts the "representational principal"--in assemblies, etc., do they count as clergy or lay?

Bishop Mark Narum who cochaired this task force. He gives the background. The recommendation is that the rite of entrance be ordination. The representational recommendation is that neither Minsiters of Word and Sacrament nor Ministers of Word and service be considered layperson. In other words, they should be considered clergy. Recommends that synods deal with the representational principle. The "symbol" of the office will be a deacon's stole (plus, cool, a lapel pin).

First comment asks why these different ministries should be "set apart" using the same word "ordination." Secretary Boerger notes that "ordination" just means "setting apart," it doesn't suggest a particular "job description." He also tells a personal story about having organized a congregation and serving it for three years without ever being ordained (he was a Seminex guy, if that explains it). Doesn't seem to have much to do with the question. He makes a passing reference to other denominations ordaining deacons.

Bp. Paul Erickson noted he's removed this recommendation from en bloc "so that we can have this conversation on the floor." He's going past the two minute limit. He basically says it's confusing. He's certainly confused.

A deacon from PA says why she thinks it is important to use the proper word, which is ordination. "We generally consecrate things, we ordain people." I need a sabbatical, but I can't apply for a sabbatical grant because the ELCA uses the wrong word.

This is for those "entering the Ministry of Word and Service"--what about those already in the office? Will they be considered "ordained"? Kevin Strickland notes that there is already a rite of "welcome" for deacons given this new status, in which they can be presented with stole etc.

A synodical deacon from New York hopes that synodical deacons might someday be included as real deacons. (Synodical deacons are a program in a few synods where lay people are trained for certain liturgical and other service responsibilities.) Boerger suggests that many "synodical deacons" could apply for candidacy and be admitted to the roster of Ministry of Word and Service. Someone asks what a synodical deacon is, and Boerger explains, but suggests there are many permutations of this title, with different training and responsibilities.

A deacon notes that there are some "diaconal" kinds of jobs that she cannot apply for because they require an "ordained" person and she isn't "ordained."

A deacon, former "diaconal minister," from California. When diaconal ministers were first instituted, it was proposed that they would be "ordained." This then was not approved. Do we somehow think ELCA Lutherans are more easily confused than Methodists or Episcopalians? Boerger confirms that this was an early proposal, but it was axed along the way.

Question about tax status--does this change if we "ordain" deacons? The IRS standard is that one must be "ordained, commissioned or licensed"--not consecrated. Language we use has potential of IRS considering deacons clergy for tax purposes. Boerger: "This church does not regulate who gets considered clergy by the IRS." ELCA General Counsel notes that ELCA does not have an opinion on whether Minister of Word & Service is entitled to a housing allowance. He thinks it is unlikely that the IRS would grant a housing allowance, even with the change in terminology, but the real answer is "We just don't know."

If a person is ordained to Ministry of Word and Service and subsequently seeks ordination to Ministry of Word and Sacrament, is that person ordained again? Answer: Yes.

Will deacons have automatic vote at synod assembly? Answer: yes, they already do.

A deacon from NY: I've been on four different rosters, three different entrance rites. What will I say now? Just that "I'm on the roster of ordained deacons"? There has to be something that SAYS deacons already on the roster are "ordained." Boerger gives his schtick about why we shouldn't even refer to people as "ordained"--identify us by what we do, not how we got there. (He cops to being responsible for the general elimination of the word "ordained" in the constitution last time at the CWA.)

A pastor apologizes to deacons because she was originally upset at the idea of "ordaining" deacons. Now she recognizes that this is the right thing to do. Applause.

A deacon: Someone asked me "Are you going to now be an ordained deacon" and I said "No, I was never ordained; I was commissioned as an associate in ministry." Not quite clear what his point is.

Another deacon: The fear comes from the fact that there's still a lot of "power" in the term "ordained."

Layman: "I'm not a lifelong Lutheran, so this is really confusing to me. I moved to Wisconsin six years ago and it was convenient to become a Lutheran." But words matter. Think about the issue regarding gay marriage--when we just talked about "civil unions," it didn't give the person the right, say, to visit a partner in the hospital. If this is a confusing discussion, that's good. It will help us come to clarity.

A question: A bishop has to be ordained to Ministry of Word and Sacrament, a vice president has to be layperson. So a deacon can't be either. Boerger: "At churchwide they sometimes call me number two but I'm not sure what they mean." (Laughter) "A deacon could be secretary or treasurer." Response "No thank you."

Concern expressed that the voices of deacons be heard every time we gather. Bp. Narum: "There are ways to ensure that those on the roster of Word and Service will be present."

Deacon notes that there is currently no deacon on church council, and none nominated this time. Boerger expressed hope that this will be rectified going forward.

Deacon: I dream of the day when every congregation in the ELCA will have a pastor and a deacon working side by side.

Interesting discussion, good questions and comments.

« Last Edit: August 06, 2019, 06:59:56 PM by Richard Johnson »
The Rev. Richard O. Johnson, STS