Frequently Asked Questions

The UMC Order of Deacon

Becoming ordained represents a lifelong commitment. The Holy Spirit plays an active role. Ordination is a gift.  We pray for the Holy Spirit to bestow that gift on the one ordained.  And, the gift of ordination brings with it a responsibility for building up the body for which one is ordained. The United Methodist understanding is that ordination sets a person apart as a leader for the church and its mission.  The role of the ordained is to lead the church and equip the people of God toward the transformation of the world. 

1.     What is the process to become ordained?

The UMC has rigorous standards for those it ordains, both elders and deacons.  Completing the process leading to ordination takes several years.  It is a time of discernment by both the candidate and the church at the congregational, district and conference levels.  Graduate level academic work is required in courses on Old Testament; New Testament; theology; church history; evangelism; mission of the church in the world; worship and liturgy; and UMC doctrine, history and polity.  Skills in theological reflection must be developed.  The candidate must also demonstrate that her ministry is fruitful and contributes to the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Once the Holy Spirit draws the individual into a discernment process they become a certified candidate through interviews with their home church pastor and a charge conference vote.  Certified candidacy also includes psychological testing, a criminal background and credit check and several interviews with the district committee on ordained ministry (DCOM). After at least a year as a certified candidate DCOM, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, determines the candidate is called by God and shows promise for ordination.  At this point, the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry (BOOM) interviews the candidate.  After being affirmed by BOOM, the candidate is recommended to the clergy session of the annual conference for election to provisional membership and commissioning. Next, the person begins to serve for a period of at least two years of residency.  This period is a time for testing the authenticity of the call and the fruitfulness of the service.   Those whose call is to the ministry of deacon must find a place to serve the residency period appropriate for the ministry specialization and to which the bishop is willing to appoint them. After the residency period, the provisionally ordained person is presented once again to the clergy of the annual conference for full ordination. 

2.     What are the similarities and differences of an Elder and a Deacon?

In the UMC, deacons attend the same seminaries as elders, and many receive the same degree.  UMC deacons are conceived as partners with elders in leadership of the church.  The church sets apart some persons to “personify or focus the servanthood to which all Christians are called” (BOD, ¶305).  The office of the deacon fulfills that role for the UMC. By personify, we mean they are examples.  A deacon represents the church and wherever they are appointed, the deacon stands in for all of us who are called to love our neighbor and hear the cry of the needy. When we say deacons focusthe servanthood to which all Christians are called, we emphasize the role of the deacons to bring the needs of the world back to the church and to lead the church into the world and thereby focus the attention of the church on God’s mission.

3.     What is different for a lay person once she becomes a Deacon?

Once ordained, the deacon is no longer a member of any congregation.  They are connected to a congregation, but membership resides in the annual conference. The perspective of the deacon changes. Instead of solely supporting and guiding her home congregation, the deacon shares responsibility with other ordained clergy for the mission of the whole church.  Deacons are expected to serve at the district and conference level as well as in the congregation where they are connected.  Once ordained, the deacon becomes a member of the clergy community.  She is no longer a lay person.  Therefore, the deacon is not eligible to hold positions within the church that belong to laity.

4.     What are some places in which Deacons are found?

Deacons dedicate their life to compassion and justice often within an area of specialty, e.g. education, evangelism, ministry to the poor, spiritual formation, and more.  Deacons serve in a wide variety of settings.  Deacons work in congregations.  Deacons work in church-related agencies and as annual conference staff.  Others work in ecumenical agencies and nonprofit organizations.  The possibilities are endless.  God calls deacons into the world.  Deacons respond.

5.     What is an ‘appointment’?  How do Deacons get their appointments?

Deacons serve under appointment.  The bishop and the cabinet are charged with appointing all ordained deacons and elders.  Elders itinerate at the direction of the bishop.  They are expected to make themselves available to go wherever they are sent. Elders are guaranteed an appointment.  In the case of deacons, it is a bit more complicated.  Although bishops and district superintendents may initiate appointments, deacons must find their own place to serve, and then request an appointment to that place.  Deacons are not guaranteed an appointment.

In addition, the deacon must be appointed where supervision is provided with goals, evaluation, and accountability acceptable to the bishop, the cabinet and the Board of Ordained Ministry. The other aspect of accountability is the connection to a congregation.  Every deacon must be clearly accountable through a congregation.  Deacons who are not appointed to serve in a congregation must receive a secondary appointment that spells out to which congregation they relate.

Source:The United Methodist Deacon, Margaret Ann Crain, Abingdon Press, 2014