The Montana Synod meets in Assembly May 31-June 2, and we’ll elect a Bishop, Vice President and Treasurer, as well as consider a couple of resolutions and some constitutional updates, elect committee members, and adopt a budget.
But Synod Assemblies are not the only thing going on this summer. In August, the ELCA will meet in Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee. The Montana Synod Voting Members (11) were chosen at last year’s Synod Assembly, and are making preparations to be there for most of a week (August 5-10). The business of a Churchwide Assembly is provided electronically to the Voting Members. If it were printed out, it would fill a binder at least 6 inches thick! People who have been to a Churchwide Assembly find they learn things about the wider church that they had never even dreamed. Our Synod will send 3 lay males, 3 lay females, 1 youth, 1 person of color, 1 bishop and 1 bishop-elect.
The Churchwide Assembly decides a number of significant issues for the future of the church, and I will be using this space to share some of them with you, from time to time in the next months.
Today I write about the proposed actions regarding Deacons (Ministers of Word and Service). Before the merger in 1988, there were ways to recognize lay employees in the predecessor churches. When we merged into the ELCA, the category of Associate in Ministry (AIM) was created to give churchwide roster status to lay people working for the church. Early on in the ELCA the church engaged in a Study on Ministry. It was intended to find ELCA answers to questions around ministry that had not been resolved by the Commission on a New Lutheran Church. Pastor Paul Seastrand, a Montana Synod pastor, served on the Ministry Study Committee. One of the proposals from that committee was that the church adopt a three-fold order of ministry: Bishop; Pastor; Deacon. The Churchwide Assembly that adopted the Ministry Study amended it to eliminate the three-fold orders.
As the years went by, the ELCA added Diaconal Ministers to Associates in Ministry and Deaconesses as part of the ELCA’s “lay roster.” This meant that while they were rostered across the whole ELCA (as opposed to LPA’s, who are only recognized within the synod), they were still “lay,” in not being pastors. Over the years, as the different categories of “lay rostered” people became more and more confusing, the ELCA formed another study group who recommended that all the lay rosters (Ministers of Word and Service) be combined into one, called Deacon. In 2016, the Churchwide Assembly voted to adopt that change. Since 2016, all the Diaconal Ministers and Associates in Ministry became Deacons. The constitutional language for pastors is Ministers of Word and Sacrament, and the constitutional language for deacons is Ministers of Word and Service.
Fast forward to 2019. While the 2016 Churchwide Assembly voted to call the former AIMs, Diaconal Ministers and Deaconesses Deacons, it made no decision on what to call the rite by which they become Deacons. Pastors are ordained. What about Deacons? Should they be ordained? Consecrated? Commissioned? Recognized? These are all words that the church has used over the years, and each carries a different connotation. To some people, it is only a matter of semantics. To some it is vitally important.
The Churchwide Assembly will have the opportunity to vote on the recommendations from the Entrance Rite Working Group. The recommendations are as follows:
+ That the word ordination be used for the entrance rite both for Word and Sacrament (pastors), and for Word and Service (Deacons.)
+That Deacons receive a deacon’s stole and cross upon ordination. (A deacon’s stole goes diagonally from the shoulder to the waist.0
+That Deacons no longer be considered “laypersons” for the purposes of representational principles.
These changes bring with them a number of implications and questions. ELCA Secretary Chris Boerger, who was a part of the working group bring the proposals, will be the churchwide representative at the Montana Synod Assembly this year, and will be able to answer questions you might have about these proposals.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA