Deacons can now preside at sacraments in their appointments

Above, The Rev. Karen Jones of the South Carolina Conference reacts to the passage of legislation during the 2024 United Methodist General Conference, meeting in Charlotte, N.C., that will allow deacons to preside over Holy Communion in the context of their local appointments. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.

By Jessica Brodie

CHARLOTTE, N.C.— Deacons can now preside at the sacraments in their appointments without needing explicit permission from their bishop.

In what presiding Bishop David Graves called a “historic moment,” General Conference on May 2 passed new legislation granting authority to deacons to preside at the sacraments in their ministry settings.

This means deacons can now offer Holy Communion and conduct baptisms where they are appointed to serve, whether that is a church, outreach ministry or mission.

Deacons and elders are considered clergy in The United Methodist Church, but deacons are ordained for ministries of word, service, compassion and justice — serving as a bridge between the church and the world. Elders are ordained for ministries of word, sacrament, order and service.

The Rev. Emily Kincaid, secretary of the Ordained Ministry Legislative Committee, who presented the legislation to delegates with the chair, the Rev. Lindsay Freeman, said the change is both necessary and in line with the denomination’s mission.

“In 1784, John Wesley founded the Methodist Movement for this very reason: to extend the sacraments to places where the Church of England was unwilling to offer them,” Kincaid said from the stage. “Deacons often find ourselves in places where the mission of God is being extended outside the local church and where elders are not always present to issue the sacraments.”

She said passage would enable deacons to live into Wesley’s belief that the world is truly our parish.

Passing 448-240 with a 65 percent majority, the legislation drew some debate.

The Rev. Karli Pidgeon, Louisiana Conference, spoke against the change, noting that what deacons do is different from what elders do, and the church needs to further discern how this will impact the entire church.

“It’s not a no,” she said. “It’s a not now.”

The Rev. Karen Jones, a deacon in the South Carolina Conference, spoke in favor of the change, urging the body to approve the legislation, “so that we may joyfully be obedient to the Holy Spirit in bringing sacraments to a broken world.”

The Rev. Megan Walther, Michigan Conference, also spoke in favor of the passage, sharing, “We elders should not have the monopoly on the sacraments.”

After the vote’s passage, many celebrated the historic change, which should take effect Jan. 1. Many hugged and wept tears of joy.

One deacon, the Rev. Gregory Gross of Northern Illinois, was surprised when his delegation — and his episcopal leader, Bishop Dan Schwerin — gathered around him during the break and urged him to offer Holy Communion there in the Charlotte Convention Center.

“I feel grateful to be granted as a deacon the sacramental responsibility to extend the table into the world,” Gross said after presiding over the sacraments. “That is my calling as a deacon — to bridge church and world.”

The Rev. Teresa Edwards of the South Georgia Conference called it “a really, really good, great day indeed.”

“It’s hard to express what it means to me to be able to offer the sacraments with a full heart, free and open hands not bound by the former restrictions,” said Edwards, a deacon.

The Rev. Julie Wilson of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, a missionary serving at a community center in North Carolina, said the change is significant for her ministry.

“It means that I don’t have to chase after an elder whenever I want to try and offer communion to the folks that I’m in community with,” Wilson said after the vote.

Jones also is overjoyed.

“When I saw the vote come up on the screen, I thought of all of the deacons who have longed to be obedient to their call,” she said. “I thought of all the opportunities for sharing the means of grace that have been missed—and now no opportunity to share this means of grace will be missed.”

Erik Alsgaard, Dan O’Mara and Kelly Roberson contributed to this story.

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