Kingdom community, diaconal church
and the liberation of the laity
The contribution of the Methodist Diaconal Order to the future of Methodism
and the wider church
Summary of main paper
In 2013, the Methodist Conferences requested its Faith and Order Committee ‘in consultation with the Methodist Diaconal Order, … (to) undertake work on the theology and ecclesiology underpinning the diaconate in Methodism, its place within the British Connexion and its place within the universal church’. A working party of the Faith and Order Committee was set up to explore that brief. Its Interim Report was presented to and approved by the Methodist Conference in July 2016. A final report is due in 2018.
This exploration is taking place in the context of a conviction across many denominations that the ecclesiology of ‘the diaconal church’, and the apostolate of ‘a renewed diaconate’, have in future an immense amount to offer to the mission and ministries of all churches and to the transformation of society and world. This paper is a personal contribution to that exploration from a Methodist perspective.
A kingdom theology (2)
In a world striving to become a global community of communities, the mission of the church must be to offer a vision of what community, at its zenith, can be like, and to indicate the source of the power necessary to make that vision a reality. That vision is embodied in the Trinity and the expression of its nature through the kingdom community and its gifts of life, liberation, love and learning.
Ecclesiology – the diaconal church (3)
The calling of the church is to be the servant of the kingdom community. It is thus ‘a diaconal (or servant) church’. Its mission is the transformation of all collectives, sacred and secular, into kingdom communities. For this, new forms of church leadership are required.
Methodism as a diaconal church (4)
Many important hall-marks of the diaconal church are already present within Methodism, though it often fails to recognise these. One such hall-mark is its Methodist Diaconal Order which strives to make manifest the gifts of the kingdom community. However, the MDO now needs to develop further if it wants to contribute to the creation of a renewed diaconate.
The Methodist Diaconal Order as an order of mission and a religious order (5)
- Within a diaconal church, and as part of a renewed diaconate, the primary apostolate of the deacon needs to move on from that of ‘witness through service’ and, more recently, of ‘jack-of-all trades’, to being that of a mission enabler.
- The MDO should be not only an order of ministry but also an order of mission.
- Diaconal leadership of this kind would liberate the laity, the diaconal church’s missionary resource, to become kingdom community builders in society and world.
- Because the mission of the diaconal church is the building of kingdom communities, the MDO’s life as a religious community models and supports its apostolate. This is why its work as an order of mission and its life as a religious community are ‘completely intertwined’. The medium is the message.
Presbyters as an order of continuity (6)
- Within a diaconal church, the role of presbyters should be focused on the continuity of the gathered church as the embodiment of the gifts of the kingdom community.
- When nurturing and resourcing the laity through worship, education in the faith and pastoral care, presbyters are engaged in the mission of kingdom community building.
- The ministry of presbyters would be greatly enhanced if they became an order of continuity. Their ministry would also be enriched by presbyters becoming a religious order, though one distinct from that of the MDO, for reasons given in the main paper.
Equality of ministries (7)
The Methodist Deed of Union makes it clear that Methodism believes all ministries to have equal standing. This Deed needs to be honoured in practice as well as principle. Thus:
- Deacons should be authorised, as and when appropriate, to preside at holy communion.
- Deacons should play a more distinctive role in the leadership of worship.
- The presidency of the Methodist Conference, as well as the office of Chair of District, should be open to deacons as well as presbyters.
- Presbyters should be able to candidate for the MDO as easily as has been the case for deacons to candidate for presbyteral ministry.
Selection, training and ordination (8)
- The selection of deacons and presbyters should reflect the fact that they will be undertaking different forms of apostolate.
- Deacons undergoing pre-ordination training should be offered a full and distinctive curriculum of their own.
- The ordination service for deacons should include an explicit commitment to their life as a religious order.
Practical implications (9 and 10)
For the mission and ministries of Methodism to reflect more fully the mission of the diaconal church, a number of other developments are needed.
- A deacon, as mission enabler, should be stationed in every large circuit
- To help meet the necessary expansion of the MDO, those already employed in roles similar to that of ‘mission enabler’ should be invited to candidate for the MDO.
- Ways in which such a development might be financed are identified.
- An expanded MDO would require adequate staffing and administrative support.
- Regional gatherings should be held each year, in addition to the annual Convocation.
Engaging lay people (11)
Two ‘Third Orders’ of lay people should be set up. One would support a new diaconal order of mission; the other would support a new presbyteral order of continuity.
Ecumenical issues (12)
These developments would enable Methodism to offer a new model of mission, of ecclesiology and of ordained ministries as a unique contribution to the life and work of the universal church, not least the Church of England and its diaconate.
Kingdom community, diaconal church
and the liberation of the laity
The contribution of the Methodist Diaconal Order to the future of Methodism
and the wider church
In 2013, the Methodist Council requested the Conference of that year to direct Methodism’s Faith and Order Committee ‘in consultation with the Methodist Diaconal Order, to undertake work on the theology and ecclesiology underpinning the diaconate in Methodism, its place within the British Connexion and its place within the universal church’. This request stemmed from some uncertainty as to the place of the Warden of the Methodist Diaconal Order within the leadership of the Connexion. However, the working party considering that matter wisely discerned that a much fuller appraisal of the place of the diaconate, and implicitly other ministries within Methodism and beyond, needed to be undertaken for the benefit of the Connexion as a whole. The Methodist Council and Conference agreed.
Consequently a working party of the Faith and Order Committee was set up to address this brief. Its Interim Report was submitted to and approved by the Methodist Conference in July 2016. In its final paragraph (6.7) that report states:
It is further recognised that many of these questions (regarding the Methodist Diaconal Order) relate to our understanding of ministry and oversight and they cannot therefore be explored in isolation. The Faith and Order Committee therefore presents this interim report to the Conference, with the intention of bringing a final response as part of the work on ministry in the Methodist Church (my italics) to the 2018 Conference.
My own ministry as both a presbyter and a deacon, and many years of reflection on how these two ministries might complement each other, leads me to believe that the exploration of ‘ministry in the Methodist Church’ now underway is potentially of considerable importance. This is because it has significant implications not only for diaconal, presbyteral and lay ministries as such, but for the mission of British Methodism and the wider church.
I believe that the exploration now underway needs to engage in a radical re-appraisal of the theology and ecclesiology underpinning not only the diaconate but the ministries of the whole of Methodism. This could open the way for Methodism to reclaim its distinctive heritage as a holiness movement, as urged by the President at the Methodist Conference in July 2016, and check our drift towards becoming an institution which all too often clones the theology and ecclesiology of other more historically established denominations. It would also enable Methodism to make a distinctive and much needed contribution to the ecumenical movement, at present at a somewhat low-ebb within the UK. Above all, it would inspire Christians to engage more energetically and effectively with the critical issues facing our society and world at a time of profound political and cultural change.
I have argued elsewhere that because the Interim Report of the Faith and Order working party unfortunately lacks any clear theology or ecclesiology of mission, it struggles to offer a holistic and radical vision for the future of the mission and ministries of Methodism. Consequently I am offering this paper as a personal contribution to the current debate. I do so as one who has been immensely grateful for what Methodism has offered me and deeply concerned that what it stands for is not lost to posterity. It is a contribution meant to be set alongside and debated with any others, including that of the Interim Report and subsequent papers.
This paper deliberately broadens the focus of the ongoing exploration from the life and work of Methodist Diaconal Order to the future of all Methodist ministries, diaconal, presbyteral and lay. However, the paper is also relevant to the important discussions taking place within all denominations concerning the contribution that ‘a renewed diaconate’ now needs to be making to the world church. Thus I believe that much of what I set out below is not only applicable to the Methodist Diaconal Order but to all diaconal orders, not only of relevance to the relationship between Methodist orders of ministry but to that relationship within every denomination.
The discussion which follows is set within the context of a missional imperative, founded on a kingdom theology and diaconal ecclesiology, which I am convinced must inform and empower the church to come if it is to make its unique and vital contribution to the flourishing of society and world.
- A kingdom theology imperative for mission in today’s world
2.1 The contemporary context of mission
Before we can say anything meaningful about the theology and ecclesiology underpinning the ministries of any church (including Methodism), it is imperative to get real about the rapidly changing context of mission.
One of the most influential features of contemporary life is that human beings have become more mobile than ever before. Humanity has become geographically mobile (not only individuals but whole populations are now on the move), economically mobile (the globalisation of the market), cognitively mobile (the Internet and, not least, social media, increasingly eliminate time and space as barriers to communication), socially mobile (the massive developments in education, especially literacy and numeracy, are breaking down traditional hierarchies) and culturally mobile (there is a universal emergence of ‘rainbow nations’). Mobility on this massive scale has a number of consequences. On the one hand, it liberates billions of people to enjoy unprecedented freedom of movement and life-style choices (including who or what they worship). On the other hand, it breaks down the bonds of family, locality and nation threatening the security and identity of those who seek to hang on to a more settled and predictable way of life.
To make the future even more challenging, mass mobility has been accompanied by a number of immensely destabilising factors, including the development of weapons of mass destruction, a global population explosion, accelerating climate change and a worldwide refugee crisis.
These issues mean that humankind is facing accelerating and disturbing change on a scale hitherto never experienced before. Nevertheless, behind these ‘presenting’ issues lies an even deeper crisis – a universal breakdown of community and the loss of identity that goes with it. Consequently, because humanity has to find its way to becoming a global community of communities if it is to survive, it is imperative that the quest for community moves to the very top of the agenda. However, that quest must be for a form of community which is open and inclusive, not xenophobic and exclusive. In this context, the experience of Brexit, the dilemmas facing the European Community, the Trump phenomenon and the fragmentation of the Middle East are simply indicators of the challenge ahead.
2.2 A communal focus for a contemporary theology of mission
It should be abundantly clear, therefore, that the mission of the church in our day and age must be, first and foremost, concerned with the future of humankind and not the survival of the church. The gospel for our time is a vision of community at its zenith, the kingdom community, and the offer of the power to make that vision a reality
The gospel of the kingdom community, as I interpret it, is founded on the nature of the divine community, the Trinity and its transformational gifts. Elsewhere I have suggested that these gifts embrace sociological hall-marks of community. However, theologically, they can be identified as 4Ls – the gift of life offered by God the Creator; the gift of liberation, offered by Christ the Liberator; the gift of love, offered by the Holy Spirit the Unifier; and the gift of learning, offered by the Trinity as a learning community. It is these gifts that Christ associated with the essence of the kingdom, taught about throughout his ministry, exemplified in his life and death and which he entrusted to his followers to offer to others.
I believe that the mission of the church is to discern where the gifts of the kingdom community are already manifest within society and world, and to intervene to enable them to be given the fullest possible expression. Where these gifts are neglected or rejected, the church’s mission is to challenge the status quo, and seek to do all in its power to bring these gifts to the fore. However, such a mission can be a very costly undertaken, as the cross demonstrates only too well.
At the same time, if the church is to engage with any credibility and effectiveness in its kingdom community building mission, the medium has to be the message. For this to happen, the mould of Christendom, that institutional form which has shaped the life and work of the church for too long, has to be broken. The church must become a diaconal or servant church.
- A diaconal ecclesiology imperative for mission in today’s world
3.1 A diaconal ecclesiology
The theology of a kingdom community building mission sketched out above has profound implications for the ecclesiology of the church and its leadership. Below, I summarise what I see as the most significant of these implications.
- The Christendom church must give way to the diaconal church.
- The diaconal church is the servant of the kingdom community kingdom.
- Its mission is making manifest the gifts of the kingdom community throughout society
- The diaconal church liberates and equips the laity, the church’s primary missionary
resource, to discern and make manifest the gifts of the kingdom community within every sphere of life – from the family to education, health and welfare to leisure, business to commerce, law and order to government.
Thus the laity can be described as kingdom community builders.
- To facilitate its mission the diaconal church requires new forms of leadership.
3.2 Leadership within the diaconal church
- The leadership of the diaconal church is founded on an ecclesiology which upholds
the principle that ‘no priesthood exists which belongs exclusively to a particular order or class’.
- To engage in kingdom community building within society and world, the diaconal
church requires new forms of leadership based on a clear and distinctive division of labour. I suggest that these should be:
A renewed presbyteral ministry taking the form of ‘an order of continuity’ –
assuming responsibility for deepening the life and work of the gathered church by nourishing the gifts of the kingdom community within it.
A renewed diaconate taking the form of ‘an order of mission’ –
assuming responsibility for equipping the laity to build communities which manifest the gifts of the kingdom community within every sector of society.
- How Methodism currently manifests the signs of a diaconal church
Few churches as yet manifest the hall-marks of the diaconal church and the new forms of leadership needed for it to fulfil its mission as the servant of the kingdom community. However, my conviction is that Methodism comes as close as any to reflecting this missional and ecclesiological vision of a diaconal church.
I note below some diaconal hall-marks present within the life and work of the Methodist Church today.
- Methodism retains many features of its origins as a holiness movement , a concept
which, as I argue elsewhere, embraces the gifts of the kingdom community.
- Within Methodism, lay people are seen as the church’s primary mission resource.
- As stated in its Deed of Union, the Methodist Church mirrors the diaconal church in
that the ministries of laity, presbyter and deacon are held to be of equal standing.
- As with the diaconal church, Methodism is a profoundly communal church with a strong emphasis on ‘fellowship’ and pastoral care.
- Methodism’s character as a mutually supportive ‘Connexion’ reflects an important
communal hall-mark of the diaconal church.
- Methodism has always had a deep concern for the poor and marginalised as an
essential focus of mission.
- The Methodist Church has consistently been in the van of the ecumenical movement
in Britain, mirroring the diaconal church’s commitment to openness and inclusivity.
Nevertheless, British Methodism has not always appreciated the importance of the deeply communal nature of its theology and the diaconal character of its ecclesiology. Thus it is in danger of neglecting or losing that which can offer a great deal to the church to come.
Nor has it fully grasped the significance of the life and work of the Methodist Diaconal Order as a means of developing some of the most creative aspects of Methodism’s theology and ecclesiology, of reshaping its approach to mission and developing now forms of leadership.
- The implications for the Methodist Diaconal Order
of embracing a kingdom theology and diaconal ecclesiology
5.1 Signs of the kingdom community in practice
At the heart of the missional theology, which should inspire Christians engaged in a world facing communal fragmentation, are the gifts of the kingdom community – life, liberation, love and learning – and the power of these gifts to transform chaos into community. For the church, including Methodism, the call to build a world transformed by those gifts is I believe a divine imperative at the heart of mission. So how can we as Methodists discern those signs of the kingdom community which might guide us in building kingdom communities here and now?
Many such signs exist in world and church but we are often blind to them because they frequently appear in the commonplace happenings of daily life and work. However, whenever and wherever we do discern them, they need to be recognised as gifts of grace and treated as extremely precious. For me, the life of the Methodist Diaconal Order (henceforth usually referred to as the MDO), with all its inevitable human limitations, offers Methodism and the wider church many precious insights into what mission as kingdom community building might mean. In this context, it is interesting that Anthony Reddie has described the Methodist Diaconal Order as ‘Methodism’s best kept secret’ and Helen Cameron as ‘yeast in the dough of Methodism’.
5.2 Implications of embracing a kingdom theology and diaconal ecclesiology for the MDO as a religious order
My experience of ten years in the Order is that deacons know ‘in their guts’ that their life as a religious community powerfully bonds, supports and inspires them as an Order. However, I believe that we have yet to appreciate fully why our work as an order of ministry and (the ‘and’ is all-important) a religious order need to remain ‘completely intertwined’. Such ‘intertwining’ is essential because, if the building of kingdom communities is to take pride of place in mission, it is the life of the MDO as a religious community which offers a model, to church and world, of what collectives transformed by the gifts of the kingdom community might look like. The medium (the MDO as a religious community) must exemplify the message (the need for all collectives, sacred and secular, to become kingdom communities).
Insights into the nature of the kingdom community offered by the MDO as a religious order are not so much about its forms and structures. They are about how the Order exemplifies the kingdom community’s gifts of life, liberation, love and learning. I have described in some detail elsewhere ways in which I see the MDO, as a religious order, offering Methodism, the wider church and, indeed, world, invaluable insights into what the gifts of the kingdom community might look like in practice. This is why the MDO can be designated ‘a tool of Christian mission’, and this is the answer to the Interim Report’s insistent question as to what Methodism and the wider church have to learn from it.
5.3 Implications of embracing a kingdom theology and diaconal ecclesiology for the MDO as an order of ministry
The MDO needs to derive a deeper understanding of its mission from the way in which its life as a religious order currently manifests, and might in the future manifest more fully, the kingdom community’s gifts of life, liberation, love and learning. However, this distinctive missional contribution to Methodism and the wider church would be further enhanced if, whilst retaining its designation as an order of ministry, the MDO built on the attributes of the latter to help it develop into an order of mission.
What would be some key features of the Order becoming an order of mission?
- The apostolate of an order of mission would be, first and foremost, concerned with the
communal transformation of society, not the maintenance of the gathered church.
- As an order of mission, its primary task would be to further kingdom community
building across all sectors of daily life – in schools, hospitals, shops and offices, businesses, centres of government and situations wherever people live, work and play.
- The heart of such an apostolate would be enabling, educating and equipping the
people of God – the church’s primary mission resource – to become kingdom community builders alongside those of Christian faith or none. This will entail liberating the laity from over-dependency on the ordained ministry.
- As members of an order of mission, the primary task of the diaconate would assume the role of mission enabler.
A renewed diaconate would thus be acknowledging that the calling of the diaconate has always been profoundly contextual. Thus, in the West at least, there is now an urgent need to move away from the primary role of the deacon being regarded as ‘witness through service’ and, more recently, ‘jack of all trades’, to the primary task of the deacon as mission enabler, education and equipping lay people to engage in the building of kingdom communities within every sector of society.
It is important to note here that a frequently used, ‘mission statement’ of the MDO already feels after, even if the Order does not as yet embrace, this shift of priorities. It states that the MDO is ‘a mission focused, pioneering religious community committed to enabling (my italics) outreach, evangelism and service in God’s world’. Such a statement points forward towards the primary role of Methodist deacons becoming that of ‘mission enablers’ of the people of God dispersed in the world.
- It is recognised that at certain times an order of mission will need to encourage the initiatives of diaconal pioneers. However, the primary calling of the deacon to be a mission enabler means a commitment to encourage and equip others to take responsibility for any such diaconal initiative taken as soon as is feasible.
- The implications for Methodist presbyters of embracing
a kingdom theology and diaconal ecclesiology
6.1 Implications of embracing a kingdom theology and diaconal ecclesiology for presbyters as an order of ministry
Within the diaconal church, alongside deacons developing into an order of mission, presbyters need to become an order of continuity. This means their drawing on the enduring riches of the church, bequeathed by Christendom at its best, to create the gathered church as another model of the kingdom community (alongside that of the MDO as a religious order). In this capacity, presbyters would have the explicit responsibility of enabling the gathered church, be it inherited, planted or ‘a fresh expression’, to manifest the gifts of the kingdom community – life, liberation, love and learning.
Within the diaconal church, many gathered churches will need to refocus their life and work to fulfil their calling as servants of the kingdom community. For unless the gifts of the latter are clearly evident in and through the life of the gathered church, kingdom community building within society and world becomes an impossible task. The medium of the gathered church must also embody its message – the good news of the kingdom.
To describe presbyters as ‘an order of continuity’ in no way devalues their calling as an order of ministry. Continuity is quite different from ‘maintenance’. A ministry of continuity requires the presbyter not only to tap into resources from the past but to develop them for the future. It involves equipping members of the gathered church, through worship, education in the faith and pastoral care, to gain the inspiration and resilience to engage in kingdom community building in daily life. Thus, within the diaconal church, the presbyter is also engaged in mission, though in partnership with the deacon. However, his or her primary concern is the communal development and enrichment of the life and work of the gathered church, inherited or newly established, rather than, as in the case of a renewed diaconate, equipping the laity for their daily engagement as kingdom community builders within wider society.
6.2 Implications of embracing a kingdom theology and diaconal ecclesiology for presbyters as a religious order
Being a religious order enables deacons to empower and give direction to their apostolate as an order of mission enablers. Likewise, I believe that, in order to empower and give direction to their calling as an order of continuity, presbyters too should become a religious order. This would help Methodism break the deadening grip of institutionalism and reclaim its heritage as a holiness movement
6.3 The need for deacons and presbyters to be members of different religious orders
None the less, one very important proviso needs to be added. Presbyters as a religious order should remain distinct from deacons as a religious order. Just as within the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches, different apostolates have brought into being different religious orders, so it should be the case with Methodist presbyters and deacons. To try and amalgamate Methodist presbyters and deacons into a single religious order would confuse identities, undermine a sense of solidarity and weaken the distinctive apostolates of both.
To retain deacons and presbyters as distinct religious orders is, to be realistic, also about the different structures and forms needed for orders that would differ considerably in size, spread and ethos.
- Ensuring the equal standing of diaconal and presbyteral orders
In principle Methodism regards deacons and presbyters as orders of equal standing. Both are ordained at Conference and brought into ‘full Connexion’ together. Both are on the same stipend and experience the same housing arrangements. However, in reality, most Methodists regard the ministry of deacons as secondary to and, in many respects, dependent on that of presbyters. Here, Methodism is coming dangerously close to embracing the ecclesiology of those churches which uphold a hierarchical form of ministry, and to denying the profoundly important stance of its own Deed of Union. I believe Methodism needs to address the kinds of issues mentioned below which perpetuate this ecclesiological anomaly.
7.1 Within the gathered church
I believe that deacons should in principle be authorised to preside at holy communion. For deacons in principle to be authorised to preside at holy communion does not mean that in practice this need happen frequently. However, if the MDO is to become an order of mission in genuine partnership with presbyters as an order of continuity, then deacons should be authorised to preside at holy communion as and when their responsibility for equipping the laity for their task of kingdom community building in daily life makes this appropriate. This would also enable deacons to be able to administer holy communion beyond the walls of the church when needed to support lay people in their engagement with secular society.
Another important development in enhancing the role of deacons in worship might be that they are authorised from time to time to preside over the washing of feet as a sacrament gaining increasing attention ecumenically and of particular relevance to the ministry of the people of God in the world.
Overall, however, the diaconate, as an order of mission, needs to have a more distinctive role in worship. This could include offering an exposition of ‘the Word’ (not necessarily as formally designated ‘local preachers’) when appropriate and leading prayers to uphold the kingdom community building mission of members of the congregation in daily life.
7.2 Across the Connexion
I believe that two other developments are essential if the ministries of deacon and presbyter are to achieve parity of standing within the Connexion.
- The presidency of the Methodist Conference, as well as the office of Chair of District, should be open to deacons. The current anomaly stems in part from deacons not being authorised to preside at holy communion. However, the MDO will never be able to make its distinctive contribution to reshaping the mission of Methodism if deacons are barred from the opportunity to lead the Connexion in the same way as presbyters.
- The candidating of presbyters to become members of the MDO should become as normative as the candidating of deacons to become presbyters. Both changes of ministerial identity are already permitted by the constitutional practice of the Methodist Church.
I believe that a number of presbyters would transfer to the MDO if deacons were in principle authorised to celebrate holy communion. Up to the present time, only one such transfer has taken place (in stark contrast to a considerable number of deacons becoming presbyters). This ‘one way traffic’ may well be influenced by the fact that presbyters are unprepared to surrender their calling to preside at holy communion. However, it is a situation which reveals Methodism’s gradual drift away from its own Deed of Union towards a hierarchical understanding of ordination
- Changes required in selection, training, ordination and collective learning to further the ministry of deacons as an order of mission
and presbyters as an order of continuity
8.1 Changes required to develop the ministry of deacons as an order of mission:
- in the selection process
– ensure that candidates are committed to becoming both members of an order
of mission and of a religious order.
- in training (pre- and post-ordination)
– end diaconal training as a ‘bolt-on’ to presbyteral training and give it the
time and attention it warrants.
– enable those in training to understand and appreciate the theology and
ecclesiology underpinning the diaconate as both an order of mission and a religious order.
– offer deacons the professional skills required to fulfil the responsibilities of
being members of an order of mission.
– help deacons to become more aware of and confident in exercising their role
as servant leaders of the people of God in the world.
- in the ordination service
– include a commitment to the diaconate as a religious order.
- in the life of the Order
– develop more fully the Order’s life as a learning community, notably through
diaconal area groups and Convocation.
8.2 Changes needed to develop the ministry of presbyters as an order of continuity
These steps would be similar to those for deacons outlined above, only focusing on the theology and ecclesiology underpinning, and implications for presbyters becoming an order of continuity and a religious order.
- Issues regarding numbers, spread and finance
9.1 Increasing the spread of and numbers within a diaconal order of mission
For the mission of Methodism as a diaconal church to be reshaped, at least one deacon should be stationed in every large circuit. Though the MDO has expanded in recent years, this raises the practical problem of there not being enough deacons to meet such a development.
However, I believe there are many people, lay and ordained, already employed by Methodism who are striving hard, in a pragmatic and often isolated way, to undertake the role of ‘mission enablers’. Such people, and Methodism as a whole, would benefit immensely if they were offered the communal support, and a deeper understanding of the theology and ecclesiology underpinning their role, which would result from their becoming members of the MDO. Amongst those whom I include as potential members of an expanded diaconal order of mission are:
- those who currently assume the title of ‘mission enabler’
- those designated as ‘learning and development officers’ or with a similar title
- presbyters dedicated to working ‘on the margins’ of church and society
- chaplains who see their work as primarily missional rather than pastoral
- many training to form the new category of ‘pioneer ministers’.
- lay people already building bridges between church and world in a voluntary capacity.
To those serving as ‘mission enablers’ whose circumstances prevented them becoming members of a renewed diaconal order encouragement should be given to consider becoming members of a Third Order (see section 11 below).
Methodism also needs to address the realities of life and work in this day and age and develop a ‘self-supporting’ form of diaconal (as well as presbyteral) ministry. This could help meet the need for the expansion of the MDO indicated above.
It is worth noting here that an increase in the number of men, and of those from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, would be a welcome development for the MDO.
9.2 Financial requirements
Movement of the kind of personnel noted above into the MDO as an order of mission could be undertaken with relatively limited financial cost. Other funding might come from the following.
- Some large circuits in being, or coming into being, have funds which could be used to
employ a deacon as a mission enabler.
- There may be Christian voluntary organizations operating working within society
(Action for Children, MHA and so forth) willing to fund a deacon as a mission enabler related to their particular sphere of work.
- There might be trusts willing to fund a deacon to work at community building in
relation to the development of secular (or religious) organizations.
- It is not out of the question that the ‘launch’ of an new order of mission within
Methodism might attract additional giving from the Methodist people.
- Some funding from the sale of Methodism’s redundant churches could go to support
the new order.
- As already noted, the development of self-supporting ministries would help here.
- Finally, a partnership with the Church of England to establish an ecumenical diaconal
order of mission would warrant funding come from that denomination.
- Changes in leadership, organisation and accountability needed for the Methodist Diaconal Order to develop as an order of mission
10.1 Leadership issues
If the MDO grew in size and spread, there would need to be at least two Deputy Wardens, based in appropriate geographical locations, to serve it. There would also need to be additional administrative support for the Warden and Deputy Wardens. A much closer bond would need to be forged between the MDO and District Chairs.
There is no reason to think that the responsibilities of the MDO’s Leadership Group, in relation to the support and accountability of the Warden and Deputy Warden(s), would need to change a great deal.
10.2 Changes in diaconal gatherings outside Convocation
To assist with bonding, oversight and administration, it would be valuable for an expanded Order to hold an annual regional ‘convocation’, sometime between annual national Convocations, for deacons serving in the south or the north of the country. Such regional gatherings have happened in the past.
In an expanded Order, the function and agenda of area groups would be even more important than at present. Thus groups might need to take on a more structured form with area group leaders, though being nominated by area groups, appointed at and answerable to Convocation. Area groups might also be given more structured training responsibilities to help their members develop their skills as mission enablers.
- Engaging lay people in actively supporting
new diaconal and presbyteral orders
It would be immensely supportive for the new orders of deacons and presbyters if Methodism were to initiate the formation of two ‘Third Orders’, consisting largely but not exclusively of lay people. These would be similar to those associated with the historic religious orders, such as the Franciscans. One Third Order would be associated with the MDO as an order of mission and the other with presbyters as an order of continuity. Each Third Order would be seen as an integral part of the life and work of the orders of mission and continuity respectively, though less formally and fully involved than their ordained members.
- Ecumenical issues
12.1 What Methodism and the MDO could learn from other churches and Christian communities
Many denominations on the European and North American scenes have in recent years published reports of consultations on a permanent and/or a renewed diaconate (see Introduction). These all strongly affirm the significance of the permanent diaconate for the renewal of the life and work of the church. However, despite helpful historical reviews of the ministry exercised by deacons in the past, few reports appear to grasp the importance of a renewed diaconate as an order of mission. Nor are many reports able to envisage breaking the mould of Christendom and the emergence of a renewed diaconate having genuine equality of standing with presbyters (priests).
12.2 Learning from other forms of community, lay and religious
A good deal about the way in which having a rule of life can underpin and inform the apostolate of Christian groups and networks can be gained from what has been called ‘the Christian Community Movement’ active over the last few decades of the twentieth century, as well as from the much smaller number of similar initiatives which have commenced since then. Typical communities which have much to offer are the Mennonites, Iona, Movement for a Better World, Taizé, Corrymeela and l’Arche. A number of older religious orders, such as the Franciscans, Little Sisters of Jesus, Sisters of Notre Dame and certain lay Roman Catholic apostolates, offer important guidelines for the future of Methodist orders.
There is also something to be learnt from a range of evangelical associations seeking to engage with different occupational spheres of British society.
12.3 What the development of new orders of mission and continuity within Methodism could offer other denominations
As an order of ministry and a religious order the Methodist Diaconal Order is already blazing a trail concerning the potential of a renewed diaconate for the benefit of a number of other churches. For example, members of DACE (the Diaconal Association of the Church of England) have on several occasions expressed their ‘envy’ of this feature of the Methodist diaconate. There is also considerable interest within the United Methodist Church in the USA relating to the way in which the diaconal order has developed within British Methodism, as well as to the suggestion that it could develop further into an order of mission.
Pragmatically, however, the proposals in this paper have most immediate ecumenical relevance to the Church of England. For historical, organizational and economic reasons, it is the Church of England that will continue to take the main responsibility for the continuity of a church rooted in community of place. The parish system, for all its weaknesses, still has a vital role to play in this context, and Anglican priests (presbyters) remain in pole position to continue to be responsible for maintaining that apostolate.
I believe that Methodism’s contribution to the sustainability of the gathered (or parish) church is to work with the Church of England to explore how the combined resources of both denominations, especially that of presbyters as an order of continuity, can be most effectively deployed. Nevertheless, I remain convinced that the most important offering Methodism can make to the ministries of the Church of England is a model of how to develop and expand its diaconate as an order of mission.
March 2017 (revised)
The key resource for this paper is:
‘Building Kingdom Communities
– with the diaconate as a new order of mission’
Peterborough: Upfront Publishing
In a world in which resources are unjustly distributed, identities are under threat and solidarity is fragile, the toughest task facing humanity is the quest for community. Christians fail to grasp that in the gifts of the kingdom community – life, liberation, love and learning – they hold the key to what the search for community, from church to workplace, is all about. This book describes those gifts and how a servant church, through the creation of its diaconate as an order of mission, might offer a fragmented world new hope. The Methodist Church in Britain is taken as a case-study of what might be achieved.
David Clark is a member of the Methodist Diaconal Order. He worked as a Methodist presbyter in Sheffield and London, and as a senior lecturer in community education at Westhill College, Birmingham. He played a leading role in the emergence of the Christian Community Movement, set up the Christians in Public Life Programme and founded the Human City Institute, Birmingham. He is co-ordinator of the Kingdom at Work Project.
From Breaking the Mould of Christendom – which lays the foundations for this book:
‘In times of crisis, prophets appear in the church. David Clark is such a prophet. His book brilliantly analyses the mission of the church in contemporary life…’
John Hull – then Honorary Professor of Practical Theology in the Queens Foundation, Birmingham
‘David Clark challenges all Christians, not least deacons, to make a Copernican shift in their understanding of diaconal mission… It is a must-read for deacons worldwide.’
Sue Jackson – then Warden of the Diaconal Order, Methodist Church in Great Britain
 Methodist Council’s Paper MC/13/2/19 Review of the Role of the Warden of the Methodist Diaconal Order.
 It should be noted that, in transmission, the original brief has somehow lost the broader and very important ecumenical context originally intended. The Interim Report of this working party (2016) simply states its brief as an exploration of ‘The Theology and Ecclesiology Underpinning the Diaconate’.
 A critique of the Faith and Order Committee’s Interim Report on the place of the diaconate within Methodism and the universal church. September 2016. Obtainable from – firstname.lastname@example.org
 See, for example, the discussion taking place in many other churches:
The Diaconate as an Ecumenical Opportunity. The Hanover Report (1996). Report of the
Anglican-Lutheran International Commission
To Love and Serve the Lord – Diakonia in the Life of the Church. The Jerusalem Report (2012).
Report of the Anglican-Lutheran International Commission (ALIC III)
From the Diakonia of Christ to the Diakonia of the Apostles (2003). International Theological
Commission. London: Catholic Truth Society
William T. Ditewig (2007) The Emerging Diaconate – Servants Leaders in a Servant Church. New York/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press
Church of England
For such a time as this. A renewed diaconate in the Church of England (2001). London:
Church House Publishing
The Distinctive Diaconate (2003). Diocese of Salisbury
The Mission and Ministry of the Whole Church – Biblical, theological and contemporary perspectives
(2007) The Faith and Order Advisory Group of the Church of England
Church of Scotland
Deacons of the Gospel – A Vision for Today : A Ministry for Tomorrow (2000) Church of Scotland
Episcopal Church in North America
Susanne Watson Epting (2015) Unexpected Consequences – The Diaconate Renewed. New York:
 For example, Clark, David (2016) Building Kingdom Communities – with the diaconate as a new order of mission. Peterborough: Upfront Publishing, pp. 12-28
 A key text on the diaconal church is To Love and Serve the Lord – Diakonia in the Life of the Church. The Jerusalem Report (2012). Report of the Anglican-Lutheran International Commission (ALIC III).
See also Clark, D. (2005; second printing 2014) Breaking the Mould of Christendom: Kingdom community, diaconal church and the liberation of the laity. Peterborough: Upfront Publishing
 Methodist Deed of Union, 1932
 Clark, D. (2010) Reshaping the mission of Methodism – a diaconal church approach. Oldham: Church in the Market Place, pp. 167-191
 For examples of such glimpses in the world of work see Clark, D. (2014) The Kingdom at Work Project – a communal approach to mission in the workplace. Peterborough: Upfront Publishing
 Who do you say we are? 6 and 15.
 What is a Deacon? (2004) 5.2
 See Clark, D. (2013) ‘The hallmark of the Methodist Diaconal Order – its life as a religious order – and some implications for the future of Methodism’ in Theology and Ministry – An Online Journal. (Vol. 2) University of Durham: St John’s College – www.durham.ac.uk/theologyandministry
Clark, D. (2014) The Kingdom at Work Project – a communal approach to mission in the workplace.
Peterborough: Upfront Publishing, pp. 173-184
 Interim Report, 5.3.7
 Ibid, 5.1; 5.2; 6.1; 6.4
 ‘The Methodist Church holds the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers and consequently believes that no priesthood exists which belongs exclusively to a particular order or class’, Deed of Union, 1932
 Building Kingdom Communities, pp. 151-152
From a Roman Catholic perspective, see O’Loughlin, T. (2015) Washing Feet: Imitating the example of Jesus in the liturgy today. Liturgical Press: Norwich
 Building Kingdom Communities, pp. 189-190 and 195-196. Note. In 2005, when I moved from presbyteral to diaconal ministry, I was ‘released’ from my presbyteral commission to preside at holy communion, a commission which I had held for forty years as a circuit and sector minister. No one within Methodism gave any thought as to the theological justification for this ‘de-commissioning’.
 See Clark, D. Convocation 2015 (2015), MDO (unpublished but on the MDO web site) and The Methodist Diaconal Order as a learning community (2015) MDO (unpublished)
 Clark, D. (2015) The Methodist Diaconal Order as a learning community, MDO (unpublished)
 See Clark, D. (1977) Basic Communities- Towards as Alternative Society. London: SPCK; Clark, D. (1984) The Liberation of the Church – The role of basic Christian groups in a new re-formation, Westhill College, Birmingham: NACCCAN; Clark, D. (2005; second printing 2014) ‘The Christian Community Movement’ in Breaking the Mould of Christendom: Kingdom community, diaconal church and the liberation of the laity, pp. 150-169. Peterborough: Upfront Publishing
 For a vision of the future of religious orders see Barbara Fiand (2001) Refocusing the Vision, USA:
 See Clark, Breaking the Mould of Christendom, pp. 254-264