Thursday, July 12, 2012

Deacons and such things...

This past weekend the Mid-South District met in convention and did what most districts do in convention -- we lauded our family identity and we approved nearly everything we had been doing as that which we should continue to do.  Like a true family, this was not without some debate or some opposition.  But there is one particular area of concern worth a closer look.  It is the support for and the affirmation of the use of unordained district "deacons" as ministers of Word and Sacrament in extraordinary situations that have become all too ordinary.

To be fair, the Mid-South is doing nothing different than perhaps half of the LCMS districts are doing -- with justification in what has been called the Wichita recension of the Augsburg Confession.  That 1989 decision formalized what had been informal and gave theological and resolution cover to what had always been seen in the past as an theological aberration and occasional emergency measure.  In some districts the convention acted for a moratorium on new deacons acting as Pastors but without call (they are not rostered ordained or commissioned ministers) or ordination.  In other cases, the practice was allowed to continue with caution.  In the cause of my own District it was applauded and encouraged as good, right, and salutary.

The whereases in the resolution included statements not without dispute in and of themselves (example, that the Augsburg Confession includes no requirement of ordination for Word and Sacrament ministry; funny how it said nothing and yet this was not an article which Rome disputed and Lutherans have always understood "called according to the rite" to refer to ordination).  It justifies the resolution because the number of "non-calling" congregations continues to rise (those unwilling or unable to financially support a full-time Pastor).  Discontinuation of the licensed deacon authorization to perform Word and Sacrament ministry would eliminate the regular exercise of the means of grace for congregations in half our Synod's districts.

Funny, though, the schizophrenic nature of the LCMS on this issue and our uneasiness about it all was noted by request that the 2013 Synod Convention authorize a taskforce to regularize the diaconal office in training and responsibilities for recommendation to the 2016 Convention.  This effectively says that the status quo in the Mid-South is expected for another four years.

As I understand it, we have hundreds of CRM Pastors, those who are candidates but as yet uncalled, who may have been suspended for everything from health to vocational to familial reasons but who are now awaiting call and placement.  Right now they are already working in secular settings just to pay the bills.  Why not match the CRMs with their bi-vocational skills with some of these or all of these "non-calling" congregations to provide regular pastoral ministry instead of the exceptional service of unordained deacons?

Why not yoke these congregations together so that they might support a full-time Word and Sacrament ministry with a called Pastor?  In my own circuit, we have congregations once yoked as dual parishes but unyoked out of a desire for their own Pastor.  Now they are being served by deacons but they could be served by a Pastor if they pooled their resources and worked together.

The use of deacons for Word and Sacrament ministry violates our own history and confession.  It represents decisions born of emergency settings that make regular policy for the Church (never a good practice).  It provides less than the best we can offer to these parishes -- many of whom might be viable for a full-time pastoral presence if given the right help and direction.  It places good men with good intentions in unfair and compromising situations (I do not blame the individuals for the confusion in the church that has told them this is what they can and should do).  It leaves us with more and more loopholes to something which should be fairly bulletproof. 

The Mid-South is hardly any different than other districts of the LCMS in this but it is nothing to brag about and something for which we should all address with regret, repentance, and renewal.  Why are we content with the status quo and the band aid of deacons in Word and Sacrament ministry?  We can do better for the Church, for the parishes so served, and for the men who seek to serve the Lord but are given the wrong direction with respect to this situation?


Anonymous said...

Why not match the CRMs with their bi-vocational skills with some of these or all of these "non-calling" congregations to provide regular pastoral ministry instead of the exceptional service of unordained deacons?

In this era of skype and other technologies, it seems like it would be easier than ever to connect people. Of course, like anything, you would have to actually want to. So the real question is why don't synod/district leaders want to?

Janis Williams said...

Anonymous, synonymous, synodymus, synodymust.

My reacition? YUP.