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Baptismal covenant forms foundation for Title III revisions

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
[Episcopal News Service] 

A proposal for the direct ordination of priests saw little opposition in its initial hearing Wednesday afternoon.

The proposal is part of resolution A111, the proposed revision of the Episcopal Church’s Title III canons related to ministry, offered by the Standing Commission on Ministry Development (SCMD).

The SCMD’s major assumption in the revision is that ministry is grounded in the baptismal covenant and that the canons should support this foundation. The revisions clarify the need for dioceses, congregations and other communities of faith to help all their members discern and form their ministries.

Every baptismal calling to ministry has “full and equal dignity,” according to the SCMD’s report to the General Convention. The call for direct ordination to the priesthood follows from this assumption (Canon III.9.8). The commission’s work says ministry is not cumulative. One does not begin as a layperson and have ministry conferred on them in the layers of deacon, priest and bishop, according to this theological perspective, but one has gifts for and a call to a specific ministry.

Noting that all Christians are called to servanthood, clergy deputy Carol Hossler of Arizona said she believes “there are better ways to enter into servanthood than being a transitional deacon for six months or a year.”

The Rev. Josephine Borgeson, a deacon from the Diocese of Northern California, said she knows many priests treasure the “deep experience” they had during their ordination as transitional deacons. While she said she wants the convention to honor that experience, she suggested that this emotional attachment was like the one that people have to a favorite hymn. The hymn’s theology may need some work, but the hymn still evokes a strong feeling.

“Let’s renew our theology and move on to the new day of ministry that we are being offered,” she told Wednesday’s joint hearing of SCMD and the Constitution and Canons Committee.

Some of the witnesses testifying at Wednesday afternoon’s hearing advocated an optional approach. “For practical purposes, that’s the way it’s going to become a reality,” said Winnie Crapson of Kansas, who said she’s been advocating for direct ordination for nearly 25 years.

Bishop John P. Croneberger of Newark, chair of the SCMD, said Tuesday his group expects to take a straw poll of sorts on the direct-ordination question to the House of Bishops before the end of this week. This would happen by way of a revised resolution (C019) from the Diocese of Kansas. The resolution currently would allow bishops, with the consent of the Standing Committee, to ordain people directly to the priesthood.

The SCMD recommends direct ordination but prepared two substitutes for its revised Canon III.9.8. One continues the use of the transitional diaconate for candidates to the priesthood, and the other gives dioceses the option of direct ordination. Croneberger said the commission needs to get a sense of the bishops’ inclination in order to keep the revisions to resolution A111 intact.

A hearing on the revised C019 is set for Thursday, July 31, at 2 p.m., Croneberger said.

Expand the nondiscrimination clause, which also follows from the baptismal covenant’s call to ministry. Ministry should be open to all baptized persons, says proposed Canon III.1.2, regardless of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities and age.

Other substantive changes to Title III:

  • Reorganize ordination canons to reflect each order’s distinctive call (Canon III.6-7, Canon III.8-9). There would be one set of canons for priests’ ordination and life and work and one for deacons’ ordination and life and work.
  • Change the areas of competence for deacons to relate more specifically to diaconal ministry (Canon III.6.3(b)).
  • Create a single canon for ordination to the priesthood (Canon III.8). So-called Canon 9 priesthood is eliminated, and there is flexibility for both locally formed and seminary-trained priests.
  • Streamline the ordination process and clarify roles of all parties involved (Canon III.8, especially Canon III.8.2(d)). The major change here removes the last ordination approval authority from the diocesan standing committees. Instead standing committees will certify that the process leading to ordination has been followed.
  • Set the minimum time of preparation for priestly ordination at 18 months (Canon III.8.2(c)).
  • Require continuing education as a way to treat formation as an ongoing experience (Canon III.2.5, Canon III.4.1(a), Canon III7.5, Canon III 9.1).
  • Clarify the roles of licensed ministries, and modify their titles (Canon III.4.1(a) and Canon III.4.3-8). This change removes “lay” from some of the titles. Licensed ministries are listed and defined are Pastoral Leader, Worship Leader, Preacher, Eucharistic Minister, Eucharistic Visitor, and Catechist.