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Bishops approve Title III revisions

By David Skidmore
8/7/2003
[Episcopal News Service] 

In the wake of marathon debates over sexuality and Anglican order, the bishops still had energy to spend two hours dissecting the church’s Title III canons on ministry late Thursday afternoon.

By unanimous vote, the bishops adopted the omnibus resolution (A111) from the Standing Commission on Ministry Development (SCMD) that overhauls the canons governing lay and ordained ministry. Presented with a resolution heavily amended by the legislative committee on ministry, the bishops proposed 16 amendments to seven of the nine canons in the title, adopting 12 of them dealing with access to ministry (Canon 1), Eucharistic ministers (Canon 4), criteria for nomination for ordination as deacon (Canon 6), letters of agreement and assignment of deacons (Canon 7), postulancy requirements and standing committee’s role (Canon 8), notification of the election of rectors and letters of agreement, rector’s control of church facilities, and limitations on ministry for retired priests (Canon 9).

The SCMD revisions are designed to streamline discernment, candidacy and ordination, promote the importance of formation of all baptized members, clarify the types and functions of licensed ministries, and create a single canon for priesthood. Although the most controversial measure — direct ordination to the priesthood — was rejected by the bishops earlier in convention, the SCMD resolution will have major implications for the chief forces guiding ministry development: diocesan commissions on ministry, standing committees and bishops.

The most heavily debated changes dealt with the guarantee of access to lay and ordained ministry, membership time requirements for consideration for ordination, deacons in charge of congregations, and the role of standing committees in recommending candidates for ordination.

In the Canon 1 section guaranteeing access to ministry, the bishops had trouble with the phrase in section 2: “no person shall be denied access to or the exercise of any ministry.  ...”  They amended it to read “no person shall be denied access to the discernment process or any ministry."

Bishop Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island noted that the canon’s original language could unnecessarily tie a bishop’s hands in barring persons from ministry in a congregation based on confidential information.

The bishops chose more leniency in the nomination procedures by removing the restriction on the length of time a person must be a member of the Episcopal Church before being accepted into the ordination process for deacon. The current canon states at least three years.

On the provision barring deacons from being in charge of congregations, Bishop Bertram Herlong of Tennessee proposed loosening the restriction to permit deacons to head congregations “under direct supervision of a bishop or the bishop’s designee.” Bishop Charles Bennison of Pennsylvania supported Herlong, arguing that if the canons permit a lay pastoral leader to have that responsibility, it should also be open to deacons.

Other bishops questioned whether the provision would apply to transitional as well as permanent deacons.

Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori of Nevada opposed the move, arguing that deacons are ordained for service in the world. “They should not have their primary ministry centered in the parish,” she said.

On a show of hands, the Herlong amendment was narrowly defeated.

The role of standing committees in recommending persons for postulancy and candidacy was curtailed when bishops approved an amendment by Bishop John Howe that struck language directing standing committees to make “a recommendation regarding ordination. Among those supporting the change was Bishop Richard Shimpfky of El Camino Real who noted how his Commission on Ministry was “often very, very frustrated” when the Standing Committee took an opposite position on recommending a candidate.

When other bishops noted the change would present a conflict in other areas of the title, Howe accepted a friendly amendment directing standing committees to certify canonical requirements of candidates met in accordance with sections 6 and 7 of Canon 8.

Other amendments adopted including lengthening the time period from 30 to 60 days in which a rector of vestry must notify the bishop of the selection of an assistant priest and extending the rector’s authority over parish property and facililties to include “access to all records maintained by and on behalf of the congregation.”

The resolution now goes on to the House of Deputies for concurrence.