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Toward Columbus: Ministry canons revision process continues

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
[Episcopal News Service]  The 75th General Convention will be asked to continue the work of revising the church's ministry canons that began at the last convention.

While many of the changes to Title III proposed by the Standing Commission on Ministry Development are mostly matters of form rather than substance, the convention will be asked to consider a few major changes.

High on the Standing Commission's list is a proposal to end the process of having the General Convention consent to the elections of bishops that occur within 120 days of Convention.

The Standing Commission's work also calls for:

+ allowing deacons to participate in the governance of the church,
+ requiring a process of formation for new bishops and continuing education for all bishops, and
+ clarifying the role of diocesan standing committees in the diaconal and priestly discernment and ordination processes.

Much of the editing work the Standing Commission did on Title III tries to bring symmetry to the discernment and ordination process for deacons and priests, and also tries to have the similar canons that pertain to bishops be as parallel as possible.

The proposed change in the consent process is meant to bring an even hand to the handling of all episcopal elections, according to Bishop Jim Kelsey of Northern Michigan, a member of the sub-committee that developed the draft revisions for consideration. The change would end a "historical anomaly," Kelsey said, that requires elections within the 120-day period to come before the convention for consent, but sends all others to diocesan standing committees and bishops with  jurisdiction.

Ending the 120-day consent process would require changing the church's constitution. Two successive conventions must approve constitutional changes, so the current process would remain in effect through the 2009 convention even if a change is approved this June.

The provision for deacons to participate in the governance of the church was made after receiving and discussing position papers regarding the role of deacons in the councils of the church, according to the standing commission's Blue Book report. The papers were collected pursuant to Resolution 2003-A119, which called for continued study of the issue.

When the standing commission looked at the roles the deacons currently hold in the church, Kelsey said, "you find deacons all over the place." They can serve as members of Executive Council and as General Convention deputies, and diocesan commissions on ministry are required to have deacons as members if deacons are resident in the diocese. They can also be elected to provincial positions and a deacon is required to serve on the Standing Commission on Ministry Development.

Part of the justification for including the provision in the Title III canons, Kelsey said, comes from a section of "Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry," a Faith and Order paper issued in 1982 by the World Council of Churches. Part of the description of deacons in BEM, as it is known, says that they "fulfill certain administrative tasks and may be elected to responsibilities for governance."

Kelsey said the commission decided it was important to call for a formal formation process for new bishops in part because Title III has moved towards acknowledging the need for lifelong learning in all ministerial roles and especially as people are called into new  ministries. In addition, there is no formation process for people discerning a call to the episcopate similar to that for available for those preparing for diaconal and priestly ordination, he said.

There has simply an assumption that experienced priests can easily move into the bishop's chair, when in fact those who make that transition find that being a bishop is "a very different responsibility," Kelsey said.

The other major change to Title III proposes to restore the role of diocesan standing committees to their pre-2003 revision status. Prior to the 2003 changes, the standing committee entered the process at the point when a person applied to be a candidate for holy orders and again when the person sought final approval for ordination.

In 2003 the SCMD proposed limiting the standing committee's role to merely certifying that the canonical process had been followed, and proposed that the standing committee make that certification only as part of the final ordination approval. The 2003 General Convention restored the standing committee's role to certify that there is no objection to the person based on medical, psychological, moral, doctrinal, or spiritual grounds and to recommend the person for ordination. However, the fuller role for the standing committee's  role was restored at the time of ordination approval, not (as previously) at the time of candidacy.

The SCMD's current revisions propose deleting the word "doctrinal," and calling for the standing committee to give its approval at the time of candidacy as well as at the time of ordination. Thus, the two changes would restore the canons to their pre-2003 wording.

Highlights of the proposed revisions to Title III include the following (this summary includes changes made in April to the commission's earlier Blue Book report):

+ Canon 5, Of General Provisions Respecting Ordination Canonical authority with regard to the ordination process may be assigned by the bishop diocesan to a bishop suffragan or to a bishop of another church in full communion with the Episcopal Church.

+ Canons 6 and 8, Of the Ordination of Deacons and Priests

Significant editing brings more symmetry to the parallel processes for nomination, postulancy, candidacy, and ordination of priests and deacons.

Clarifies that "preparation" for ordination involves education, study and formation experiences. "Formation" is understood to engage the whole person including but not limited to intellectual study.

Has bishops and standing committees establish criteria for background checks.

Mandates training on legal requirements for reporting and pastoral opportunities for responding to evidence of abuse.

Removes "doctrinal" from the criteria considered by the Standing Committees in making judgments/recommendations (restores canonical wording prior to 2003 convention)

Restores canonical wording prior to 2003 convention to have Standing Committee approve candidacy as well as ordination.

Canon 6, Of the Ordination of Deacons

Clarifies that the nominated person provides required personal information at time of nomination rather than nominating congregation.

Sets minimum time from acceptance by the nominee of the nomination until ordination as a deacon at 18 months, and removes other time minimums for specific stages of nomination, postulancy, and candidacy.

Canon 7, Of the Life and Work of Deacons

Calls for renegotiation of Letters of Agreement for deacons with the vestry or bishop's committee after the resignation of a rector or a priest-in-charge.

Requires process of ongoing formation as authorized by the bishop for two years following ordination.

Assigns mentor deacon to each new deacon and calls for them to meet for at least one year.

Adds new section, III.7.4(e): "Deacons may participate in the governance of the Church."

Replaces "retirement" with "resignation," because clergy do not retire from their order, but resign from active service at age 72, with mechanisms in place for a bishop to assign continued responsibilities on an annual basis.

Adds renunciation canons (from existing III.13).

Canon 8, Of the Ordination of Priests

Makes nomination process parallel to the process in canons pertaining to deacons.

Sets minimum time from acceptance by the nominee of the nomination until ordination as a priest at 18 months, and removes other time minimums for specific stages of nomination, postulancy, candidacy and transitional diaconate.

Calls for commissions on ministry to certify "proficiency in the required areas of study" prior to ordination.

Canon 9, Of the Life and Work of Priests

Removes phrase, "shall serve at the pleasure of the Rector," with regard to an assistant priest, recognizing that the canons state that assistants serve "under the authority and direction of the rector." Replaces "retirement" with "resignation"; mandatory age remains 72.

Adds renunciation canons (from existing III.13). Adds new section: "Any priest who is offered a position in another
Church may accept the position, with the permission of the Ecclesiastical Authority of the Diocese in which the priest is canonically resident."

Moves unchanged existing Canons III.14 and III.15 (Of the Reconciliation of Disagreements Affecting the Pastoral Relation, and Of the Dissolution of the Pastoral Relation) to become sections of this canon.

Canon 10, Of Reception of Clergy from Other Churches

Folds Canons III.10, III.11, and III.12 into single canon which includes: clarification of requirements for background checks, sexual misconduct prevention training, Title IV training, anti-racism training, and medical and psychological examinations; same requirements as for all other ordinands.

Removes six-month waiting period for clergy being received from Churches in the Historic Succession but Not in Communion with This  Church.

Removes five-year requirement for a track record in another denomination for clergy being received from Churches not in Communion or Historic Succession and from Churches not in Communion, but in Historic Succession.

Sets 24 as minimum age for receiving all clergy; presently it is age 21 for Deacons and age 24 for priests.

Requires reading prescribed preface before a liturgy.

Canon 11 Of the Ordination of Bishops

Canons pertaining to Bishops are to be organized into two canons: "Of the Ordination of Bishops" and "Of the Life and Work of Bishops;" will parallel the canons pertaining to deacons and priests.

Proposed for consideration: All consents to episcopal elections are to be made by standing committees and bishops with jurisdiction; the General Convention would no longer give consent to elections occurring within 120 days of a General Convention. This proposal will  require amending the Constitution as well as the Canons.

Canon 12, Of the Life and Work of Bishops

Requires formation for all new bishops; paralleling canons pertaining to deacons and priests. Proposed text: "Following election and continuing for three years following ordination, new Bishops shall pursue the process of formation authorized by the House of Bishops.
This process of formation shall provide a mentor for each newly ordained Bishop."

Requires continuing education for all bishops; paralleling canons pertaining to deacons and priests. Proposed text:

"Thereafter, the House of Bishops shall require and provide for the continuing education of Bishops and shall keep a record of the same." Replaces "retirement" with "resignation" throughout; mandatory age stays at 72.

Allows resigned bishops older than 72 to accept appointments for up to a twelve-month term which may be renewed on an annual basis.

Adds section on missionary bishops. Adds renunciation canons (from existing III.13).

Canon 13, Of Dioceses without Bishops

Allows bishops serving assisting bishops in dioceses without bishops to have a letter of agreement, including a stated time frame.