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General Conference

Love every neighbor

26 deaconesses, home missioners consecrated at General Conference

by Audrey Stanton-Smith

Monday morning’s opening worship featured the consecration of 26 laypersons, including three Central Conference members, to a lifetime of service as deaconesses and home missioners. The consecration followed a message from Bishop Karen Oliveto, who called on those in attendance to make God’s love visible in all they do and embody the fulness of God’s love with justice and mercy.

“Jesus makes it plain that we are to receive one another, treat one another, serve one another, love one another as if we are serving him,” Oliveto said. “We need to see Imago Dei, the image of God, in each person, not just in the people who look like us, who talk like us, who think like us, who love like us, who believe like us. There are no excuses for us anymore.”

Oliveto, a self-proclaimed “Methonerd” from the Mountain Sky Conference, cited Matthew 25:34-40, the historic work of deaconesses and John Wesley in asking the body to “stand with those who are pushed to the margins.”

“Every single one of us has someone we don’t see,” she said. “Jesus doesn’t allow our voluntary ignorances and or our hardness of heart to give us a pass on loving our neighbor. Every neighbor. Especially the ones we would rather overlook. We can’t be the church if we choose to overlook some members of the body of Christ. If we define who we are by who we are leaving out, it begs the question, ‘Have we ever let Christ in?’”

Oliveto gave thanks for deaconesses and home missioners who have committed to a lifetime of service and called on those in attendance to look to the order’s history of serving the marginalized.

“Methonerds, it’s time for us to draw inspiration from those who went before us and reignite the flame of faith,” Oliveto said.

Deaconess Megan Hale, United Women in Faith executive for the Office of Deaconess and Home Missioner, explained to the body that deaconesses and home missioners are consecrated by The United Methodist Church and commissioned to full-time ministries of love, justice, and service.

“Deaconesses and home missioners today, as throughout their history, serve in many areas of need, in places where the church has not been, was not aware it should be, or was afraid or unwilling to be,” Hale said. “Wherever they serve and regardless of the task, deaconesses and home missioners find and represent the presence of God in the midst of those with whom they serve. Their daily task of serving and empowering is, for deaconesses and home missioners, a visible symbol of the link between the Church and the world.”

The Office of Deaconess and Home Missioner is the only currently active recognized office in The United Methodist Church for those called to full-time vocations in servant ministries as laity. Deaconesses and home missioners are approved by United Women in Faith and have a continuing relationship to The United Methodist Church through United Women in Faith. They were established as an order of the church at General Conference 2016,

“As we gather in community, we are called to be bold in faith,” Deaconess Melba McCallum said as she led a call to worship that focused on the order’s ministries of love, justice, and service.

Sally Vonner, CEO and general secretary of United Women in Faith, presented the candidates to be consecrated on behalf of The United Methodist Church.

They were Stacey Atkins (Mountain Sky), Amy Balfour (North Carolina), Heidi Careaga (Wisconsin), Shirley Durr (Minnesota), Kaitlyn Frantz (North Texas), Connie Glover (Upper New York), Christopher Hamera (Zimbabwe East/Malawi Provisional), Andy Hill (West Ohio), Dono James II (Baltimore-Washington), Leanna Lake (Western Pennsylvania), Lucinda Higgs Lautz (Florida), Esther Lloyd-Stevenson (North Georgia), Kathryn Loomis (Mountain Sky), Anna Migera Chacha (North Katanga), Elizabeth Miller (Indiana), Alicia Mitchell (Indiana), Wanda Molock (Peninsula-Delaware), Colleen Moskov (Peninsula-Delaware), Amy Purdom (Virginia), Marie Severing (Wisconsin), Esina Sibanda (Zimbabwe West), Lori Sluder (Holston), Karen VanMatre Smith (Rio Texas), Barbara Sutton (Northern Illinois), Mirasol Tangunan (New York), and Laurie Jo Upchurch (South Georgia).

Prior to a congregational response, bishops assisted by United Women in Faith staff and deaconesses placed pinned vestment scarves on the newly consecrated. Deaconess and home missioner pins are similar to the emblem of the Wesley Deaconess Order of England.

While the Office of Deaconess has been a part of Church tradition since 1888, the Office of Home Missioner was established at the 2004 General Conference providing laymen with an opportunity to serve in a life-time relationship in The United Methodist Church, giving laymen the first opportunity to be in an official lifetime relationship in ministry since the closing of the option of Diaconal Minister by the 1996 General Conference.

The provision for the Office of Deaconess and Home Missioner in The United Methodist Church is found in paragraph 1913 of the 2016 The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church.

Together, deaconesses and home missioners form a covenant community that is rooted in scripture, informed by history, driven by mission, ecumenical in scope and global in outreach. Their ministries may be in a church-related vocation or helping profession.

Current ministries include but are not limited to issues related to prison, environment, refugees, immigration, health care, education, homelessness, women and children, youth and families, senior adults, peace with justice, working poor, and a wide variety of church and community ministries.

Audrey Stanton-Smith is editor of response.

Cover photo by Paul Jeffrey for United Methodist News.

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