What is a Minister in the Methodist Church?

Deacon Lemia Nkwelah gives us a guide to presbyters and deacons in the Methodist Church

The Methodist Church recognises two equal offices of ordained ministries: presbyters and deacons. A presbyter is a minister who holds pastoral charge of one or more Methodist Churches. Their focus is inside the church and theirs is a ministry of Word and Sacrament. Examples of presbyters in the Ealing Trinity Circuit are Revd Rachel, Revd Yemi, Revd Sue and Revd Shirlyn.

A deacon is a minister with an equal office to that of a presbyter. Deacons do not usually have pastoral charge of churches but still have pastoral relationships in the areas they serve. The call of a deacon focuses on the people of God outside of our church walls and theirs is a call to a ministry of service. Whilst deacons hold the title ‘Deacon’, ordination of every minister, deacon and presbyter confers the title ‘Reverend’ so that a deacon’s title can be ‘the Reverend’ or ‘Deacon’ or both.

A deacon’s ministry enables and facilitates circuit engagement in work with those who are vulnerable and living at the margins of our communities. Some deacons may also take ‘inward facing’ appointments that may focus on pastoral relationships and work within the church itself. On the other hand, presbyters do also participate in work that focuses outside the walls of the church. Therefore, these two equal ministries may have different emphases but sometimes the focus of their responsibilities may overlap.

It is easy to confuse a deacon’s ministry with the position of an outreach worker yet, like every minister, a deacon enables and facilitates members of Methodist circuits to engage in outreach work. Deacons enable churches to respond to their call to ministry and facilitate the whole people called Methodists to engage with God’s work outside of church walls. It is not solely a deacon’s or presbyter’s duty to do the work. The call of God on a presbyter or deacon is the call of God on the church to be Christ’s hands and feet. Examples of deacons known to Ealing Trinity Circuit are Deacon Lemia, Deacon Richard and Deacon Ramona. The incoming minister replacing me in September is Deacon Theresa Sam.

Presbyters and deacons are selected to become ordained ministers on the basis of the same criteria and are trained in the same classes for the same duration of ministerial formation. In addition, student Deacons do an extra module at university which helps them to articulate their call to being members of a Religious Order - the Methodist Diaconal Order. Probationer Deacons must go through an extra panel of interviews with the ROAC - Religious Order Advisory Committee, which continues to support the deacons to reflect on and articulate their call to being members of a religious order.

While Methodist Deacons are members of both a Religious Order and an Order of ministry, Methodist Presbyters are members of an Order of ministry within the Methodist Church of Great Britain. Both Methodist deacons and presbyters are equally ordained by prayer and laying on of hands and both ordination ceremonies take place within the context of Holy Communion. The laying on of hands is done for each ordinand, ‘and God is asked to send the Holy Spirit upon the ordinand for the office and work of a presbyter or deacon’. (Methodist Worship Book, p297,8)

It is also important to recognise that deacons are based at one chosen Methodist Church in each circuit from where they run their ministry. However, the ministry of a deacon based at any given church is independent of the ministry of the presbyter with pastoral charge in that church. Both have no authority over each other. The work and ministries of the deacon and the presbyter working from the same church building are different, distinct and equal offices running under the authority of the Superintendent. In our case, Revd Rachel Bending is the minister with authority over presbyters and deacons equally in Ealing Trinity Circuit.

Deacons do not usually preside at Communion (unless there is need), and they are not always on the preaching plan even if they may be accredited Local Preachers. This is not because deacons are lesser ministers than presbyters, but a deacon’s time in the week is devoted to work in the community so much that there is usually little time to plan for Sunday services. The presence of the ministry of presbyters inside the walls of the church, allows deacons to focus outside while presbyters take charge of presiding in Communion and pastoral responsibilities/charge. Holy Communion is therefore a presbyter’s responsibility and it marks the distinct difference between the two equal ministries.

The Methodist Worship Book states that ‘in the Methodist Church UK, diaconal ministry is an office in its own right rather than a step towards the office of presbyter. For both presbyters and deacons, ordination is to a permanent lifelong office of ministry.’ (p297). Deacons and presbyters preside in marriages/weddings, baptisms and funerals. During training, both deacons and presbyters together are trained on how to preside at Communion, and where there is need, a deacon will be granted dispensation to preside.

To find out more about the ministry and theology of deacons in the Methodist Church via follow this link:

https://www.methodist.org.uk/downloads/conf-2019-25-Theology-and-Ecclesiology-Underpinning-the-Diaconate.pdf

Deacon Lemia Nkwelah joined us in the Ealing Trinity Circuit in September 2014 and will leave us in August 2020


First published on: 5th May 2020