3 Worship Changes from General Conference 2016

By Taylor Burton-Edwards

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Closing worship at the 2016 General Conference of The United Methodist Church. Image Credit: United Methodist Communications. Used by permission.

The 2016 General Conference of The United Methodist Church adopted three pieces of legislation that will impact the worship life of the denomination. It adopted legislation proposed by Discipleship Ministries with The United Methodist Publishing House authorizing the creation of two hymnal committees. It altered the process by which deacons may obtain authorization to preside at the sacraments. And it adopted the Ordinal Revision Task Force's proposal for an updated ordinal.

The Hymnal Committees
Of the three worship-related items passed, the creation of two hymnal committees may be the most well-publicized. The Hymnal Revision Committee, a diverse group of 15 persons nominated by bishops, Discipleship Ministries, The United Methodist Publishing House, and the Association of United Methodist Theological Schools, will develop a proposal for a revised hymnal and present it to the 2020 General Conference for approval. Its work will begin in earnest in 2017, led by an editor hired by The United Methodist Publishing House. The other, the Standing Hymnal Advisory Committee of nine persons, nominated by Discipleship Ministries in consultation with The United Methodist Publishing House, will continue to vet and recommend resources to be added to the hymnal at each successive General Conference. Its work begins in 2018.

The new hymnal is no longer conceived as a static and fixed set of resources bound in a single volume and intended to last, as is, for the succeeding generation. Instead, it will be a dynamic collection of General Conference approved resources accessible in multiple formats, including a printed edition congregations may customize for their setting. All editions will include a core collection of liturgical resources and congregational song. These will be songs and worship resources the committee believes all United Methodists should use in worship. Congregations may then select from a much larger collection of supplemental resources to fill out their collections, whether in print, in electronic or mobile platforms, or on a subscription basis from the cloud.

Discipleship Ministries and The United Methodist Publishing House will be announcing their process for soliciting applicants for the two committees in the coming weeks.

Authorizing Deacons to Preside at the Sacraments
One of the approved recommendations of the Commission on the Study of Ministry was to clarify and simplify the process by which deacons may be granted authority to preside at the sacraments within the bounds of their appointment. The process to obtain such authorization currently requires a pastor-in-charge or a district superintendent to request that the bishop authorize it within a primary appointment where no elders are present. The new process, effective January 1, removes the pastor or DS as intervenors, and instead allows deacons to request such authorization directly of the bishop where the ministry setting seems to make it appropriate. Discretion about the granting of authorization remains with the bishop. Such authorization remains connected to the appointment, not to the person of the deacon. Thus, should the deacon move to a different appointment where such authorization is needed, the deacon would make a new request and the bishops would consider its merits at that time.

The Ordinal
The proposed 2017-2020 ordinal includes a slight revision of the existing services, streamlining some aspects and clarifying language on two issues. It also contains a new alternative service.

The ordinal is reviewed every four years by the Ordinal Revision Task Force, including representatives from the Council of Bishops, the Office of Christian Unity and Interfaith Relationships, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, The General Board of Global Ministries and Discipleship Ministries. With their approval and input, a proposed revision is reviewed and submitted by Discipleship Ministries for General Conference approval.

One clarification in the new ordinal involves the giving of stoles. The new ordinal states,"Non-ordained persons are not to be presented with nor to wear the stole in their ministerial practice." This had been implied and was intended in previous ordinals when it was noted that no stoles or signs of office were to be given to associate members at the time of their recognition or to provisional members at the time of their commissioning, but likewise noted that the appropriate stole would be given to a deacon or elder upon ordination.

A second clarification is to the vows of ordination and commissioning. The words "and upholding" or "and uphold" are added to "accepting its order, liturgy, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline" in the General Examination across all services. The change is made to clarify the full meaning of the original use of the word "accepting," which had previously included the idea of upholding, but in more recent times may have lost that connotation.

The most significant change is the addition of a new alternative service. The new service retains the same questions and vows, but offers substantially greater interactivity between bishop and people throughout, particularly in the acts of ordination proper. A new and more interactive Great Thanksgiving is also made available as part of this service. Bishops are authorized to use the new service as provided, or to include selected elements from the new service in the updated version of the traditional service as they see fit. This will give greater flexibility to bishops and planning committees to tailor the services of ordination to their particular contexts.

The current ordinal (2013-2016) may be downloaded here. The 2017-2020 Ordinal will be made available on the Discipleship Ministries website when final editing is complete, later this summer.