From Columbus: Title III changes adopted by bishops

June 19, 2006

The importance of the transitional diaconate and the reception of clergy from other churches dominated June 19 House of Bishops discussion about Title III revisions.

The Bishops adopted resolution A082, with amendments, which changes Canons III.5-III.23 – known as the ministry canons. The proposed revisions include creating standard but flexible timeframes for those seeking ordination to the diaconate or priesthood, amending how the Episcopal Church receives clergy from other churches, and requiring mentoring and continuing education for bishops.

Bishop Mark S. Sisk of New York was the first to ask if, with the proposed changes, a candidate could be ordained to the "transitional" diaconate and the priesthood on the same day. The answer that it would be possible sparked a lengthy discussion weighing the importance of flexibility with concerns about creating the possibility of direct ordination. Bishop James Jelinek of Minnesota proposed an amendment, which was passed, requiring at least six months between ordination to the diaconate and the priesthood.

Bishop Jim Kelsey of Northern Michigan, who serves as a member of the Standing Commission on Ministry Development, was not surprised by the Bishops' concerns. "The whole question of what is popularly known at the ‘transitional diaconate' is a hot button issue in the church," he said. "Some of us would have preferred the maximum amount of flexibility and others were quite committed to obtaining the minimum six months for the transitional diaconate."

How the church receives clergy from other denominations was also a major point of discussion. The original proposed changes would have required that anyone seeking orders in the Episcopal Church no longer be "functioning within the previous ordained ministry." Bishops rose to speak to the practical challenges involved with such a provision, such as requiring a person to give up their livelihood while waiting to be received by the Episcopal Church.

"When you do these things you have do them carefully," Bishop Mark McDonald of Alaska reminded the House.

An amendment to delete the text including the requirement was passed, as were several other minor amendments. The resolution was adopted by the house and will now move to the House of Deputies.

Kelsey is looking forward to hearing from the House of Deputies on Title III. "I trust the wisdom of the whole church and the spirit at work in the whole church, and I know it will be enhanced by what they send back to us," he said.