BY HOLLY MCCRAY
When people, especially young adults, ask what the Church is doing in the world today, Elaine Robinson can provide an excellent answer. She points to a little-known but far-reaching form of ministry by laywomen and laymen in full-time vocations of mission-oriented service.
About 30 deaconess and home missioner candidates — women and men, respectively — from across the country just spent two weeks in Oklahoma City, studying and discerning this call by God upon their lives. The event was directed by Professor Robinson of Saint Paul School of Theology at Oklahoma City University.
"There are different avenues into ministry," said Rev. Dr. Robinson. "We are all ministers, and I take that seriously. What is your ministry? It can’t just be ‘I sit in the pew on Sunday.’"
She explained that United Methodist deaconesses and home missioners work with the homeless and with children, care for the environment, and lead nonprofits. They may be firefighters, health care workers, or educators.
They are laity; their calling is not to ministry within church structures such as worship and Sunday School, not to administer the sacraments of the Church.
"They really have this passion for ministry in the world. It really is love, justice, and service" in arenas outside church walls, she said.
"It’s something the denomination should make especially younger people aware of. It is a program that can grow over time because it does what the younger people are saying the church doesn’t do."
This is a way to draw young people "to see the church as vibrant."
Deaconesses and home missioners are approved through a process established by United Methodist Women. Requirements include professional vocational training or certification as well as foundational study of the Bible, mission theology, and United Methodist history and policies.
The national leadership wanted to partner with a United Methodist seminary for the spiritual education aspect. That’s where Saint Paul at OCU, with Robinson agreeing to be the program’s dean, entered the picture.
Social justice is central to the deaconess and home missioner covenant community, and the Oklahoma and Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conferences "are so vibrant in mission beyond the local church," Robinson said.
"Not every annual conference has that."
She pointed out Oklahoma churches’ witness in Native American ministries, criminal justice work such as CJAMM, serving the poor such as through Skyline Urban Ministry, and caring for creation in places such as Turtle Rock Farm.
Candidates from across the country can stay at the OCU dorms in the summer and easily connect to those missions and more, she said.
After they are certified, these laity are consecrated and commissioned by a bishop. Their relationship to the Church continues through the national UMW office. A wide network of United Methodists supports them, including Linda Muterspaugh, a retired clergy deacon in Oklahoma.
The deaconesses and home missioners whom Robinson knows "are really eager and energized, excited," she said.
"It’s all, for me, about building the reign of God on earth and finding new ways and new venues for people to do their ministries in the world and to connect beyond the church, as Christ would ask us to do. We are connectional, and the more connections we make, the more ministry gets done."
From left are deaconesses Sandy Wickberg, Jerrie Lindsey, Mandy Caruso-Yahne, Melanie Dewey, and Kathy Kraiza, beside the cross at Canyon Camp.
Covenant community gathers at Canyon
A retreat at Canyon Camp recently brought together members of the deaconess/home missioner/home missionary covenant community of the South Central Jurisdiction.
Laywomen and laymen in specialized ministries make up this community.
The Oklahoma Conference hosted the event May 19-21, attended by eight deaconesses from Kansas, Missouri, Texas, and Oklahoma. Among guests was Conference Lay Leader Chuck Stewart.
The community members shared their "call stories" and stories of how they have helped lead others to become disciples of Jesus Christ. The time was largely unstructured, enabling them to build connections with one another. Meals, devotions, Holy Yoga, and prayer bead making were the only scheduled activities.
They hope such a gathering can become a biennial event in the jurisdiction. Convocations also are held, drawing community members from across the nation.
Deaconesses at the retreat were Melissa Calvillo from Kansas; Mandy Caruso-Yahne, Missouri; Omega Ramos and Kathy Kraiza, Texas; and Melanie Dewey, Jerrie Lindsey, Elaine Parrent, and Sandy Wickberg, all from Oklahoma.
Funding and other resources to support the event were provided by a number of Conference entities and the jurisdiction.