Elder (Methodism)

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An Elder in the Methodist Church — sometimes called a Presbyter or Minister — is someone who has been ordained by a Bishop to the ministry of Word, Sacrament, Order, and Service.[1] Their responsibilities are to preach and teach, preside at the celebration of the sacraments, administer the Church through pastoral guidance, and lead the congregations under their care in service ministry to the world. The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church states that

Elders are ministers who have completed their formal preparation for the ministry of Word, Sacrament, and Order; have been elected itinerant members in full connection with an Annual Conference; and have been ordained elders in accordance with the Order and Discipline of The United Methodist Church.

The office of Elder, then, is what most people tend to think of as the pastoral, priestly, clergy office within the church. In most of the denominations within Methodism, ordination to the office of Elder is open to both men and women.

Ordination and Apostolic Ministry

  1. The whole Church receives and accepts the call of God to embody and carry forth Christ's ministry in the world. Ordination originates in God's will and purpose for the Church. There are persons within the Church community whose gifts, graces, and promise of future usefulness are observable to the community, who respond to God's call and offer themselves in leadership as ordained ministers.[2]
  2. The pattern for this response to the call is provided in the development of the early Church. The apostles led in prayer and preaching, organized the Christian community to extend Christ's ministry of love and reconciliation, and provided for guardianship and transmission of the gospel, as entrusted to the early Church, to later generations. Their ministry, though distinct, was never separate from the ministry of the whole people of God.[2]

The Purpose of Ordination

  1. Ordination for such ministry is a gift from God to the Church. In ordination, the Church affirms and continues the apostolic ministry which it authorizes and authenticates through persons empowered by the Holy Spirit. As such, those who are ordained are committed to become conscious representatives of the whole gospel and are responsible for transmission of that gospel to the end that all the world may be saved. Their ordination is fulfilled in the ministry of Word, Sacrament, and Order.[3]
  2. Ordained persons are authorized to preach and teach the Word of God, administer the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, equip the laity for ministry, exercise pastoral oversight, and administer the Discipline of the Church.[3]
  3. The efficacy of the mission of the Church is dependent on the viable interaction of the general ministry and the ordained ministry of the Church. Without creative use of the diverse gifts of the entire Body of Christ, the ministry of the Church is not effective. Without responsible leadership, there is no focus and definition of such ministry.[3]

The Act of Ordination

Further information: Apostolic Succession in the Methodist Church
Ordination is a public act of the Church which indicates acceptance by an individual of God's call to the upbuilding of the Church through the ministry of Word, Sacrament, and Order and acknowledgement and authentication of this call by the Christian community through prayers and the laying on of hands.

It is a rite of the Church following New Testament usage as appears in the words of Paul to Timothy: "I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands" (II Timothy 1:6).

United Methodist tradition has entrusted persons in the ordained ministry with the responsibility for maintaining standards: for education and training and for examination and granting credentials to those who seek ordination. By the authorization of the ministerial members of the Annual Conference, candidates are elected into the Annual Conference and are ordained by a bishop.

Ordination, thus, is that act by which the Church symobolizes a shared relationship between those ordained for sacramental and functional leadership and the Church community from which the person ordained has come. The community is initiated by God, is given meaning and direction by Christ, and is sustained by the Holy Spirit. This relationship is a gift which comes through the grace of God in assurance of the ministry of Christ throughout the world. — Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church ¶ 431[4]


According to the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church,

1. There are persons within the ministry of the baptized who are called of God and set apart by the Church for the specialized ministry of Word, Sacrament, and Order.[5]

2. While such persons set apart by the Church for the ministry of Word, Sacrament, and Order are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards represented by the practice of fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleless. Since the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, self-awowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.[5]

Marriage of Elders

Article XXI of the Articles of Religion state that:

The ministers of Christ are not commanded by God's law either to vow the estate of single life, or to abstain from marriage; therefore it is lawful for them, as for all other Christians, to marry at their own discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve best to godliness.[6]


While not presiding at a service of worship, elders in the United Methodist Church are sometimes seen wearing the clerical collar and clergy shirt in public. Preaching tabs can also be worn around the neck in lieu of the clerical collar. It should be noted that many Methodist elders choose not to wear clerical clothing in their daily activities.

When presiding at a service of worship, Methodist elders are often seen wearing church vestments, namely the pulpit robe or alb, and to a lesser extent, the chasuble.[7] Stoles that reflect the season of the Christian year are worn over the vestment.[8] Other elders choose not to wear vestments and are often seen in suits, dress clothes or casual clothing. However, stoles which represent the "yoke" of responsibility to the Church and to God are not to be worn unless the person has gone through the process of ordination which extends past education to a probationary period culminating with a formal ordination service where the Bishop presides.

Educational requirements

In most cases, Methodist elders must have graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in liberal education or equivalent degree in a college or university listed by the University Senate of the United Methodist Church and must have a Master of Divinity or equivalent degree in a school of theology (seminary).[9] However, individual Annual Conferences may require that a Master of Divinity or equivalent first professional degree be the minimum standard for entrance into the Annual Conference's Order of Elders, or presbyterate. While not often used and just beginning to develop as an informal tradition, a United Methodist Elder may place the initials "OP" (Ordinate Presbyterium [Order of Elders]) after his or her name in formal title or signature. This is a result of the changes made by the 1992 and 1996 General Conferences which revamped many aspects of the ordained offices in the United Methodist Church's polity and doctrine and made the Order of Deacon a permanent, rather than transitional, office. These reforms also elevated the previously unordained office of Diaconal Minister, who were lay persons performing specialized tasks within a congregational or ministry staff setting (such as music, education, youth ministry, etc.) to ordained status as permanent Deacons as well. The informal use of "OP" is starting to be used to differentiate between the two permanent Orders, making clear that the person in question is, in fact, an Elder in full-time, vocational, ordained, itinerant (unique to Elders) ministry.[10]


  1. The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church. Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1984
  2. 2.0 2.1 The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church: ¶ 428 – Ordination and Apostolic Ministry (retrieved 22 May 2007).
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church: ¶ 429 - Ordination and Apostolic Ministry (retrieved 22 May 2007).
  4. The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church: ¶ 431 - The Act of Ordination (retrieved 22 May 2007).
  5. 5.0 5.1 The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church: ¶ 402 (retrieved 22 May 2007).
  6. "Article XXI—Of the Marriage of Ministers", The Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church, The United Methodist Church 
  7. General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church: Some Frequently Asked Questions About Clergy Attire and Proper Ways of Addressing Clergy
  8. Grace Incarnate: Vestments in the Methodist Tradition
  9. The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church: ¶ 415 - Educational Requirements (retrieved 22 May 2007).
  10. The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church: ¶ 417 - Educational Requirements (retrieved 22 May 2007).

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