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Deacons and Liturgy

Leading worship

“All in the congregation are participants in the ministry of offering praise and worship to God and in the servant work of mutual ministry. The terms presiding minister and assisting minister describe the work of those who lead and assist the congregation.” (“This Holy Mystery,” General Board of Discipleship, 2004)

Deacons are called to word, service, justice, and compassion. Deacons are fully authorized to

  • lead worship
  • preach
  • conduct funerals
  • conduct weddings

Deacons should register with their state or county office to receive state authorization to officiate state-recognized marriages.

“Those who lead worship—elders, deacons, and other leaders—should reflect in the liturgy their call and vocation in the church and the world.” (“The Role of Deacons and Assisting Ministers,” by Daniel T. Benedict, Jr., and M. Anne Burnette Hook; in Worship Matters, Vol. I, ed. by E. Byron Anderson, Discipleship Resources, 1999).

As presiders, elders (and local pastors) remind the faithful of God’s grace and lead the gathered faithful into renewed relationship with God and God’s people. Deacons, with ministry of connecting the faith community to the needs of the world, appropriately lead those portions of worship that reflect the ministries of compassion, and justice.

When leading worship with an elder or local pastor, it is ecumenical, and traditional that the deacon leads these portions of worship:

  • Reading the Gospel lesson
  • Leading the prayers of concern for the world, the church, and the needy
  • Lead the Lord’s Prayer
  • Receiving the offering
  • Dismissing the people to service before the elder offers the benediction

Of course, the deacon may lead worship in other ways as well.

Leadership in Holy Communion

Deacons are to assist elders in providing the sacraments to the faithful. The United Methodist document “This Holy Mystery” (on the Eucharist) describes the roles that the elder, local pastor, and deacon serve in Holy Communion leadership that reflect their callings to connect the people to God and to send people out in ministry to the world.

“In worship it is appropriate for deacons to lead, or recruit and support others to lead, those parts of the liturgy that manifest the connection between our worship and Christian witness in daily life,” according to “This Holy Mystery.”

In addition to those items listed above, the deacon should lead (or train lay people to lead) by:

  • Receiving the communion elements and preparing the table before the Great Thanksgiving
  • Assisting the elder in serving the elements
  • Setting the table in order after serving
  • Preparing and assigning roles to other participants in the service

The elder and deacon might consult as they look over the liturgy to identify which portions communicate the church’s ministry to the world (deacon) and which communicate the relationship between God and the gathered community (elder). The elder appropriately says the epiclesis (invoking the blessing of the Holy Spirit on the gathered community and the communion elements).

In rare situations, a deacon may be authorized to preside over communion in the absence of an elder. “For the sake of extending the mission and ministry of the church, a pastor-in-charge or district superintendent ma request that the bishop grant local sacramental authority to the deacon to administer the sacraments in the absence of an elder, within a deacon’s primary appointment” (The Book of Discipline, ¶ 328).

Extending the table

Because deacons serve as the bridge between the church and the world, “their ministry appropriately includes taking the consecrated elements from their congregations and serving them in their places of ministry,” according to “This Holy Mystery.”

This includes taking the elements to the homebound or others unable to attend, and training laypeople for this ministry.

When taking the elements to those not able to attend, the liturgy should include

  • reading the Scripture Lesson(s)
  • the Invitation
  • Confession
  • and Pardon
  • the Peace
  • the Lord’s Prayer
  • distribution
  • post-Communion prayer

The prayer of Great Thanksgiving is not repeated, since this service is an extension of the Communion service held earlier. Elders, deacons, and laity may use this liturgy.

If a person is unable to eat or drink, one or both of the elements may be touched to his or her lips.

Leadership in baptism

Deacons often lead the discipleship training and mission experience of the faithful. Because baptism, as the rite of initiation into the body of Christ, is also initiation into Christian ministry, it is important that deacons participate with elders in leading the baptismal liturgy. The ordinal for the Services of the Baptismal Covenant, updated by United Methodist Discipleship Ministries, indicates in the rubrics appropriate places for deacon leadership:

The introduction to the service
The Apostles' Creed
Pouring the water during the Thanksgiving Over the Water
Participating in the Laying on of Hands
Participation in the Confirmation or Reaffirmation of Faith
Leading the congregation's vows 

Deacons should also train lay people for worship leadership roles such as reading scripture, assisting in the sacraments, and collecting the offering.