The Order of Elders and the Order of Deacons in an annual conference comprise all the elders and all the deacons in full membership, respectively. Orders are to gather regularly and provide spiritual and professional development opportunities, assist fellow members in their retreat and continuing education plans, strengthen the bond of unity among the members, and nurture supportive, trusting, and accountable relationships among members.
Ordained clergy in The United Methodist Church are members of an order, and orders have responsibilities and purposes. These are spelled out in the introductory portions of the ¶300s section of the 2016 Book of Discipline.
Bishops are responsible for convening orders, and annual conferences fund them through the Board of Ordained Ministry. The board nominates and the members of the Order elect a chairperson every quadrennium.
The 2016 Book of Discipline states:
Ordained persons exercise their ministry in covenant with all Christians, especially with those whom they lead and serve in ministry. They also live in covenant of mutual care and accountability with all those who share their ordination, especially in The United Methodist Church, with the ordained who are members of the same annual conference and part of the same Order. The covenant of ordained ministry is a lifetime commitment, and those who enter into it dedicate their whole lives to the personal and spiritual disciplines it requires.
A covenant in a faith context is a mutual exchange of promises for the good of the body, its purpose and ministry and discipleship to God. An order covenant for Methodist clergy, sometimes called a Rule of Life, should address strategies for achieving the following:
- Gather regularly for continuing spiritual formation (Bible study, issues facing church and society, theological exploration of vocational identity and leadership).
- Assist in plans for individual study and retreats.
- Develop a bond of unity and common commitment to UMC mission and ministry.
- Nurture mutually supportive and trusting relationships among order members.
- Hold order members accountable to the above purposes.
View a sample covenant here.