25 Years Later, NUMC’s Deacon Still Finding Service To Her Faith Fills Her With Joy
Newtown’s Methodist church has a very direct connection to the silver anniversary of the Order of Deacons.
The Reverend E. Susan Klein, minister of music for Newtown United Methodist Church, was one of six people in the inaugural class of the New York Conference to earn their diaconal orders. Klein will celebrate the 25th anniversary of her diaconal ordination in the spring, but sat down recently with The Newtown Bee to talk about the role of a deacon in the Methodist Church.
She laughed when asked about that work, because a reminder is literally hanging on a bulletin board near her church desk.
“I’ve got it right on the wall here,” she said, pointing over her left shoulder. Reciting from memory she said: “The ministry of the deacon in the Methodist church is supposed to connect the gifts of the people in the congregation with the needs of the people in the world.”
Deacons, she continued, “are ordained to all kinds of different professions, rather than being pastors of churches. Pastors of [United Methodist] churches are ordained as Elders, and they are ordained of word, sacrament, and order. That means that Elders are in charge of everything.”
Deacons are ordained, she further explained, “to bring ministry into all kinds of different places.”
The Methodist church welcomes men and women as deacons.
According to the United Methodist Church General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM), deacons “are clergy leaders who are called by God, authorized by the church and ordained by a bishop to a lifetime ministry of word, service, compassion and justice. Deacons exemplify Christian discipleship, nurture others in their relationship to God and lead church people to respond to the needs of the needy, neglected and marginalized of the world.
Deacons, like Klein, serve in their local churches. It can also be a little confusing, because deacons do not necessarily work in their local church, she added.
“But every deacon has to be connected to a local church,” she also noted. “They’re always connected for Sunday worship, and assisting the Elder.”
Deacons, according to GBHEM also serve in a wide range of ministries beyond the local church, where their special gifts can be put to good use. Such gifts can include education, chaplaincy, camping, social justice, health, advocacy, counseling, therapy, reconciliation, compassion, prison ministry, and others.
Deacons serve as associates of the ordained Elder in pastoral ministry, while seeking to connect church worship life with the many needs of the global community and its people — locally and around the world.
“In the congregation, deacons teach, preach, officiate at funerals and weddings, offer pastoral care, assist the elder in administering Baptism and Holy Communion, lead discipleship development ministries and help lay people identify and claim their own ministries. Deacons lead the congregation in its servant ministry and equip and support all baptized Christians in their ministry. Through the Order of Deacons, The United Methodist Church affirms this historic, central and distinct ministry,” the board’s online statement continues.
“Outside the walls of the church, deacons share the good news in word and in their advocacy for the poor, neglected, oppressed and discouraged; provide ministries of mercy; and invite Christians into these ministries,” it concludes.
As NUMC’s long-serving minister of music, Klein said her calling has continued to give her joy. Since her ordination, she has also taught confirmation, led study groups, and has been involved with United Methodist Women, a mission organization.
She has also conducted weddings and funerals.
Upon becoming a deacon in 1997, Klein engaged in a ministry with inmates at Garner Correctional Institute in Newtown, where she ministered for more than ten years with Gail Paul, who had already been leading the ministry.
“We had a choir, and I played the organ there for the Protestant services on Sunday afternoons,” Klein recalled in late June. Choir rehearsals were every Monday night, she said.
Klein has been with NUMC for 39 years. She and her husband moved to Newtown in 1981. She started at NUMC the following year, joining as a diaconal minister.
Until the mid ’90s, diaconal ministry was a lay office within the church. It was “mainly for Christian educators and church musicians who served within the local churches,” Klein said.
Diaconal ministers have been phased out since the diaconal orders, but many diaconal ministers became deacons, according to Klein.
“Most of us were qualified for ordination through what we did to become diaconal ministers,” she said. “We weren’t grandfathered in, by any means. We have our credentials, and we did have to go through the governing board.”
The first class in New York Conference, of which NUMC is part, came into being after the annual conference in June 1996.
“Ours was the first class anywhere,” she pointed out.
There were six women in that first class, including one pastoral counselor, Klein recalled. One member of the class has died. Another is still “a very close friend of mine,” she shared.
“I may have been the oldest in the class,” she said, again laughing. Friends and others get used to easy laughter punctuating most conversations with Klein. “I remember having a conversation about that with our district superintendent, ‘Can I be ordained when I’m this old already?’
“There was nothing in the discipline that we could find,” she said, so Klein continued on and joined that inaugural class. The group completed its studies in spring 1997.
She maintains her 50-plus year membership in the Fellowship of United Methodist Music & Worship Arts, including attending nearly every annual gathering either nationally or jurisdictionally, she said.
“That is just so inspiring,” she said. “I often think that’s kept me going — meeting people from all over the country, the fellowship. I’ve met people who are close friends today.”
While she has not formally retired from NUMC, Klein admits she has dialed back, just a little, on some of her work. She continues worship planning, now with the Reverend Lori Miller, the fourth pastor at NUMC since Klein joined the staff.
In April, the 25th anniversary of the Order of Deacon celebration was observed over three days. The collaboration of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, the Deacon Order Chairs Planning Group, and GBHEM included special events and a service of worship, all conducted via Zoom.
Miller said this week that she expects the church to celebrate with Klein in the spring, on the anniversary of her ordination. Until then, and after, Klein plans to be around.
“I’ll just keep doing anything,” she said in June. “Music, and this work, brings me such joy.”
Associate Editor Shannon Hicks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.