This year’s Annual Conference session included the commissioning of Home Missioner Steve Pierce.
According to the United Women in Faith’s Office of Deaconess & Home Missioner, these are “laypeople who are called by God to be in a lifetime relationship in The United Methodist Church for engagement with a full-time vocation in ministries of love, justice, and service.”
New England has six Deaconesses. Pierce is the Conference’s only Home Missioner. There are currently 221 active deaconesses and 23 active home missioners serving across the United States. There are another 116 retired deaconesses and one retired home missioner.
On April 15, 2023, Pierce was consecrated by Bishop Thomas Bickerton in New York City. The consecration, Pierce said, is the covenant through The UMC “to be in this lay order as a follower of
Jesus.” Now he has been commissioned to serve in a specific ministry.
For Pierce, who is a member of Leominster (MA) UMC, it will be continuing what he refers to as his vocational call “to work in finance and administration in churches and nonprofits.”
“I’m the kind of person where I need some form and structure in my life, and being in this Lay Order provides that form and structure. It is a tool to help me deepen my faith,” he said. “Today what I say is, ‘every morning when I get up, through whatever experiences and people I may meet, how can I find an opportunity to fall more deeply in love with God?’”
Pierce served on the staff of the Boston Episcopal Diocese for some 20 years, 10 years as CFO, and he is now semi-retired. He is currently the administrative director for The Church Home Society in Boston.
The society opened an orphanage in 1868 and has since become a grant-making organization that awards $300,000-$400,000 in grants to support youth programs to churches and nonprofits each year. “Our vision is to help youth thrive,” Pierce said.
“My commitment to the Social Gospel has been sacrosanct these many years,” Pierce said of his ministry. “Now I have the imprimatur of the Lay Order of Deaconess and Home Missioner, living this ministry as a representative of the people of The United Methodist Church and all who follow Jesus.”
Pierce is also planning for when he steps down from The Church Home Society.
“I also have another ministry as a spiritual director,” said Pierce, who has been doing the Church Home ministry for about five years. “I have been accompanied in spiritual direction for about 25 years and accompanying others for about 6 years.”
“In my accompanying others, I often work with folks who are in the LGBTQ+ and 12-step communities, which is quite a challenge because many in those communities have had very negative experiences about God,” he said. “You must really explore language. The meanings are important. The challenge is to help those I companion with sort out their relationship in words that make sense to them. In so doing, my experience and belief is that this willingness will become an open door for the Spirit to blow into and see where it leads.”
For Pierce, 74, the journey to this moment has been a long one, the first steps of which were taken when he was in college.
“My calling to be a Home Missioner is tied up in my returning to The United Methodist Church,” he said.
Raised in the Congregational Church, Pierce wanted a local church while attending Salem State College (now a university), and Lafayette Street Methodist Church was within an easy walking distance of his dormitory.
“That was my first experience [with The UMC], and it kind of blew me away. … I started learning from the pastor and others about the social gospel and what that meant,” he said.
“While I was at Holding Institute, I met a home missionary and several deaconesses and I was moved and impressed,” he said. Pierce returned to Massachusetts and after a few years he became a Home Missionary and a Diaconal Minister.
“[It was the] late 70s/early 80s, and I was increasingly coming out,” Pierce said. “I did not find The UMC receptive, so I left.”
He eventually found a long-time home in the Episcopal Church, yet he would find himself in situations where “People would say, ‘You know, Pierce, you’re a closet Methodist.’”
“And that was OK,” he said. “I’m a Methodist. That’s my identity.”
About seven years ago, he and his then husband, who died unexpectedly in February, found within themselves the need to walk another path in their relationship with God.” So, they found Leominster UMC, and Pierce began to consider how this “coming back home” could be deepened.
Pierce was not interested in going back into the closet. He was assured by the Office of Deaconess & Home Missioner that he would be welcomed, and he began the discernment process.
“I would ask ‘OK, God, Is this right for me?’” Pierce said, “And the answer always was ‘yes.’”
Still, the denomination continues to wrestle with the issue of full inclusion of LGBTQ+ people.
“Here I am back decades later and Methodism is still struggling with this same issue,” Pierce said.
Asked if he’s hopeful about the church’s direction, Pierce said, “I believe that there are significant numbers within the UMC who realize the wisdom of being open and affirming, and I recognize that there’ll be those who are not.”
In the meantime, Pierce is excited to be serving as a Home Missioner.
“I think it’s important that we as laypeople find ways to model for the wider church the Wesleyan aspect of ‘This is the one world and what are we going to do in it?’ Where is justice? Where is love? Where is service? Why, because that’s what Jesus was all about. “I hope in my ‘being’ and ‘doing’ that I can embody Jesus in companioning others so they can work out their path to falling more deeply in love with God, themselves, and their neighbor, and thus thrive!”