A DIACONAL APPROACH: using the tools of consensus

The World Deacons Executive changes to consensus

This guest post on change to consensus is from Rev (Deacon) Sandy Boyce of the Uniting Church in Australia. Sandy is President of the DIAKONIA World Federation – http://www.diakonia-world.org

The change to consensus by the Executive of the DIAKONIA World Federation has been a huge positive. Change from a traditional meeting format to using the tools of consensus processes has increased inclusion, strengthened the group and empowered the leadership of all the members. There is no going back after the change to consensus!

Why change?

‘Slow down – please!’

‘Please stop using English colloquial expressions!’

‘Please – give us some time to catch up’.

Such were the pleas from people for whom English is a second or third language. When working together on a world committee comprised of people from many countries, cultures and language groups the way we communicate together is very important.

The World Executive (2013-17) was comprised of people from North America, Australia, England, Tanzania, Switzerland, Germany, Norway and the Philippines. In 2018 we begin with a new committee that will again draw people together from many countries and languages. All share a common desire to work towards a common purpose through the DIAKONIA World Federation.

We only meet face to face once a year, so relationship building is especially key to a successful meeting. When we spend so much time in a business meeting the quality of our fellowship at that time is significant to the quality of our relationships as a group.

How the change was introduced

When elected as President, DIAKONIA World Federation, one of my responsibilities was to organise and chair the annual meeting.  In the meeting are elected representatives from diaconal associations around the world. English is the medium for our meetings.

I had been keen to introduce the consensus decision making process into our meetings. Interestingly, some members had seen the cards in use and were not keen to use them. I was shocked to discover that the way they had seen the cards being used simply replicated a traditional ‘voting’ system. There people held their cards aloft and the cards were counted to see who was ‘for’ (orange) and who was ‘against’ (blue). So, the introduction of the consensus decision making process had to address the previous experience of the misuse of the cards and process. In addition it needed to capture the essence and energy of shared discernment and the consensus decision making process.

What I hadn’t anticipated was that the consensus decision making process would be embraced so quickly. In a multi-lingual context it provided an opportunity for people to express in non-verbal ways their response to matters being discussed. They could also visually see how others were responding. The change to using consensus building processes in our meeting enabled discussion and discernment to continue in an informed way. People better understood what was happening compared to the way they had to quickly come to a decision in a typical ‘business’ meeting. It transcended language in a way that enabled more fulsome participation in decision making.

Additional tools used to help the change

I introduced the yellow ‘question’ card. This proved invaluable, especially for those for whom English was not their first language. For some on our World Executive, English was only one of a cluster of languages they spoke. Having to listen and speak in English while internally processing their thinking in another language presents special challenges.

The yellow card ‘democratised’ the process, in that all members of the committee could feel free to ask questions. Having shown the yellow card, a member could take all the time they needed to frame their question and speak to it.

Others would be especially attentive to understand the gist of the question, and any further comments, and to discern the implications for the discussion at hand. The card gave people confidence to participate more fully. Our meetings have been enriched as a consequence. The privilege accorded to native English in meetings was (in part) addressed by this opportunity . This change strengthened the strategies for intentionally making space to listen well to questions and comments that is inherent in a consensus approach.

Then, I sensed the need for a further card.  The orange and blue cards remained the colours related to the consensus decision making process itself. But this purple card served another purpose. It is used by people who experienced (and expressed) a constant frustration at the speed that native speakers of English spoke during meetings.

Those listening could not keep up with the internal process that was required to convert English to their own language. People need to think and process, and then consider a response, before converting back to English. Everyone wants to, and should be able to offer, a response to the committee. However when they were ready the discussion may have moved on and they missed an opportunity to contribute. All of this internal processing activity happened silently. Such silence from non-English speakers could easily be construed as agreement. In fact it often signaled active internal processing of language.

Native speakers of English from different countries speak with such a wide diversity of accents. This requires a different way of listening. Unwittingly using colloquial expressions that did not translate easily even for speakers of English happens a lot. Hence the pleas of those who were not native speakers of English for people to ‘slow down’, ‘stop using colloquial expressions’, and to create some space for processing what they have heard.

The purple card had the specific purpose of providing a visual clue to the person speaking – slow down. They needed to be more attentive to the process of speaking and listening. The exasperation and frustration gave way to a greater sense of inclusion and participation.

Was the change worth it?

Our DIAKONIA World Executive meetings have been enriched by the consensus decision making process, and the use of the blue and orange cards. The use of the two additional cards that have been integrated into the process have enabled more fulsome participation and understanding across the breadth of the membership of the DIAKONIA World Executive.

The experience has been a very positive one for the Executive members. I strongly commend that groups take seriously how to involve people from different language groups and cultures. Consensus processes and tool are the key to making an effective change.






Today we feel the wind beneath our wings
Today  the hidden fountain flows and plays
Today the church draws breath at last and sings
As every flame becomes a Tongue of praise.
This is the feast of fire,air, and water
Poured out and breathed and kindled into earth.
The earth herself awakens to her maker
And is translated out of death to birth.
The right words come today in their right order
And every word spells freedom and release
Today the gospel crosses every border
All tongues are loosened by the Prince of Peace
Today the lost are found in His translation.
Whose mother-tongue is Love, in  every nation.

(Malcolm Guite)

And if you’re still struggling to find resources for tomorrow, try this:  http://www.allageworshipresources.org/tag/pentecost/

While you’re putting those last-minute touches to your Pentecost service, listen to this:



I’m beyond encouraged to receive messages of support from both our Archbishops, for our conference in October.  Archbishop John says:

I am thrilled that, within the Church of England, there is a rediscovery taking place of the joys of Diaconal ministry.   Certainly in the Diocese of York we have seen an increasing number of people offering themselves for diaconal ministry, and this is something that we are seeking to foster and embed as part of the vibrant life of the Church in this Diocese.  I am delighted to commend this conference as a time to encourage one another in your vocation as Deacons, to share stories of all that God is doing in His Church, and to learn more of how to fulfil that Diaconal vocation to make Jesus Christ visible in our communities.

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Archbishop Justin tells us

I am so pleased to hear of this conference for distinctive deacons. Their ministry of service and care to the church and to their communities is often hidden, yet it is a shining example of Jesus’ call to servant leadership. We know that the diaconate was a special and honoured vocation from the earliest times of the New Testament church. Today we thank them for their vocation, their dedication and their response to God’s call upon their life, and pray for God to encourage and bless them as they gather together.

Get your tickets now!  https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/deacons-on-the-move-tickets-42469581662?aff=estw



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May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that we may live deep within our hearts.

May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that we may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, hunger, and war, so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done, to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.

(image from Global Christian Worship)

BISHOP OF CARLISLE: the case for a Distinctive Diaconate

I’m absolutely delighted to post this paper from the Rt Rev James Newcome, Bishop of Carlisle, on the case for the distinctive diaconate.  Recently Bishop James held a two-day conference on the diaconate in his diocese, and is committed to its necessity to the missional task of the church.

+James’ paper is a masterly overview of the history and the issues, with a clarity of direction which will rejoice the heart of every distinctive deacon.

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It runs to several pages, so I have scanned the first page only.  Follow the link for the whole document.  It is  well worth reading in its entirety.Image

+James Newcome The case for a Distinctive Diaconate


The 8th of May is the feast day of Julian of Norwich, sometimes known as Mother Julian or Lady Julian. She was an English Mystic of the late fourteenth Century, living as an Anchoress (hermit) in Norwich. Her Shewings, or Revelations of Divine Love, a series of mystical visions of and conversations with Jesus, remain a source of profound wisdom and a gift to the church, present and future.

A sonnet from priest-poet Malcolm Guite: as usual, you can listen to it by clicking the title.  Phrases from the poem resonate with what we know of Julian’s life and writings.

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Icon of Julian with her cat by Br Robert Lentz OFM

Mother Julian

Show me O anchoress, your anchor-hold

Deep in the love of God, and hold me fast.

Show me again in whose hands we are held,

Speak to me from your window in the past,

Tell me again the tale of Love’s compassion

For all of us who fall onto the mire,

How he is wounded with us, how his passion

Quickens the love that haunted our desire.

Show me again the wonder of at-one-ment

Of Christ-in-us distinct and yet the same,

Who makes, and loves, and keeps us in each moment,

And looks on us with pity not with blame.

Keep telling me, for all my faith may waver,

Love is his meaning, only love, forever.


Here’s what canon law says:

Solemnization of marriage by deacons (see Canon B 35, here)

Guidelines issued jointly by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York

1.    The minister officiating at a marriage service in the Church of England should normally be a bishop or a priest(1).

2.    A deacon may officiate at a marriage only if the consent of the incumbent and/or minister is first given(2).

3.    The authorized services should be used without variation whether the officiating minister is bishop, priest or deacon.

4.    When a priest is present he may delegate to a deacon parts of the service including:  (i)     the blessing of the ring(s);  (ii)    the pronouncement of the blessing(s) on the couple.

The priest should pronounce the blessing of the congregation at the end of the service.

Notes:  1.  Where the incumbent or minister has colleagues who are in holy orders (priests as well as deacons) the decision as to who should solemnize the marriage of a particular couple belongs to the incumbent or minister. Consideration should be given to the wishes of the couple and there should be discussion at the parish staff meeting or other consultation between colleagues. In considering who should be the officiating minister, pastoral considerations are important. A significant factor may be that the person who is to solemnize the marriage should also have prepared the couple for the wedding; in the case of a newly ordained deacon (man or woman) it needs to be noted that training to undertake marriage preparation is at present primarily a post-ordination task and colleges and courses do not require students to develop skills in this area before ordination. In the first year following ordination as deacon therefore, a deacon should rarely, if ever, solemnize a marriage and should only do so for exceptional reasons.

2.  Reference to the incumbent and minister mean the incumbent of the parish to which the deacon is licensed and minister means minister or priest-in-charge of the church in which the service is to take place.

* George Cantuar    * John Ebor 

July 1992

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To sum up:  yes, deacons can officiate at a marriage

  1. if we have the consent of the incumbent
  2. we can bless the rings and bless the couple
  3. If there’s a priest then he/she should bless the congregation  (otherwise we use the form ‘May the blessing of God … ‘)
  4. the incumbent decides who officiates
  5. pastoral considerations must be noted

Practice differs slightly from bishop to bishop, but for distinctive deacons, this final point is the most important.  Deacons are called to the community outside the church walls and on the margins, and for that reason our freedom should not be compromised by taking lots of services inside the church.  Instead, if we built relationships with a couple during the course of our ministry, they may well ask if we can officiate at their wedding.

Although distinctive deacons need initially to learn the bread and butter of parish ministry, eg baptisms, sick visiting, funerals, etc., their ongoing participation in them should always arise out of the diaconal focus of their ministry.  Deacons are not called to minister within the walls of the church.  They are called to be out and about in the community, building bridges, creating relationships, identifying and meeting needs.  This freedom of the deacon is a gift to the mission of the church.

Therefore, their participation in such aspects of ministry as occasional offices will be governed by whether these have come about through the community focus of their ministry.  This principle gives clarity to the kind of involvement in general parish ministry which is appropriate for distinctive deacons.


The diaconal principle therefore is:

Therefore, their (deacons’) participation in such aspects of ministry as occasional offices will be governed by whether these have come about through the community focus of their ministry.

NB:  if you have solemnised the marriage then you are legally the registrar and you should sign the registers.  General Synod gave permission in 1987/8 for Deacons to officiate, give the nuptial blessing and sign the Registers. 

Find these notes at https://www.churchofengland.org/more/policy-and-thinking/canons-church-england/supplementary-material#p205

(image of a deacon Dad conducting his daughter's wedding from Irish Examiner)

MINISTRY EXPERIENCE SCHEME: potential for diaconal vocations

Another opportunity for #distinctivedeacons to raise the profile of the diaconate in your diocese!  Is your diocese taking part in the Ministry Experience Scheme?

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A scheme offering young people experience of ministry in Church of England parishes is attracting an increasing number of participants, according to new figures released today.

The Ministry Experience Scheme, which offers year-long placements in churches across the country for young adults aged between 18 and 30 years old, is on course to have attracted 150 participants this year, compared to 47 in 2015. More than two thirds of dioceses in the Church of England are now taking part in the scheme.

Young adults on the scheme are encouraged to explore their vocation – not just to ordained ministry – living and working in communities in both urban and rural areas.

There is really good potential here for deacons to get on board with this scheme, and offer to host/mentor a young person who wants to get involved with community ministry.  If they find it inspiring, we may just see the beginning of a diaconal vocation.

Personally I’m convinced that if more young people knew about the distinctive diaconate, they would respond strongly to its emphasis on helping the poor and needy, and identifying and meeting needs in the community.  It would appeal to the sense of justice and of wanting to do something practical for God which we so often see in young people.

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Why not make enquiries of your Director for Mission and Ministry?  And work out what you could offer, to take part in such a scheme.

All the details here:  https://www.churchofengland.org/more/media-centre/news/growing-number-young-people-taking-part-church-placements?utm_source=Daily+Media+Digest&utm_campaign=15715921b1-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_04_23&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_296e14724b-15715921b1-248611081




Kingsley Garth Bolton and Patricia Wood, Readers in the Diocese of York, were ordained (Distinctive) Deacon  at St Matthew’s Church, Hutton Buscel, on Wednesday 11th April 2018 by the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu. They are the first two people to have responded to the Archbishop’s invitation to consider whether their ministry is diaconal and to have undergone the necessary discernment process. In his address,the Archbishop said they were making history. His vision is to see a deacon in every church.

Deacon Liz Carrington said “It is good to know that anyone who feels called to a lifelong committment to the diaconate in this diocese can be assured that their voice will be heard and their call carefully considered. The ministry of deacons is valued as a significant contribution to the mission of the church, exemplifying the practical servanthood of Christ and enabling others.”

With many thanks to Liz for this groundbreaking news, and to Martin Shepphard.  The photographs may be used without further permission but should be attributed to Martin Shepphard. (He is the Communications Officer in the York diocese.)