It’s wonderful that we deacons can now honour the first black American deaconess saint, Anna Alexander.  Her parents were recently-emancipated slaves, and everything was against her.  Despite it all, she developed a ministry of great fruitfulness.  What an inspiration!

General Convention has added Deaconess Anna Alexander, who began her ministry at Good Shepherd in Pennick, Georgia, to the Episcopal Church’s calendar of saints.

“In a time when the races were separated, she brought people of difference races together,” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said. “And in a time when black children did not have many opportunities for education she made sure that they received them, because she followed the way of Jesus and his love.

“And in a time when women were not able to live completely into God’s call for them, she lived the fullness of God calling in her life anyway, starting schools, starting churches, spreading the good news to any and all regardless of race, class or kind. All this she did because she really followed Jesus and his way of love. She was in her time a living model of a follower of Jesus Christ. And she is that for us in our time. For that reason, the Episcopal Church honors and gives thanks for Deaconess Anna Alexander.”

Born the youngest of 11 children to recently emancipated slaves on St. Simons Island, Alexander (1865-1947) started a church and school in the Pennick Community west of Brunswick.

Her feast day is Sept. 24.

For a fuller biography of this remarkable deaconess, go to http://deaconessalexander.georgiaepiscopal.org/?page_id=42

Adapted from the Diocese of Georgia

Original text:  https://livingchurch.org/2018/07/19/deaconess-alexander-joins-the-calendar/














On this diaconal site, for once, St Macrina will precede her influential brother!

Gregory wrote a memoir of his sister’s life:  http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/gregory_macrina_1_life.htm

Here’s a taster,  which may appeal to big sisters everywhere:

Macrina’s brother, the great Basil, returned after his long period of [966C] education, already a practised rhetorician. He was puffed up beyond measure with the pride of oratory and looked down on the |28 local dignitaries, excelling in his own estimation all the men of leading and position. Nevertheless Macrina took him in hand, and with such speed did she draw him also toward the mark of philosophy that he forsook the glories of this world and despised fame gained by speaking, and deserted it for this busy life where one toils with one’s hands


Gregory of Nyssa

Info and images from http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/gregory_macrina_1_life.htm


ROSALIND BROWN: Theological Underpinnings of the Diaconate

Many deacons are helped and inspired by the brilliant Canon Rosalind Brown’s book ‘Being a Deacon Today’.  She is one of our leading theologians on the diaconate, and also attended the international conference on the diaconate in Canada this May, where she presented two papers.  I’m delighted to have her permission to publish them here.

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First up is her groundbreaking suggestion that the diaconate should look much more to Holy Spirit theology as its underpinning and inspiration.  In this paper she spells it out in more detail.

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I’ve highlighted some of the sections that struck me most.  Here’s a taster:

However, it seems that quite early on in the Church’s history Ignatius had to correct an undue narrowing of the ministry of deacons, saying that they are not primarily deacons of meats and drinks; that was subsumed into their primary, Christ-centred, Spirit-empowered proclamation of the good news in word and deed. So, in Acts 6, Stephen performed signs, wonders and prophetic proclamation and Philip was an evangelist (Acts 6.8-14, 8.26-40). This so destabilised the status quo that Stephen was martyred: as someone has commented, you are not martyred for serving food to elderly ladies. There was much more to their ministry than that and we should recover that perspective, as Ignatius did.

Read the whole document here:  Brown R. 1. Theological underpinnings of the diaconate. June 2018


(image from hanlonstructuralmovers.ie)


In May this year there was a major international conference on the diaconate in Canada.

Rev Frances Wilson, Bishop’s Director of Ordinands for the Diocese of Lichfield, attended and has kindly shared with us her reflections.  They make fascinating reading and provide much food for thought especially as we consider our national conference this October.  Many thanks, Frances, and we look forward to seeing you in October!

Frances Wilson

Reflections on the International Conference on the Diaconate

Regina, Canada, May 2018 

Diaconate: Transitional v. Distinctive

There was a lot of passion in the assembly, particularly from some delegates, about transitional diaconate which seemed to demean some Distinctive Deacons.

  • Candidates for priesting follow a formation path for this ministry, yet then are ordained into a different ministry, that of the deacon.
  • Although ‘inferior’ language has been removed from Anglican Prayer books, a priest who is a deacon first seems to show that they ‘move on to higher things’ when ordained priest.
  • Suggestion that priests who do diaconal tasks do so, not as ordained deacons but answering the diakonia calling of all the baptised.
  • From an RC perspective, D. deacons are valued because they are more likely to share the lived experience of the congregation (married/working etc.)
  • A huge negative reaction was expressed at priests acting out their diaconal role at the Eucharist in the liturgy and wearing a diaconal stole (‘cross-dressing’!). The depth of feeling about this was shocking.

Some Questions:

  • Does this affect the position of the Bishop – an arch-priest? Or should we ordain directly to the Episcopate also!

Also – does the Bishop, if never a deacon, have a relation to deacons?

  • Does a diminished place in society for priests in a more-professional world makes priests hold on more closely to their ‘privileges ‘? – This came from ‘the floor’.*

*A strong impression that D Deacons thought their parish priests held on to too much and didn’t give them space to articulate their specific ministry.

– Later, on speaking to priests (after the Conference), a suggestion that many Deacons were not used because they were not well selected or trained.

NOTE:  Selection and Training in the Episcopal Church is Canada is local and variable.  Eileen Scully is working with the National Church to set guidelines (my [priest] sources say these are minimal but this is a starting point).  Min Div. of the CofE does have Criteria for Selection for Distinctive Deacons but it might be worth seeing how Canada’s consultation is going.  On speaking to one TEI this month, I found that they had no teaching/formation pathway for Distinctive Deacons; perhaps Canada might have suggestions here too.

The Essence of a Deacon 

How should one answer the question, “How does Deacon differ from a priest or lay person?”  Usually the response is one of power: Deacons can… (baptise….) but the list isn’t that different from that of a lay person.

So perhaps the essence is more about the ‘being’ conveyed by a Deacon than the ‘doing’.

  • ‘Servant ministry’ is only a partial answer (those who were ‘set aside’ in Acts 6 are NOT designated Deacons)
  • The diakonia are rather ‘ones who act on behalf of another (Lumen gentium and draft CW: ‘Ambassadors’ and ‘heralds’ – angels are often shown in Diaconal vesture!)
  • The archetypal Deacon is therefore not Stephen, but Jesus Christ.
  • The 5 Marks of Mission (and particularly the final two) must be at the heart of their ministry. “Pastoral care of people with missional activity in the world.”
  • Also (later Speakers): ‘Speaking truth to power’ (and that power will not always be ‘the other’, politics etc. but Church and the ‘power’ in each of us).
  • This will be a ‘prophetic’ ministry.
    • That all shall be one -forgiven – Unity
    • – That all shall be welcomed at the table- Inclusivity
    • That all are forgiven – Forgiveness
  • Deacons are at their most diaconal when they engage in their ‘Door’ activity – not simply being at the door to welcome people into Church but outside on the steps assisting them to transition.
  • AND, the balance of this, sending the People of God out into the World again at the end of worship.

Women and the Diaconate  

A: Within the Orthodox Tradition:

Why should we be particularly interested?  Because this is an area which is being ‘mined’ at present by the RC (and the Orthodox) church as it works out its position on women and ordination.

  • See notes! This was a dense lecture (v. interesting but too much to take good jottings).  Two clear points arose…
  1. Ordination and Monastic life are intimately connected within the Orthodox tradition. Yes, there have been women who have acted as ‘deacons’ in the past but they have always been Religious.
  2. Each Orthodox tradition is unique and has its own theology; conflating the tradition and practices of each strand to show that there was a variety of ministries which women as deacons practiced is not true to Orthodoxy.

B: Icons meditation

My only comment would be to affirm the comment that where the Church suppressed the active role of women, other expressions of Faith and Order have sprung up (For an insight into this in Medieval times see From Virile Woman to WomanChrist by B. Newman).

C: The Witness of Sr. Gloria

Spoke passionately and with first hand experience of the journey to the current state of the RC Church’s exploration of the question of women and the Diaconate.

There is an obvious Ecumenical tie-in; the Diaconate is a less ‘explosive’ area of Ministry which it would be good to explore amongst Churches of different Traditions.

The Spirituality of a Deacon:

  • Rosalind Brown argued strongly for its Benedictine qualities of Hospitality and Attentiveness to the Actual.
  • A ‘butler’ awareness: Not to do everything oneself but to draw the best out of others so all may share in ministry.
  • A need to cultivate Prayerfulness in a Busyness ministry of the Liturgical Deacon…
  • An openness to the direction of the Holy Spirit, in responding to the ‘Now’ situation.
  • …The Deacon and ‘Communion by Extension’… such a thorny issue!

Diaconal Formation:

There was a lot of really good, really practical, input here.  I’m hoping we might receive the papers on these as my notes are inadequate.  In particular, I thought Alison Peden, Provincial Director of Ordinands, had interesting ideas on forming a learning/formational community across a large geographical area with a sparse number of differing vocations learning together.  Also Phina Borgeson on self-mentored learning using Grid/checklist.  The formational path of RC Deacons is impressive!

Frances Wilson 27th May 2018




Because our autumn conference, Deacons on the Move, has been so over-subscribed we’ve spent the week moving venues to Queens Foundation college, about 10 minutes down the road from Woodbrooke:  http://www.queens.ac.uk/

The conference will take place in the Frances Young centre.

I’m delighted to say that the move has made lots more tickets available, so if you’ve been disappointed, please go back to the website and book – and bring other people with you!

Accommodation is also available at Queens, which you can book directly with them: hospitality@queens.ac.uk

All details here:  https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/deacons-on-the-move-tickets-42469581662?aff=estw

Please continue to pray for God’s blessing and guidance on this conference.



Loadsa new deacons this year, coming up to ordination this weekend!  Praise God and pray for them.

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Abi is second from left with her little daughter Lily

Abi Davison is being ordained as a distinctive deacon this Sunday in York Minster.  Here’s a snippet of her story:

Abigail Davison will continue to work as a health care assistant at York Hospital while serving as a self-supporting curate in York Minster. Abi felt a strong and clear calling to be a Deacon, a ministry of service which looks to cross boundaries and uncover where Christ is at work, particularly in the ‘forgotten corners’ of the world, and she trained for ordination with St Hild College. She is married to Chris and they have a two year old daughter. “I’m looking forward to getting to know the Minster family and exploring what a distinctly Diaconal role could look like in this unique setting,” she says.

She and her colleagues  enter their pre-ordination retreat tomorrow.

With comments from their diocesan websites, here come more!

Cheryl Belding (St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, the only DD there):  The benefice of Newmarket St Mary with Exning St Agnes.  Wonderfully, the website states clearly:  TO BE ORDAINED DISTINCTIVE DEACON BY THE BISHOP OF ST EDMUNDSBURY & IPSWICH AT ST EDMUNDSBURY CATHEDRAL

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Nick Golding (Bangor):  Mr. Nick Golding (distinctive*, non-stipendiary) will serve his curacy in Bro Eifionydd.  The website adds * A distinctive deacon is someone whose calling is to the diaconate alone. A transitional deacon is someone whose calling is to the priesthood, and ordination as a deacon is part of their journey.

“Born and baptised in North London, and then attending a church school in Sussex, as a child I was both a Chorister and Server in our Parish Church.

Many years passed and it took coming to live in north Wales, and hearing the open and inclusive preaching of the local Rector that helped me to re-open a door that had been closed for a long time, and re-engage with the love of God, which I had felt – but not understood – as a child.

Following a time of difficult realisation, my heart was somehow opened to the possibilities that God provides for us to show and receive love through Him. With the support of my clergy, Ministry Area and local church community, I began my journey towards ordination, firstly by beginning Reader training and subsequently, training for the Diaconate. It has been an astonishing, thrilling and surprising three years, full of doubts, uncertainties and fear. but somehow driven on – as it always had been – by something beyond my control: the Holy Spirit.

The task of a Distinctive Deacon is to walk alongside those in their community, particularly outside of church, between one Sunday and the next. It is only by showing love that we can bring others to the love of God.

I feel particularly honoured to be able to serve the people of Bro Eifionydd who have always been so welcoming. I hope that with the help of the Holy Spirit I will be able to fulfil my calling, one person or one task at a time, and keep my mind on him who came to show us and to save us.

I feel so lucky to have finally listened to the call. Someone recently asked me when I was called by God; I replied, “I think we are all called, all the time, it just depends when you are ready to hear and respond to that call, and I was finally ready.”

Sue O’Loughlin (Carlisle):  St Peter’s Heversham

Sue O’Loughlin
Sue O'LoughlinSue was born in Basingstoke, Hampshire, and is married to Terry, originally from Kendal. They have four children. The couple moved back to Cumbria in 2003 and live in Farleton. Sue has worshipped at St Mary’s Kirkby Lonsdale for five years. Sue held administrative posts including working for British Airways’ Pension Fund, before retiring. She trained as a Church of England reader before deciding to apply for ordination as a Distinctive Deacon, a ministry with a focus ‘on the borders’ and to people who are outside church.

The following verse has had particular resonance for Sue, during her training for ordination: “…in quietness and trust is your strength…” (Isaiah 30:15)

Chris Sheehan (Worcester, the only DD there).

Chris Sheehan ordination

Chris Sheehan will serve in the Arch Benefice, Evesham (Church Lench with Rous Lench & Abbots Morton & Harvington)

Chris is married to Carol and they have lived in Evesham since 2002. He was brought up in Worcester where his Mum still lives. Chris became a Christian at a Crusaders summer camp in his teens, but it wasn’t until he became a Street Pastor that he began taking his vocation seriously.He will combine his ministry with his career offering coaching for technology businesses who are launching new innovations in healthcare. He said:

“I’ve always felt called to focus my ministry outside the body of the Church, supporting those in the marginal, difficult places who often don’t have a voice. Jesus’ charge to ‘feed my sheep’ has always resonated with me.I completed a pioneer ministry diploma at Cuddesdon College and will be ordained as a ‘permanent deacon’ working with people in the local community.

“My paid role is about trying to get business owners to be the best they can be and realising their potential without telling them what to do. It involves listening and asking questions sensitively, skills which I know are going to be very useful as a minister. I’m not starting with an agenda, but am looking forward to seeing where God is already at work in the benefice and joining in, trying to understand where Christ is and where I can make a difference.”

David Bean (Southwell).  DAVID BEAN – David trained for ministry at the Lincoln School of Theology and works for Trinity Hospital, a Christian almshouse charity in Retford. David has been married to Margaret for 25 years; they have no children but live with an aged cat called Fred. He will be serving his title as a Distinctive Deacon with The Revd Sue Caddy within All Hallows, Ordsall with St Michael’s & All Angels, West Retford, and Retford town centre mission.

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Dr Sue Gillingham, parish of Oxford, St Barnabas w St Paul & St Thomas the Martyr. Sue will be working partly at Worcester College, Oxford, where she teaches theology;  and partly at St Barnabas Jericho where she lives.

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And from the diocese of Leeds, Tony and Carol:

Tony Cantlow

Tony Cantlow will serve as Assistant Curate (Distinctive Deacon) in the parish of Christ Church, Skipton with St Mary’s, Carleton in Craven. After obtaining a Foundation degree in theology and ministry with York St John University, he will complete his training for ordination at St Hild College, Mirfield, where he is reading for a graduate diploma in theology, ministry and mission. For many years Tony served as a communications officer with North Yorkshire Police and prior to ordination served as verger of Bolton Priory. As a self-supporting minister he will also continue his secular employment as warden of a group of local alms-houses. Prior to becoming a Christian, Tony followed a path of contemporary Celtic spirituality which focused on a love and protection of the natural world, something which remains very close to Tony’s heart. He is interested in walking, reading, photography and socialising with his atheist, pagan and Christian friends!

Carol Hawkins

I’m 54 years old. Married to Kevin, who isn’t a Christian but is very supportive of my ministry. We have 2 adult sons, Ian and Simon.
I became a Christian aged 10 after going to church with my stepdad. Was Baptised aged 10 and Confirmed about 18 years old.
I have worked as a Teaching Assistant at the local primary school for 19 years, in many different guises, from whole class support to supporting single children on a 1 : 1 basis.
Prior to marrying I worked as a Nursing Auxiliary for several years, mostly night duty. I loved it, good experience towards becoming a Deacon!
After marrying I worked as a Care Assistant in various care homes, again brilliant experience.
I have had breast cancer twice, eventually having a double mastectomy in 2013. I began my training towards ordination back in 2008 and for various reasons had to back out and rejoin.
Now just looking forward to ordination and ministry afterwards.

Distinctive deacons popping up all over the country!  Praise God and carry them in your prayers.

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Some of us who are longer in the tooth are also rejoicing.  Deacon David Rogers (Exeter) is celebrating his silver jubilee this weekend, while fellow-deacon Gill Kimber reaches 27 years and reckons being a deacon is more amazing and satisfying than ever.

Part of the Bishop’s prayer at the ordination of deacons:

Through your Spirit, heavenly Father,

give these your servants grace and power to fulfil their ministry.

Make them faithful to serve

and constant in advancing your gospel in the world.

May they follow the example of Jesus Christ your Son,

who washed the feet of his disciples,

and set the needs of others before his own.

May their life be disciplined and holy,

their words declare your love

and their actions reveal your glory,

that your people may walk with them in the way of truth

and be made ready for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ;

to whom, with you and your Holy Spirit,

belong glory and honour, worship and praise, now and for ever.





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Deacon Gill Newman (London):  Today I had the privilege of deaconing at the priesting of my fellow ordinands. A year ago we were all ordained as deacons. Today I fulfilled my calling as a deacon for them as they fulfilled their calling as priests. It felt very moving.  I had wondered if I might feel any pangs of regret seeing them all priested – but I didn’t at all. Rather I felt absolutely affirmed in this marvellous vocation of deacon to which we have been called.

Deacon Gill Kimber (Exeter):  I’ve had exactly the same experience. How wonderful that you were able to deacon for them!

Deacon Chris Saccali (Athens, Diocese in Europe):  I think it is marvellous to feel comfortable, affirmed and content in your calling. Coming up to 2 year anniversary of ordination.

Deacon Paul Hollingworth (Winchester):  I also have had the same experience and I found it one of the most reaffirming ministries and I’m hoping to do the same again at the priesting at the end of June.

Exchange taken from the GoDeacons Whatsapp group, with permission.

If you’re a distinctive deacon and you’d like to be in touch with others round the country as part of GoDeacons, please email me on deacons@tutanota.com with your mobile number.  You’ll need to download the free Whatsapp app too.

Here are some responses:

Deacon Alison Handcock (Bath and Wells):  Good to hear Gill. A lovely reminder of two years ago. At the priest’s pre-ordination retreat everyone was concerned that I would feel left out or change my mind but . . . What a privilege to call the church to confession and reconciliation as well as read the gospel . . . And send out the whole people of God including fellow ministers to be sacraments to the world! I also felt such joy. Glad to hear you were affirmed in your diaconal ministry.

Deacon Corinne Smith (Portsmouth): I attended the first mass of a friend I trained with and after it she said, “Did that make you think?” I replied, “Yes, it made me think how lovely it would be to Deacon a mass when you are presiding”! Seems we Deacons all feel the same about this!



St John the Baptist is patron saint of interior change, of conversion.   His message can be summed up in his own statement, “I must decrease, but he (Christ) must increase.”   This is the shortest, the clearest, the best summary of the Christian life in the New Testament.   It is what monastic life is all about.   It is the radical rule of life for all Christians.    It is the most important God-given rubric for priests who celebrate Mass.

The vocation of st John the Baptist  is a prophetic one.   He called on the people of his time to completely change their priorities in preparation for the coming of Christ; and, through the liturgy, his challenge is addressed to us.

He challenges us to radically change in those areas of our lives where Christ has not yet been invited in or where he has been quietly squeezed out.   He warns us that there is no time or room for delay or for beating about the bush.   The time for conversion is now.

All of us have a vocation.   Like Jeremiah and St John the Baptist, each of us was called by God while still in our mother’s womb, to do things in harmony with the Holy Spirit that we could never have done by ourselves.   We have even been called to do things that we dont know we are doing.   Once we put ourselves in his hands, God uses us whether we know it or not.


Although this was written in 1968 and is of its time, much of what it says seems remarkably prescient.  Some of the points made by Roberts Ehrgott of the Episcopal Church in America still hold true for the diaconate today.  The emphases in bold type are mine.

This column by the Rev. Roberts E. Ehrgott (1925-1997), then rector of the Church of the Nativity, Indianapolis, addressed what he called the “Clergy Shortage” in the late 1960s. Fr. Ehrgott was held in a German prisoner of war camp in the final months of the Second World War after his capture while serving as an Army corporal. Following the war, he studied at Seabury-Western, being ordained deacon and priest in 1949. He served parishes in the dioceses of Chicago, Indianapolis, and Northwestern Pennsylvania and worked as a consulting editor for Saturday Evening Postin addition to contributing occasional articles to The Living Church. (Small formatting and punctuation changes have been made to the article below.)

From The Living Church, December 15, 1968, pp. 10-1, 14.

By Roberts E. Ehrgott

In an attempt to offset the “clergy shortage” or bottleneck which occurs whenever the Holy Eucharist is celebrated and a number of communions are administered without the diaconal assistance of a minister, the Church of England and the Episcopal Church USA now permit layreaders, under special episcopal license, to administer the chalice. This is admittedly a stop-gap measure, designed to meet a real need caused by increasing use of the eucharistic liturgy. Our “glorious handicap” — the common cup — does lengthen our Eucharists when one priest must communicate more than 100 persons and perhaps bless droves of small children at the parish communion.

Another method of ministering Holy Communion expeditiously has been attempted: that of intinction. But it is our stated Anglican position not to deny the Cup of the Lord to the laity. At the Anglican Reformation the chalice was restored and the rubrics direct that the sacrament, in both kinds, shall be delivered into the communicant’s hands, ostensibly so that he can be not just ministered unto but also minister to himself in priestly fashion. Methods other than the rubrical directions cause a kind of passivity on the part of the communicant. The effort to expedite the administration of the chalice, which takes perhaps three times as long as that of the hosts and unduly lengthens the Eucharist, by using lay readers, is an attempt to retain the traditional method. However, it is without precedent and it would seem to violate the Ordinal’s statement that “…no man shall be accounted or taken to be a lawful Bishop, Priest, or Deacon, in this Church, or suffered to execute any of the said Functions, except he be (ordained).” Elsewhere in the Prayer Book we learn that the deacon is to assist the priest in divine service. If, then, the Prayer Book cannot be superseded by canon law, it follows that this use of laymen is irregular.

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photo from Catholic Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu

Legalities aside, however, the new permission does point up the need for full restoration of the diaconate; the difficulty is that it circumvents the diaconate. Further, it seems to create a new “minor order,” contrary to general Anglican polity. The use of layreaders in a diaconal function also flies in the face of growing ecumenical attention to the diaconate.

The World Council of Churches has issued Studies No. 2, The Ministry of Deacons, in which there is a paper, “The Diaconate in the Anglican Communion.” A new book, The Diaconate Now, discusses Anglican use of the third order in depth. Studies XVII by our liturgical commission ends on the wistful note that the diaconate ought to be used more fully. Bp. Emrich of Michigan submitted a report to Lambeth on the subject, and the Conference issued a statement. The diaconate is receiving attention in the Church of Rome: the deacon of the Eucharist is now communicated with the chalice and can administer it at certain Eucharists; deacons are being released from seminary to work in parishes; the place of married deacons is being explored — these would no doubt be “worker-deacons.” All these studies and more indicate that the diaconate is being viewed in the light of its ancient integrity and as a current need.

Anglicans have used the diaconate all along, to read the Gospel, to preach, to administer the chalice, and in the absence of a priest, to baptize. However, three major errors crept in. First, the diaconate has been kept in an inferior position, and the Ordinal even speaks of “this inferior office.” We delegate (in compounded error) to the deacon the administration of what medievalism tended to suggest — that the species of consecrated wine is itself somewhat inferior to the consecrated bread. The second error has been to treat the diaconate as a kind of apprenticeship to priesthood, and the third has been to put deacons only under the direction of parish priests. Anglicanism should be able to restore the diaconate to its rightful place as an office and function which has both an integrity of its own and a function which relates to the whole, and not just to the other two orders of the ministry in a hierarchy.

As to the first error — that of regarding the diaconate as an inferior office — the practice of allowing the deacon only to administer the chalice should be examined. The House of Bishops has already gone on record as stating that deacons should be allowed to administer Holy Communion to congregations as well as to the sick, and this would involve ministering the sacrament in both kinds, presumably. Deacons in the earliest times ministered both species to concelebrating priests, and the tradition that has the celebrant ministering the hosts did not spring out of protocol, but was a sequential thing. And, if there are two assistants acting as deacons, we know that using them to administer two chalices coordinates best with the celebrant ministering the hosts. But this is not to make the two functions of differing degree. In the case of one assistant acting as deacon, then, he need not be limited to the chalice. It is sometimes more convenient for the celebrant to minister the cup while the assistant delivers the paten.

The second error — that of using the diaconate as a kind of apprenticeship to priesthood — has been somewhat offset by ordaining “perpetual deacons,” but the vast majority of deacons are of course en route to priesthood: “temporary deacons.” Perhaps we should use this description, if we retain that of “perpetual deacon,” to correct the thought that to remain in deacon’s orders is to remain in an inferior position.

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The third major error — that of putting deacons under the jurisdiction of parish priests — in practice is, of course, part of the training of “temporary deacons” learning to function as priests. However, the old phrase, “under the direction of the bishop,” indicates that the diaconate is not immediately subordinate to the presbyterate but to episcopal control. And we know full well, from the New Testament and early writings, that the office of deacon is older than the presbyterate and that deacons were the right-hand men of the early bishops: their liturgical and pastoral assistants, in a close relationship. Then too, deacons were used flexibly in the field until the presbyterate was evolved as an extension of the bishop’s priesthood in a stable situation in what became the parish. The perhaps more parallel ministry of the priest involves stability, incumbency.

Anglicanism has lately evolved a more apostolic functional use of the diaconate beyond “apprenticeship,” but the deacon of both types — temporary and perpetual — has been made into an assistant of parish priests, only. However, a deacon is not historically and originally a parish minister, and the mistake in latter days has been to ordain perpetual deacons to a particular parish. This has caused some problems. Men ordained to the diaconate frequently regard the “superior” office of priest wistfully and are sometimes priested, out of sentiment, without adequate training. There have been cases where such clergy have been advanced “career-wise” beyond those who had seminary training. Many a new rector inherited a perpetual deacon who had seen younger pastors come and go while the deacon remained as the link in the succession of the parish’s clergy, with consequent personality problems. Often the perpetual deacon is ordained later in life and soon becomes less active — even handicapped by age. There have been many professional and personal problems in our misuse of the diaconate.

A solution would be in the use of “worker-deacons.” Most perpetual deacons have been engaged in secular work, so that this is no new suggestion. But, to repeat, Anglican use of permanent deacons has been based on their stability in one parish and on a certain professionalization. A decade ago the “worker-priest” was tried in a sister Communion on the Continent, but this failed in part because this type of priest was too freelance. The priest-pastor needs stability and full-time function as long as the parochial system remains; the presbyterate is a geographic extension of episcopacy.

After the development of the presbyterate, deacons continued to be used as the bishop’s assistants in a more roving capacity: the office of archdeacon gives a clue to this. Inherent in the diaconate, then, is itinerate liturgical and pastoral assistance to the episcopate. We have a tool already forged and to hand, to meet many shortages and emergencies: a diaconate which to a greater extent than most Churches we have used. It would then be only a logical further step to create in the diocese a corps of deacons much like the scriptural and pre-Nicene “Seven.” In this transient age the Church needs a more flexible ministry, but before wiping out the parochial system on the one hand, or admitting laymen to diaconal function on the other, the Church could well restore her diaconate to more efficient and full function.

Already established is the tradition that a deacon serves “under the direction of the bishop.” It is no affirmation of inferiority to say that the diaconate is by definition a “ministry of service.” A corps of deacons functioning directly under the bishop (or his suffragan or archdeacon) and responsible primarily to him, could prove of invaluable assistance so long as it is not used to supply cheap curates or to substitute permanently for a priest. Deacons sent forth by the bishop could fill temporary vacancies, nevertheless, in the missions and parishes; they could supply agencies and institutions which are too often woeful blanks. This ministry could be kept flexible, mobile, and adjustable; it need not and should not become entrenched in any one place nor be used where priestly functions would thereby be supplanted.

All bishops and clergy have seen men aspiring to the ministry but restrained by family and economic responsibilities. Many young men must wait until retirement to attain holy orders. But it is the priesthood which has been held up as the ideal, for some unattainable, while the diaconate has been neglected as a vocation in itself, or treated as “this inferior office” — a stepping-stone to “the higher ministries.” Throughout the Church there are good, loyal, consecrated laymen of character and sufficient education to serve as deacons. We see them often in our layreaders now. A worker-diaconate, volunteer, “unprofessionalized,” and devoted to assisting the bishop wherever needed could prevent the fragmentation of the ordained ministry which seems to be happening with the admission of laymen to diaconal function.

Parish clergy know what help our retired priests and those in weekday secular work are on Sundays, but these men are in limited supply. They do point up the need for diaconal assistance because while they are priests, their use in the parishes is mostly in their assistance in the administration of the sacrament; a diaconal function. Just as the House of Bishops has said that a deacon need not be limited to the communion of the sick, but can conduct a “deacon’s mass,” so this minister can do more liturgically than read the epistle, minister communion, preach, and baptize in emergencies. He can administer Holy Communion in both kinds, he can prepare the bread and wine for the offertory, and he can perform the ablutions. In the Eucharist he could possibly recite some portions not specifically the function of a priest.

In a day when liturgical renewal is occasioning increase in the number of individual communions, it is only a step, and a natural one having precedent, for the Church to restore its diaconate much as the office was originally instituted. The day has passed when medieval reluctance to receive Holy Communion combined with other factors to concentrate on the lone figure of the priest-celebrant; nowadays the lone priest in a station cannot satisfactorily function at the Eucharist; no amount of liturgical renewal will offset the inordinate length of time it takes for him to administer communion. Restoration of the Eucharist to its proper place, coupled with increasing numbers of individual communions, will be negated if we continue with the bottleneck caused by using one sacred minister at the altar. The use of laymen for help with communion shows the need for diaconal assistance. The difficulty is that lay sacramental ministration fragmentizes rather than restores and integrates ministerial function.

Restore the “Seven,” and let them fully serve God’s Church!

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Richard Mammana is archivist of the Living Church Foundation, clerk of the vestry at Trinity Church on the Green in New Haven, Connecticut, and a member of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences.
 With thanks to Deacon Corinne Smith for drawing this to my attention


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From early 2017 to mid 2018, the diaconate steering group for Deacon Jessica Foster (comprising Paula Gooder [chair]; Martin Stephenson; Richard Sudworth and Jessica Foster*] met together to reflect on Jessica’s vocation as a deacon.  Inevitably the group wanted to do this particular reflection in the light and context of a wider reflection on the nature of the diaconate both historically and in the Church of England today.

This document represents the work of this group.  It begins with a reflection by Jessica on her vocation as a deacon and how this has developed during her time as a curate.  The second (much longer) section consists of the documents written to stimulate the group’s thinking around the diaconate past and present.  The final section sketches out a vision for the future and how diaconal ministry might be supported more widely across the diocese.

We hope that it will stimulate conversation and reflection on the role of the permanent diaconate in CofE Birmingham, as the diocese seeks new patterns of ministry in the months and years ahead.

*Dr Paula Gooder, theologian, Lay Reader and New Testament specialist

Rev Deacon Jessica Foster, curate, St Peter’s Church, Hall Green, Birmingham

Rev Canon Martin Stephenson, vicar of St Peter’s Church, Hall Green and  Jess’s training incumbent

Rev Dr Richard Sudworth, honorary Research Fellow on Christian-Muslim relations at Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham and vicar of Sparkbrook.

May 2018

Deacons and CofE Birmingham Final-1

A reflection on experience, explorations of the diaconate past and present, and a vision for the future

Your editor would be most interested in your responses to this document. Please use the comments, or send an email to deacons@tutanota.com


(image from Possibility Coaches)