Recently, the Archbishop of York, an enthusiastic advocate, support and friend of the diaconate, published his Presidential Address to his Diocesan Synod (5 November 2016) advocating a fresh approach to ministry.

He asked for copies to be distributed to everyone in  church communities across the Diocese of York.

This is now available in booklet form:  see link and also this blog’s pages (right hand side)

Here’s what he says about deacons:

Their aim is that the work of service may go on. The word used for service is diakonia; and the main idea which lies behind this word is that of practical service. The office-bearer is not to be a person who simply talks on matters of theology and of Church law; they are in office to see that practical service of God’s poor and lonely people goes on.

This means that every mission unit (parish) must have office-bearers who are equipped by the Gifts of Grace. In every mission unit there must be a desire for the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Evangelists, pastors and teachers, a Renewed Diaconal Ministry, Presbyters, and differing ministries by every one. When the Ministry of Readers was restored 150 years ago, they were meant to be the go-between the Church and the World. Frankly this is what the office-bearer of Deacon is as we see in Acts 6 and in our Ordinal.
The Ordination of Deacons
God calls his people to follow Christ, and forms us into a royal priesthood, a holy nation, to declare the wonderful deeds of him who has called us out of darkness into his marvellous light..[3]
The Church is the Body of Christ, the people of God and the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit. .[4] In baptism the whole Church is summoned to witness to God’s love and to work for the coming of his kingdom.
To serve this royal priesthood, God has given a variety of ministries. Deacons are ordained so that the people of God may be better equipped [5] to make Christ known. Theirs is a life of visible self-giving. Christ is the pattern of their calling and their commission; as he washed the feet of his disciples, so they must wash the feet of others. [6]
[3] cf 1 Peter 2.9; Exodus 19.6; Revelation 1.6, 5.10
[4] cf 1 Corinthians 12.27; 1 Peter 2.10; 1 Corinthians 3.16
[5] cf Ephesians 4.12
[6] cf John 13.14


It would be good to have a Leadership Team in every Mission Unit.
It would be good to have Prayer-Triplets in every Mission Unit.
It would be good for every Leadership Team to discern the gifts in the Body of Christ in that place; and we will commission them.
It would be good to turn Multi-Benefice Parishes into manageable United Parishes, and to hold an act of worship in every church on Sunday. We will train catechists to do this.

Radically, he also is encouraging Readers who believe their ministry is primarily diaconal, to explore the diaconate with vocations advisers: 

Clearly some Readers know themselves to be called to the ministry of pastor/teacher. We honour this. Maybe they should be commissioned as such – at their licensing. But some may know themselves to be called to the ministry of deacon. These we should ordain and like in the Porvoo Churches they will not be allowed to seek the possibility of Ordination to the Priesthood before seven years in the Ministry of Deacon.

The full document can be found here

SHARING THE GRACE: Deacon Didier Rance

Interview: Didier Rance, historian

24 November 2017

‘Being a Christian is not to have won an undeserved jackpot, but to help all people win this jackpot’

I always wanted to be a historian. I studied medieval history at the Sorbonne, and left for Egypt to work on a doctorate in comparative studies in medieval thought.

Something happened which prevented me to achieve my doctorate:
in Cairo, on my way to libraries where I worked, I noticed that families were staying exactly at the same places on pavements. They were living on the street.

I started to wonder if medieval history was as urgent as trying to help people like these,
and dropped history for humanitarian work in 1973. They were years of terrible drought and famine all over Sahelian countries, and I was sent as co-ordinator for relief operations for a volunteers’ organisation. I worked for them for seven years, mainly in West Africa, and with UNICEF.

I made another turn in life in 1980. Although I was born in a Catholic family, I had long proclaimed myself an agnostic. Africans made me a believer again, then a Christian — when I understood that being a Christian was not to have won an undeserved jackpot in the lottery of life, but was rolling up your sleeves to become a partner with Jesus to help all people to win this jackpot.

Returning to church opened my eyes.
Of course the poorest of the poorest needed humanitarian assistance, but also Christ. In 1980, I joined Aid to the Church in Need [ACN] in France, which led me to the diaconate in 1985, and the Secular Franciscan Order. I was now married with three children. I worked more than 25 years with ACN, as regional then national director.

This led me also to a third turn in life.
ACN has a mission not only for needy churches, but also for persecuted ones. A few months after I started with ACN, Fr Przemysl Coufal was assassinated by the StB, the local KGB in Czechoslovakia, near where I was living. Nearly no one was interested by this in my country, but it struck me to the core, and opened my eyes to the reality of persecution and martyrdom of Christians in Europe and elsewhere. I started working on this, with the intellectual tools I had developed as an historian, and published articles and books: first on Poland, second on Middle Eastern Christians, and so on. At the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, I travelled five years extensively to collect and publish testimonies of confessors of faith and martyrs there.

When John Paul II decided that the memory of the martyrs
would be one of the three main dimensions of the Great Jubilee, and created the Commission for New Martyrs in 1994, I found myself working with them in Rome. My own task was to deepen the understanding of martyrdom from the experience of 20th-century martyrs and confessors of faith.

I published Un Siècle de Témoins
[A Century of Witnesses], and then returned to academic work at the Ukrainian Catholic University. From 2008, I’ve given here an online Master’s course in ecumenical hagiology. I can summarise the course in one single sentence: “If Christians are able to suffer and die together for the same Christ, why should not they be able to live together for the same Christ?” And I began to write biographies.

It seems to me that the two trends in history have dominated in the last decades:
quantitative and structural methods, both tending to treat human facts in history mainly as things. It’s possible that we assist the return to study history as made by concretely human actors. Several of the greatest French historians of our time, like [Jacques] Le Goff or [Paul] Veyne, finished their life by writing biographies.

This very shallow knowledge of history,
shown in recent election results in France and Britain, is a fact. You may wonder how liberal countries have become, as the totalitarian countries, a subject of meditation for me. The way Christopher Dawson is now absent from discussion on Europe and its Christian roots is symptomatic. When the choice is between no roots and biased ones, what choice is possible for a Christian?

John Bradburne entered my life in 1983, when I raised money for the Mutemwa lepers, for whom he gave his life. [Bradburne was a lay Franciscan, warden of the Mutemwa leper colony at Mutoko, in what is now Zimbabwe, who was killed by guerrillas in 1979, a few months before independence.] I have a lot of various reasons for loving him, which I hope will be shared by the readers of the book [details below], but there were also points of personal convergence: the lepers, Africa, wanderings, playing the flute, poetry, and secular Franciscan life, even if I was well aware of the gap between this life totally given to God, and mine.

I travelled in John’s footsteps in England,
Italy, Belgium, and Africa, and studied his letters and his poems. My companionship with him was, and is, such that I made for myself a calendar, with entries for each day of the year, of what he did this day, any year of his life.

I’ve now published 25 books:
18 of them are about martyrs, persecuted Churches, and about witnesses of faith I have met. I’ve also written on Nietzsche, Tolkien, on the spirituality of the diaconate, on humanitarian work, and a long poem on a Ukrainian artist.

I’m not proud of my books.
But I’d be happy if John Bradburne and others agree with what I have written on them; and I’m happy when people tell me they were touched by John, and others I’ve written about.

I’m currently preparing the publication of a historical novel
on spiritual resistance against totalitarism in Slovakia; and a collection of essays on John Henry Newman; and finishing what will be my Summa on 20th-century martyrs, The Forgiveness of the Martyrs of Our Time.

Biography is the apex of historical work,
as well as a serious challenge to the art of the novel. Novels are the works of sub-creators, to use Tolkien’s terminology. Real lives are the joint work of the Creator and of human sub-creators. Doing research on Bradburne, I found, more than once, like Chesterton, that reality is more extraordinary than fiction.

I was born in 1947, in an ordinary family
of French post-war baby-boomers, with four siblings, in a Paris suburb which was still country. I remember going to a farm to buy milk, and helping my older sisters to rob some pears at the neighbouring orchard. Life changed when I was ten years old and my father was knocked down by a drunk driver. It was a hard time for the whole family. If I’d not been already going to school in Paris, I’d have gone to work at 14. I had to work when I was 16, to contribute to my studies.

Now, I’m an ageing, pensioned man,
happy to be able to walk, every year, 1000 kilometres or more, to Santiago or Rome for the last 15 years; working on books, articles, weekly broadcasts on a Catholic radio network, on handicapped people, Newman, and, of course, for our suffering Christian brothers and sisters, and the memory of martyrs.

To be a deacon is to share the grace of serving the One who said, “ I am among you as the One who serves.”
And serving those who give their lives for him is grace upon grace. Since 1988, another grace: I’m a bi-ritual deacon, serving the Greek Catholic churches — the most persecuted Catholic churches in the 20th century.

I love the Bach cello suites.

My greatest influences have been St Francis, Fr Marie-Joseph, John Bradburne, Silvo Krcméry
, who initiated the clandestine Christian Movement in Slovakia during the totalitarian era, and an African Sister who said: “Pourquoi tracasser ma tête, je vis l’aujourd’hui de Dieu.” (“Why bother my head, I live the today of God.”)

I usually do not pray for what, but for whom.
Walking to Rome or Santiago, I leave with a long list of persons to pray for.

Stupidity is an incurable disease.
I’m angry first with stupid people, but, soon after, with myself.

I’m happiest when I feel attuned to God and my neighbour.

I hope one day to attain the hope of the martyrs
, which is the measure of real Christian hope. I’m still far from it.

You are never alone in a church when the Real Presence is here.
A companion to share him? John, of course.


Didier Rance was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.

John Bradburne: The vagabond of God, translated by Malachy O’Higgins and abridged by David Crystal, is published by DLT at £12.99 (Church Times Bookshop £11.70).


Deacon Andy Farmer talks to Claire Whitmore (Ministry Division of the Church of England) about the way God called him to be a deacon.  Part of his story is due to appear soon on the new CofE website about vocations.

Deacon Andy Farmer

Diocese of Exeter

Andy Farmer

Qu:  Tell me a bit about your own faith story

I grew up in South Wales in a Christian family and my dad died when I was very young. I just remember my mum – one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen – my dad had died, and she’d just got back from the hospital, she wanted to tell us straight away, and I remember her saying “it’s OK, because God will look after us”. That sense of blind faith stayed with me. When I look back on it now I have a sense of God as a very practical presence in our lives, and we were always looked after. Like everyone else I disappeared off to school and university, didn’t have any real faith, but when I got married and our first child came along I thought “wow, there must be something more”. Debbie, my wife, and I were enquiring at the same time, and as I had had a Methodist upbringing, I felt there was something there. We got involved in the church, but very much motivated by what middle class families do, going on a Sunday and being part of things, but very much based just on ‘that’s what you do’.

We moved down to West Devon about 15 years ago, and in order to get involved in the local community we went to an Alpha course together. I remember the feeling I had when I learnt “do you know what? God is a personal God and prepared to have a relationship with us”. It just transformed our faith, that sense of God loving us so much that he laid down his life for us, that sense of the practicality and prayer as conversation. That whole sense of the ability to have a personal relationship with God completely changed my faith, my faith grew, I got involved in the local church, I started learning more about Scripture, led worship occasionally, led some courses and gave talks. Over a period of time I really felt God was calling me to do something a bit more and other people were saying that too me as well.

There was a disjoint for me between being in the church community, and being in the place where I worked, where the people I spent the vast majority of my time with had no faith. For me, God was calling me to meet people where they are, to find out what God was doing and join in. My calling isn’t about expecting people to come into the church building, but to meet them where they are.

I belong to a very low church, but even in that forum, we are very far away from most people’s everyday life. There are generations growing up now who never had religious school assemblies, Christianity is just one of many other faiths, they view religion as something which has caused wars. We’ve alienated people from the Christian faith. I have a strong sense that God is saying to me to just get out there and talk to people, to listen and to join in when I see stuff.

I’ve just been ordained, and we went on a three-day retreat before. I met with the Bishop and he said I had a gift of discernment, and that I should work with that. My call to the Diaconate gives me the freedom to meet people where they are. He said, “what I want you to do, is to go out of the building, away by yourself and say two things: ‘thank you God for loving me so much’ and ‘just send me wherever you want me to go’. So, I walked out of the building up the hill, and I didn’t really know where I was going. I could see a spire, so I thought, “right, that’s what you do, head to the spire”.  I went into the churchyard and found that the church I’d walked into had no roof! I’ve subsequently found out it was burned down, but still is sacred land. I went inside in that heavy mizzle that doesn’t look like much but absolutely drenches you. I had a sense of God calling me not to be in a building. God was saying “this building has no roof, but I’m still here”. I felt so affirmed.

Then the next thing I knew, a guy was walking towards me with a small aluminium suitcase. So, I’m in the middle of the moor, in a burned-out church, in the rain and there’s a middle-aged man walking towards me. I was thinking “I’m going to have to say something, I can’t just ignore him”, so I asked him what was in the case – was he a photographer? He said “no, guess again”, so I made a few guesses and didn’t get it, and eventually he asked me what I was doing there. I said, “I’m on a retreat, I’m being ordained on Sunday and I just came out to find a bit of space to pray and to be in God’s presence.” I thought that would be the end of the conversation as he seemed to be quite opposed to religion.

We had a chat and he told me he had a set of bagpipes in the case – things were getting more and more random by the minute, and I do think God has a sense of humour. He said he was in a band, and would come up here to play by himself so as not to disturb anyone. I asked him what he was going to play, and he told me “Amazing Grace.” I could feel the hairs sticking up on the back of my neck at this point, and I asked him if he knew the origins of the hymn. He knew a lot about music, but not the story of the song.

I told him about John Newton and his history, his involvement with the slave trade and then the abolitionist movement. He was enthralled. I talked about the irony that the song talked about being blind but now I see, whilst for Newton physically it was the other way around. I could tell it had an impact on him, and he asked me the author’s name, and I said ‘John Newton’ – and he stood in silence for a while, and then he said “my father’s name was John Newton-Andrews, and he died two years ago today.” You can talk about coincidence, but for me it was an affirmation that God wanted me to be there, listening to people and trust that somehow or another God would bless them. So I left, and he struck up Amazing Grace as I walked away.

For me it’s about making myself a little bit vulnerable and letting God use me as an instrument for a connection. I’ll never see that guy again, but I hope he felt some connection with God.

As I look at my faith journey, it’s littered with those kinds of encounters. The Diaconate gives me the freedom and flexibility, not tied to being inside a Church, but instead to represent God in the work environment. Many people just want to be listened to. For me, the Diaconate is what I was made to be. I want to be that faithful servant, in awkward places like Jesus was.

Qu:  Tell me about how you recognised your call

I didn’t know what the Diaconate was. We had a Church summer camp with guest speakers, and a couple of them had prayed with me and said that God was calling me to something more. At the time I remember wanting to throw myself in and get involved now, but as I look back I can see that I wasn’t ready. I needed forming and shaping. One person said he saw me as a bridge – not a steel structure, but an oak bridge, helping people move into the church. Others were saying I was clearly called to evangelism, to preaching, to relating to people. I remember signing up for a vocational course put on by the diocese. As I was leaving my wife said, “just keep an open mind, there’s a whole range of things that this might throw up, but by the way I’m not going to be a vicar’s wife”. I went along and listened to these things and I had a real sense that I wasn’t called to lay ministry, and God was preparing me for something different. Then I heard about the Diaconate, the incarnate Christ and the example of Stephen. The flexibility that sort of mission gave seemed like the right thing to do. I spent a lot of time in prayer with people at the Church, and they said they recognised this is in me. another time I was walking on the moor with the dog, spending some time in prayer, and calling upon God for some signs. I ended up in the middle of the moor on a bench in memorial of a lady called Margaret Deacon – just another of these coincidences that really spoke to me. and the sense that God wanted me to serve in an environment that I was well known and respected – and for me that’s the workplace. There is a real need, people don’t know how to share their faith in work, when to take a stand on an issue, and part of my role is to lead by example, and to be an ambassador for Christ.

Even where I work now, I’ve got feedback from people saying, “if you think there’s something in this God stuff, and you’re quite bright, maybe there is something in it after all.” And sometimes they will go off and find out a bit more.

Qu:  Does life feel different since ordination?

The clerical collar is very interesting. I’ve had so many questions about when I would and wouldn’t wear it. Getting ready for work on the first Monday after my ordination, my wife asked me if I would be any different in my shirt and tie than in the robes I’d worn at Church. I said, “I will be different, but because of what’s happened to me, not because of what I’m wearing.” It’s an ontological thing, the laying on of hands, and a public declaration. That sense of being reflective about how you respond, because people have more preconceptions about who I am and what I do. What I have to share with them is my vulnerability and to show them that through Grace I am saved.

Most people in my church have been positive about my choice to wear the collar, even though it’s quite a low church, and a couple have been critical. It’s caused a reaction, and I do feel somewhat different. This has been a five or six year – maybe even a lifetime – journey for me, and through the training I’ve been prepared.

For my wife, too it’s been a change. She’s always been a background person, she has wonderful skills and is very resourceful, and it’s a real blessing to see how in some ways we are being sent out as a couple.

I feel a bit like I’m waiting to mess up – lose my temper in the shops with my collar on, or get caught speeding. You do feel different, and there is some pressure.

Qu:  What do you think your ministry is going to be now?

My character is one of planning and being organised, and high achieving. Through the ordination process God has put things in front of me that are unimaginably difficult, but also shown me that it’s not in my strength, it’s through and within God that change will happen. Everyone is asking me my plans, and asking about all the things I’ve spoken about doing, but for now I’m just waiting on God. Enjoying the freedom of not having lots of training to do, and offering who I am to God. There are some places – I want to run some workshops about Christianity at work, I’d like to be involved in a Breakfast Club in Plymouth, which is our nearest city, I’ll be doing some practical things in church to help our incumbent, and we are also running some Pilgrim courses at our home. But really, I’m just looking around and seeing what is happening. And I wouldn’t be surprised if in the future we might find ourselves in a difficult area running a Church plant.

November 2017


Inspirational for those of us who are deacon-servants of Christ.

This sanctuary of my soul

Unwitting I keep white and whole,

Unlatch’d and lit, if Thou should’st care

To enter or to tarry there.

With parted lips and outstretch’d hands

and list’ning ears Thy servant stands.

Call Thou early, call Thou late,

to Thy great service dedicate

my soul, keep white, and whole.

(Words by Charles Hamilton Sorely, killed at Loos, 1915)

Psalm 123

A song of ascents.

I lift up my eyes to you,
    to you who sit enthroned in heaven.
As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master,
    as the eyes of a female slave look to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
    till he shows us his mercy.


Recently, Deacon Corinne Smith was invited to give a paper at the Annual Conference of Roman Catholic Diaconate Directors and Deacon Representatives, run by the Department of Catholic Education and Formation, under the authority of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.  Her brief was to talk about Anglican Deacons from a woman’s perspective – a very timely contribution now that Pope Francis has set up a commission to look at women deacons.

Corinne has kindly shared her paper with us:  here’s what she said:

Anglican (women) Deacons

Deacon Corinne Smith (Portsmouth diocese)


Francis Young in his book, “Inferior Office: a history of deacons in the Church of England”, describes how the Church of England’s “relatively sudden conversion to the idea of a lifelong or distinctive diaconate” came in the 1980s, as a consequence of the need to accommodate women’s aspirations for ordained ministry.

Yet, as he also says, “less than 10 years after the momentous decision to admit women to deacon’s orders, the distinctive diaconate was brought to the brink of extinction as the majority of women deacons sought ordination as priests”. (P87)

1968 saw the Report “Women in Ministry”, which proposed the recognition of women as deacons in the true sense, as one possibility among others in the Anglican Communion. The action of the Church in Canada gave further impetus to this, by ordaining its first woman deacon in 1969; and in 1980 The Church in Wales ordained its first women deacons.

In 1981 The Deaconess Community of St Andrew organised a consultation on the diaconate; and in the same year The House of Bishops in General Synod produced “The Deaconess Order and the Diaconate”, which was commonly known as the “Portsmouth Report. This document paved the way for General Synod’s approval of the ordination of women deacons in July 1985.

Among other recommendations, the Report urged that “The Church of England make provision for, and encourage, men and women to serve in the distinctive diaconate.

In reality, the distinctive diaconate was not something to which many men were likely to be drawn, because the nature of the work undertaken by deacons was of the sort traditionally associated with women. However, in Portsmouth Diocese, the then Bishop, Ronald Gordon, did set up a training programme specifically designed for male Anglican deacons.

By 1984 General Synod had made amendments to the canons such that the ordination of women as deacons could be allowed, without the need for parliament to debate the issues.

A clause was also added at this time that “nothing in this measure shall make it lawful for a woman to be ordained to the office of a priest”; and it was finally passed by General Synod in 1985.

In 1987 The first women deacons were ordained, and Canon law was amended to allow licensed deaconesses to apply to their bishop for ordination to the diaconate, the canons having closed the Order of deaconesses to new members from 1986.

In 1987 there were 750 female and 13 male deacons (7 of whom were in Portsmouth).

The legacy of the Portsmouth Report however, was to create a permanent diaconate without providing a structure for it to be integrated into the Church’s ministry as a whole. This has cast long shadows, which continue today.

The Portsmouth Report has been described as being primarily a vehicle for meeting womens’ demand to be admitted to ordained ministry, without outraging conservative opinion. As a result of this, women’s diaconal ministry was defined negatively, that is to say, they were clerks in Holy Orders as deacons, because they could not be priests.

Some people continued to argue for the intrinsic value of the diaconate, though. (Alison White and Di Williams) “Deacons at your service”, which suggested two images of the ministry: servant and bridge.

This book foreshadowed some later theological thinking in the GS report “For such a time as this”, which describes the deacon as bridge “representing the Church to the world and the world to the Church”.

In this model, the deacon provides a way for clergy to travel towards the laity and the laity towards the clergy.

1988 saw the publication of “Deacons on the Ministry of the Church”, by Stephen Platten and Mary Tanner. This remains a major resource for Anglican thinking on the diaconate. BUT the question of the ordination of women to the priesthood continued to be an issue to be addressed.

Platten rejected a “functionalist” understanding of the deacon’s ministry, drawing on Karl Rahner to say that the diaconate was of value in its own right, since it calls out individuals to represent both Christ to the Church and through that the Church’s ministry in Christ to the world.

He emphasised the role of deacon as servant and embodiment of servanthood in the Church, with two “poles” to the ministry” Pastoral care – which he saw as being more appropriately exercised in e.g. a hospital or a prison, rather than a parish context – and liturgical worship, where the deacon becomes the “sacramental representation of the Church’s ministry of service.” (P96)

Platten also suggested alternative selection and training criteria for women deacons, but apparently there wasn’t the funding for this, and it was also thought to be “discriminatory” to train women deacons differently from men heading for priesthood, especially as many women believed they would eventually be priested.

It is fair to say that the Church of England was unprepared for women deacons! Although 10 places were reserved for women deacons in a special constituency in GS, 25 were elected in 1990.

What bishops may have seen as a minority ministry rapidly became a major section of the clergy, and by 1990 there were 999 women deacons in the C/E of whom 511 were stipendiary and 256 were non-stipendiary. 56 were non-stipendiary deacons in secular employment. Interestingly, the 256 had been working as paid lay-workers prior to their ordination!

By 1991 there were 1200 women deacons, but the issue of identity i.e. whether they were distinctive deacons or “priests in waiting”, continued to divide opinion.

Catherine Treasure “Deacons now” was clearly in favour of deacons taking as many traditionally priestly roles as canon law would permit. She predicted that the diaconate would die out once women were priested, but what happened was that, once women were admitted to the priesthood, some women deacons (I count myself among them), were subjected to huge pressure to be priested in order to be seen to be more “useful”.

Anglican thinking about the diaconate as a ministry in its own right was further hampered between 1987 – 94 by the fact that new research done by John Collins Diakonia: Reinterpreting the Ancient Sources”, which was published in 1990 wasn’t widely known.

From 1998 – 2003, there was a marked decline in numbers; and in the five years since the ordination of women to the priesthood, numbers dropped to just 155 distinctive deacons: 114 women and 41 men.

Interestingly, in the second half of the 1990s, interest in the diaconate expanded globally and ecumenically, leading to the publication of the Hanover Report in 1996, which was a joint declaration made by the Anglican Communion and the Lutheran World Federation.

Anglican churches which had decided to ordain women to the priesthood also began to revisit their thinking on what deacons should be, but the momentum was lost again when Churches in the Anglican Communion started to explore the possibility of women being consecrated bishop.

In 2001 a report recommending the development of a distinctive diaconate “For such a time as this” was debated by Synod, but it was referred for more work and has yet to be debated again.

In 2003 The Diocese of Salisbury’s Report on the Distinctive Diaconate by Rosalind Brown, drew on “For Such a Time as This”; and Chichester Diocese also commissioned a report on how its deacons might relate to lay ministries within that diocese. (The Chichester Report)

Since 2006 the issue of deacons has been raised again in Synod in the context of a debate of Lay Readers, but we are still no further forward.

The 2007 GS report “The Mission and Ministry of the whole Church” recognised that distinctive deacons do have a place as a part of the Church of England’s ministry strategy, but encouragement for it varies from one diocese to another; and the cause of distinctive deacons still depends very much on the sympathy of individual bishops.

DACE, which was founded in 1988 and folded last year, was an Association for those involved in “Diaconal” ministries in the UK and was affiliated with Worldwide Diakonia. Membership included Distinctive Deacons, but it also had, for example, Church Army officers as part of its membership. With such a broad portfolio, plus the fact that it lacked the status of the Central Readers’ Council (which is a charity within Min Division), DACE never really had a voice for Deacons within the structures of the Church of England.

But things are changing for the better….

The diaconate has always been an option for Anglo-Catholic women who feel called by God, but who remain uncertain about the legitimacy of ordination to the priesthood; but the Evangelical Anglican group, Reform, has also recently begun to promote the ordination of women to the diaconate because it gets round the “headship” problem.

However, there is more potential for the diaconate than merely as providing “sidings” for those of different churchmanships into which women can be shunted! it is very exciting to see the number of men becoming distinctive deacons increasing, and there has been a growing awareness in some parts of the Church that diaconal ordination is particularly suited to those who feel called to “pioneer ministry”.

Deacons, whose ministry has been characterised by the symbol of the bridge, are exactly the right people, where the top priority is directed towards growing more Christians by reaching out to the unchurched and those on the fringes.

The report “The Mission and Ministry of the Whole Church” says of the distinctive diaconate “The distinctive diaconate is particularly appropriate where an individual feels strongly drawn to the missionary, go-between ministry, seeking out lost sheep and bringing both the message of the gospel and the practical care that goes with it to the unchurched…

It ends by saying that the “distinctive diaconate should be actively encouraged”, and that it needs to be “more widely recognised as a valid calling…and where the training pathway for distinctive deacons could be more clearly and prominently signposted than it has been in the past”. (P163)

The picture across the Church of England remains patchy, because of differences in the way Deacons are regarded by the various Diocesan Bishops, but there are real signs of renewal.

Paul Avis and Stephen Ferns produced guidelines for Directors of Ordinands to consider when evaluating vocations to the distinctive diaconate, which is now used nationwide.

Exeter Diocese has recently started a College of Deacons, which gives them a place within Diocesan structures, with a Warden and 10 Deacons consisting of 5 women and 5 men.

York Diocese also has a positive view of Deacons, and is looking to set up a College along the lines of Exeter. They currently have 9 Deacons, with one in training; and there are active plans in hand for expanding the numbers.

Portsmouth has 8 Deacons, three of whom are serving their curacies, and is also looking toward setting up a College of Deacons, again with a mix of men and women.

Chichester Diocese has 23 Deacons, and the Director of Apostolic Life for that Diocese is Canon Deacon Rebecca Swyer.

Southwark Diocese has recently revived the distinctive diaconate and they now have 6 deacons, both men and women.

There are other Dioceses where things are beginning to change, but that gives a bit of an idea of what is currently happening.

It feels as though this is a “Kairos moment” in the Church, as many of us are now recognising that the Diaconate is exactly the Missional, Evangelistic form of ministry which is most appropriate for the furtherance of the Kingdom in our day; and, because we don’t have presidency to come between us, has huge potential for ecumenical working between Anglican and Roman Catholic Deacons.



A brilliant post from Terry, a diaconal enquirer in Derby diocese.  It speaks for itself.

Time to duck and cover?

Sorry I have been so quiet.. work is… complicated at the moment, and takes up more thought space than it should.

My mind is also in a weird place, slowly formulating what to write in my essay to the diocese, and how to do it without reading another flipping book about the joys of the priesthood or readership (no offence to my Reader and Priest friends).

Anyway.. enough apologies, time for the actual reason for the post.

So.. last night was meant to be an evening with bishop Alistair (Derby Bishop) followed by a Deanary Synod vote about whether we merge our two deanerys (Heanor & Erewash Valley). In the evening the bishop gave our table groups questions to discuss for 5 mins then present to the group.

One of the questions was along the lines of “if we are saying that the kingdom of God is spread by encouraging people to encounter God even in the smallest of ways, then how are we to use our structures and resources for this kind of witness?”

We discuss the issue, then the wonderfully obliging person (one of our churchwardens) who had stood up for the previous two answers suddenly nudged me, refused to stand up, and did a “Your turn”.


I took a deep breath… and said something along the lines of:

“We discussed that is was not about getting people to feel that they have to do things a certain way, but ensuring everyone in our community knows that they both belong and are loved.

We must be in our communities and engaging with them regularly for them to see this, it is not about the community becoming members of the church, but the church being part of the community so that the encounters with God can happen.

We need to be more flexible in our structures to allow this to happen *deep breath*, one of the problems in the Church of England is that we say we want community involvement, but we have drawn away from it and seperated ourselves from the communities to which we belong.  We push so hard to encourage people to the priesthood or readership that we have lost sight of our diaconal calling to the community, and this is to our detriment, when our churches lose focus on the community others rise to take their place – an example being when the church was often not involved with the impoverished in the Victorian Era, the Salvation Army rose up to take up what we had lost.”

There had been nods throughout, and happy faces doing the nodding in a “finally, someone said it” way… but I dared not look to the bishop as I have been told on a number of occasions “Derby does not ‘do’ deacons, and is unlikely to change”.

My girlfriend said something similar as her table had people like ours (and our diaconally minded vicar (woo hoo))

Afterwards the bishop came over, and thanked us both for what we had said – and it does not seem to have been just being polite, as before that he had been speaking to the rural dean, did a gesture of “ah, I just need a moment, excuse me” when he came over, and then went back to the rural dean…

Which then begs the questions…. if our parishes want us to work in the communities… and the bishop wants us to too… why are we a diocese that “Does not do Deacons”?

I can see this essay being quite interesting to write.

Terry, it’s a good job these two aren’t in your diocese!  They’d never have made it!

Related imageSt Francis of Assisi – deacon

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St Laurence – deacon

FATHER, FORGIVE: a litany for Remembrance

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The Coventry Litany of Reconciliation

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

The hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class,


The covetous desires of people and nations to possess what is not their own,


The greed which exploits the work of human hands and lays waste the earth,


Our envy of the welfare and happiness of others,


Our indifference to the plight of the imprisoned, the homeless, the refugee,


The lust which dishonours the bodies of men, women and children,


The pride which leads us to trust in ourselves and not in God,


Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

(image of the cross of nails above the altar in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral)
Our Reconciliation Ministry