The Diaconate – Renewing an Ancient Ministry

The Revd Canon Michael Jackson

24 January 2018 9:25AM


Having been ordained in 1977, the Revd Canon Michael Jackson from the Diocese of Qu’Appelle is the longest serving deacon in the Anglican Church of Canada. In this blog, he explores the permanent diaconate.

Our liturgies invite us to pray for “all bishops, priests and deacons.” But what do most Anglicans and Episcopalians think of when they hear the word “deacon”? Very probably a person on their way to the priesthood, spending a few months or a year in a vaguely-defined but clearly secondary form of ordained ministry. Yet this is not what the order of deacons – the “diaconate” – was originally meant to be, nor what it is becoming again today.

When the three-fold ordained ministry emerged in the post-apostolic and early church, deacons were a “full and equal order,” along with priests and bishops. Deacons acted as agents for the bishop, especially in pastoral, charitable and administrative work and in the liturgy. There is considerable evidence that women were ordained deacons from the third through the seventh centuries.

But starting in the fourth century, the diaconate declined in importance. For a number of reasons, “sequential” ordination in three steps, deacon to priest and then in some cases to bishop, replaced the direct ordination to all three orders which had been the original practice. By the second millennium the diaconate ended up being an apprenticeship for the priesthood, what we now call the “transitional” diaconate. And so it stayed for the next thousand years – at least in the western Church, for the Orthodox east retained the permanent diaconate as well as the transitional variety.

The diaconate as a permanent, not transitional, form of ministry has rebounded in the past half-century in the western Church. This revival was due in large part to the Second Vatican Council, which reinstated the diaconate as a permanent vocation in the Roman Catholic Church, open to married men. Encouraged by several Lambeth Conferences, the Anglican Communion followed suit. The “permanent,” “vocational” or “distinctive” deacon is now a fact of life in both Communions. In 2017 it was estimated that there were 400 such deacons in the Anglican Church of Canada, 3,000 in the US-based Episcopal Church, and close to 20,000 in the American Roman Catholic Church. What form does this renewed diaconate take?

The biblical Greek word diakonia, from which we derive “diaconate” and “deacon,” is usually translated as “service.” Many deacons today have a ministry of direct service, pastoral, social or charitable in nature, outside their parish – as hospital or prison or institutional visitors, or working with the poor and the marginalised, with minority groups, with the disabled and with advocacy organisations. In parishes, deacons may undertake Christian education, youth work, home visiting, taking the reserved sacrament to shut-ins, seniors’ residences and care homes, and administrative, organisational, preaching and liturgical duties.

Some provinces of the Anglican Communion have been reticent about restoring the vocational diaconate. The most frequent objection is that ordained deacons clericalise lay ministry and in any case lay people can do anything that deacons can. Also, bishops and priests are already deacons, so a separate order is redundant.

But part from ignoring the historical roots of the diaconate, this approach negates the purpose of ordination. Deacons are officially commissioned to a leadership role by the Church, to which they make a lifetime commitment. A leading deacon in the US-based Episcopal Church, Susanne Watson Epting, has put it this way: “Even though ordained, [the deacon’s] primary identity remains baptismal and our ordination charges and vows serve only to expand, enhance, and urge us on in animating and exemplifying the diakonia to which all the baptised were called.” Experience with the renewed diaconate has amply fulfilled this assertion.

As for bishops and priests already being deacons, there are those, including myself, who turn the argument on its head. The Church should return to its original practice, end sequential ordination and abolish the transitional diaconate, which serves little purpose and inhibits the ministry of the vocational deacon. Food for thought!


Deacon Chris Saccali is the founder of Community Connect in Athens.  Great ministry, Chris!

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Last Wednesday Community Connect Northern Suburbs met for the first time in 2018 at the Loida Scripture Home for the Elderly in Kifissia. Deacon Chris Saccali, the founder of Community Connect, and Mr Alexis Karelis, the President of Loida, spoke prior to the cutting of the Vassilopitta which had been beautifully made by one of the ladies present, Helen Mandama.

(NB Vassilopitta is a Greek Cake, named after St Basil, made for New Year’s Day).

More details from the website of the Anglican Diocese in Europe:

Information  from their Facebook page




The Bishop of Leicester, +Martyn Snow, has produced a paper for the Central Readers’ Council of which he is Chair.  It is out for consultation from January to March 2018 with final proposals coming to the CRC AGM in April 2018.

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What is interesting about this discussion document, is that it comes down very firmly on the  understanding of Readers as the lay theologians, preachers and teachers of the church.  This is very helpful for clarifying the distinctiveness of our different ministries.  Distinctive Deacons do not see themselves primarily in this role, although inevitably we play our part in preaching and teaching.  By contrast, deacons have a strong call to an outward-looking, community-minded ministry with the hallmark of mission through service. We prefer to be out and about, making contacts, building relationships, identifying and meeting needs, creating stepping-stones between God and the world.

I hope to be able to discuss some of the points raised in this document with local Readers and some of you may like to do the same.  Here’s the doc: 

Click to access p287.pdf



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 Vincent is the earliest Spanish martyr whose name is known to us. It is said that he was brought to trial along with his bishop Valerius, and that since Valerius had a speech impediment, Vincent spoke for both, and that his fearless manner so angered the governor that Vincent was tortured and killed.

A fearless servant of both God and his bishop.

Almighty God, whose deacon Vincent, upheld by you, was not terrified by threats nor overcome by torments: Strengthen us to endure all adversity with invincible and steadfast faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Image from 365 rosaries.  Some text from


Deacon Jess Foster muses on bread-making as a creative response to church decline, religious difference and community cohesion.

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Bread Church was prompted by a conversation in which someone outside the church mentioned to our vicar (a fantastic baker) how much she would like to make bread. It was not started to meet our need for church growth or to bring in young people – although it is growing and young people come and enjoy it. It came about because the church was already turned outwards and engaging with neighbours from different faiths. Instead of asking what do we want, the church asked what would you like to do. Instead of worrying about what we need as church to survive, the church responded to the request from a neighbour.

Read the full post here:

Image from Manor House Stables


This is today’s posting on ‘From the Deacon’s Desk’, a blog by Deacon Rick Wagner.  Well worth following!

Passion Defined

January 16, 2018

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As Jesus was passing through a field of grain on the sabbath, his disciples began to make a path while picking the heads of grain. At this the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?” (Mark 2:23-24)

In today’s Gospel, the Pharisees are questioning the actions of Jesus and His disciples on the Sabbath.

Jesus tries to tell them, in both word and action, “You’re getting so caught up in words, rules, and laws that you are missing the truth.”

What He wants them to hear is, “I heal the sick. I restore sight to the blind. I teach about love. I teach about serving others. And here you are, telling us we are breaking the law of the Sabbath because we picked some grain to eat? You are missing the point entirely!”

Jesus was certainly passionate about His cause. He was willing to suffer and die in order for us to get the message.

I leave you with a few questions and a challenge:

What are you passionate about? What injustice do you see that needs to be addressed? Who is suffering and needs you to be their voice?

What are you doing about it? If you act, there is a chance you could make a positive impact. If you don’t act, there is no chance.

Image from Apologetics Press


When all the needs of the marginalized and vulnerable are met.

When to gather the gifts of the church

and take them to the world –

and to gather needs of he world

and bring them to church –

has become a habit.


When Deacons, going back and forth,

have worn down the boundary lines

that we use to keep church and world separated.


When Deacons, leading the baptized in and out,

have beaten a path between the altar and the gutter

so that everyone will see the link between

the Blood in our chalices and the blood in our streets.


When all people respond to the challenge to live,

not in love of power but in the power of love.

The Ven Irma Wyman, 1928-2015

Episcopal Church of Minnesota


DEACONS MATTER: exciting February conference

Deacons Matter
Deacons Matter

The talks will be about Deacons as Groundbreakers, Angels and Icons – there’s an inspiring line-up!  And Sunday morning will be given over to discussion on creating a support and development network for deacons.  It could be a game-changer!

More information:

Booking Form for Deacons Feb 2018-1

EPIPHANY: a poem by four wise men

This poem was written on the occasion of a pilgrimage to Bethlehem by His Eminence Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, The  Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, The moderator of the Free Churches, David Coffey, and The Armenian patriarch of Great Britain, Bishop Nathan Hovhannisian in Advent 2006.

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Epiphany 2007

Four wise men came from the west

To Bethlehem, a city sadly torn apart;

With iron walls and troops oppressed.

They spoke of ‘wrongs within the human heart’

I thought epiphany would come earlier this year

But years ago when from the east

Three such men had crossed the sand

They laid their tributes at Christ’s feet

But now our troops invade their shattered land

I thought epiphany might never come this year

And what does now the future hold

For me, for him, my Abrahamic brother

What meant the incense, myrrh and gold?

Can we not change, and learn to love each other?

I hope epiphany will come at last this year



Today the church remembers and honours Basil the Great and Gregory of Nazianzus, profoundly influential teachers of the church.

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Basil wrote:

“When someone steals another’s clothes, we call them a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.”

I’m certain his deacons ensured that the needy were cared for!

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