This year Exeter deacons and diaconal enquirers met at Buckfast Abbey for our annual day of reflection.

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Our theme for the day was ‘The Praying Heart of the Deacon’. It was a very blessed time, not only because of our beautiful surroundings, but also because of the wisdom and grace that RC Deacon Ed Channing shared with us in his talks.  We’re always enriched by our speakers, but I particularly wanted a deacon to address us this year, because nobody can speak to a deacon’s heart as another deacon can.  Ed is from the RC diocese of Plymouth, where he is a spiritual director.  He has kindly given me permission to share his talks with you.  Take time to read and savour them.

Deacon Ed




The Praying Heart of the Deacon 26 May 2018

Speaker:  Rev Deacon Ed Channing, RC diocese of Plymouth

Called and empowered to serve:  Talk one

Somewhere out there exists an ideal deacon, a platonic idea. That deacon lives in the pages of prayer books, canon laws, scripture, liturgies.  I have yet to meet the person who totally fits this ideal, It’s certainly not me.  But there is something beautiful in it, a call and an inner response, a desire, which comes to me from those words about him or her, that ideal deacon and which I do recognise. It’s something which illuminates patchily who I am, as a deacon. So I will engage with this ideal deacon before sharing the real one with you!  The title of this day is “The praying heart of the deacon.” This does suggest that we have a shape, with a centre or heart, and that prayer is of the essence of it. But we are all different, unique, first-born beloved children of the Father, delighted in as we are. Holy Wisdom, the Christ, delights to be with us,” always at play with the children of men” as we hear in Proverbs 8. For each one of us, our prayer will also be our unique, different response to the living Spirit of love. Everything we do is really, or could be, ceaseless prayer: “rejoice always, pray without ceasing.” 1 Thess 5:16 …this is the will of God in Christ Jesus in you. Our prayer is the work of God, in Christ, in our hearts before it is our activity. God is always there first. Christ is “the ground of our beseeching” as Julian of Norwich wrote 600 years ago. We can only pray because the Spirit of Christ already prays in us to the Father. Our life as baptised disciples is really His life. “I am crucified with Christ and yet I live, or rather it is Christ lives in me.!” Gal 2:20

We can pray as deacons because Christ calls us to this life and mission, for which he has made us, from before time began. And also because the Church recognises and affirms that particular call. There is a common dimension to our prayer because of that Ecclesial dimension of our call. We are not exactly our own men or women. We belong to Christ in the Church.  Jesus Emmanuel, God become incarnate, is sometimes called the sacrament of God … He shows and makes present among people the eternal God.  The Church, in turn, is the sacrament of Christ, for by her words and deeds, prayer, proclamation and service she makes Christ present and available in the human world. The sacrament of the diaconate is to make visible among people the servant Christ.

The Sacrament of Orders is a special gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church, which is the royal priesthood of the faithful, Christ’s body. “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 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 must they wash the feet of others.”  Those words from the Common Worship ordinal of my tradition are the nub of the particular spirituality of deacons. You and I are given by God, to the royal priesthood of God’s people, to serve them, in visible self-giving, washing their sore and dirty feet, and so helping them to make Christ known where they are. We belong to God, we belong to each other, we belong to the whole people of God. Our spirituality will be most clearly shown in how our relationships as deacons, as clergy, as Christians, mirror and make present the love of Christ.  The whole Christian life is summed up by the Lord as love of God and of neighbour, and it is love as shown by Christ, self-forgetting love.

From NT times the Church has recognised this call of Christ to servanthood in women such as Phoebe in Romans, and in the deacons described in 1 Timothy; people who are respectable, not double-tongued, moderate in drinking and  not greedy for money, who hold the mystery of faith with a clear conscience, not prone to gossip and able to manage their affairs and duties well.  And following Phil.2 the Church has tried to discern the call of Christ in people who will be moved by Christ’s love and fellowship, full of warmth and sympathy , of a single mind, one in love, one in mind who make their own the mind of Christ Jesus, who though in the form of God emptied himself taking the form of a slave, becoming in every way human, and humbler yet, even to accepting death on a cross.

You are the people the Church has discerned as exhibiting these dispositions of Christ.   You are the people called and empowered to wash the feet of the poor, by accepting the new commandment of love given by Christ at the Last Supper table.  You are the people described by the psalmist as having your eyes fixed on the hand of the Lord like a slave on the hand of master or mistress, and you are the people who are called to recognise the hand of the Lord when you touch the hand of any of the least of His brethren, and by serving them, serve Him.

Deacons see ourselves as successors to the Levites who served the liturgy in the tent of meeting, of the first covenant, but also needing to beware of a tendency of liturgical ministers to walk by on the other side, as did the priest and Levite in Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan.  So we need also to be the Samaritan outsider who sees and helps the wounded.  We look back, also, to the Seven commissioned by the apostles to deal with community dissension and ensure justice in the distribution of goods to the widows of the different communities. Notice how differently they actually turn out, since the Holy Spirit is involved.  Stephen the protomartyr who died as Jesus had died in forgiveness of his executioners, helping to convert Saul to Paul by that.  Philip who converted to and baptised in Christ the Ethiopian eunuch, and who evangelised new communities. We should gain vision and strength from the examples of the deacons before us.  Deacon Athanasius, theologian;  deacon Gregory who still in deacon’s orders was elected Pope and who, as Gregory the Great, evangelised this country by sending Augustine to us. And deacon Francis of Assisi who shows us how to re-build Christ’s church in poverty and respect for creation.

And we may be inspired by the Roman deacon Lawrence, who, when commanded to surrender the riches of the Church, brought the poor and the lame to the magistrate as the true riches of the Church, earning himself his martyrdom. And who was distressed because he had to wait a few days rather than being martyred WITH his Bishop, Pope Sixtus. (We should be bishop’s people, the heart, hands and eyes and ears of the bishop, even now.)

Traditionally deacons divide their ministry into three areas, which are three aspects of the mystery of the ministry of Christ himself. The ministry of the Word, the ministry of the altar and the ministry of Charity. These correspond to, and make present in the world, the prophetic, priestly and ruling offices of Christ. I will reflect more on the second of these in the next talk.

The ministry of the Word is about making the Word of God your own, by continually internalising it in prayer, so that what we do can be seen by all to issue from the Word.  “You proclaim the gospel in word and deed as agents of God’s purposes of love” (Ordinal). It is in the scriptures that we meet Christ first. We need to be people who pray the scriptures. Unless we have met Christ in the pages of scripture in our prayer we won’t be able to proclaim his presence to others.  Ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ (St Jerome).  We do need to study scripture, and commentaries, but even more so we need to meet Christ for ourself in praying scripture. The model for this is the 2 disciples on the road to Emmaus who felt their hearts burning within them as the stranger who was Christ explained everything in the scriptures which was about himself. They were converted from depressed apathy to having burning hearts and boundless energy by hearing Christ in the scriptures. So are we! In particular, I think, the Gospel narratives of Christ are the privileged place of encounter. All the sick, disfigured, deaf, blind, lame, mad and even dead people Jesus meets are substitutes for ourselves. If we enter into their meetings with Christ, we will be transformed just as they were.  As disciples of Christ we walk alongside the apostles who were first called by him. We are no better than they. Especially in Mark we find them totally failing to get the point time after time, as do we. In Mark 10 Jesus is trying to tell them of his coming crucifixion, and all they can do is argue about their own seats at his right hand. As professional disciples we are likely, too, to find ourselves ruefully with the rich young man who so wanted to follow, but who couldn’t give up his own stuff, to truly make Jesus the centre.

But in praying with Christ in the scriptures we may find ourselves with Peter too, whose despair at his cockcrow betrayals was obliterated by Christ’s three fold question “Do you love me” and who was given the care of Christ’s flock as a result. We may find ourselves with Thomas, who was so distraught and angry that he wasn’t even with the others on the morning of the resurrection when Christ brought them his greeting of peace, but then a week later found his angry refusal to believe transformed into his acclamation “My Lord and my God” on seeing Jesus’ wounds .

I believe that this repeated encounter with Jesus in praying the scriptures is what enlivens our preaching with the power of the Spirit, in a way no amount of academic study could begin to do.

The ministry of charity, of love, is the sacrament of the presence of Christ in us accompanying human need. “Deacons are to serve the community in which they are set, bringing to the Church the needs and hopes of all people. They are to work with their fellow members in searching out the poor and weak, the sick and powerless, reaching into the forgotten corners of the world, so that the love of God may be made visible.” (Ordinal) And the famous opening words to the 2nd Vatican Council on the Church in the modern world apply especially to deacons. “The joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the people of this age, especially of the poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed nothing truly human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.”

Pope Francis has said he wants a church dirty and hurting with those who are dirty and hurting. A church which is like a field hospital bringing healing right in the middle of battle. He wants a church where everything, all our settled habits, timetables, priorities can be overturned in turning from being self satisfied, comfortable and respectable to being with and for those on the margins. It is the deacons who are supposed to be the shock troops of this revolution. We are to be the self-emptying service of Christ sacramentalised. We have been described as living icons of Christ the servant. The point is that our spirituality is to be co-operative, Trinitarian, with and for others. Icons are written in an authorised way, but each one is unique. They are made in fasting and prayer, they are received and blessed by a Bishop, signed with the name, not of themselves but of the mystery which they signify. As Living icons we are placed within our church as windows into the mystery of Christ the servant of all. But that only works if we have truly met Christ. If we have had a personal encounter with him, and if, like the written icon we are formed in prayer and fasting, according to the right pattern, but with our own uniqueness.  And having been received and blessed by the Bishop, everyone should see the sign of Christ, in our way of living, serving and praying.

This is all a very big ask! and for all of us even the approaching of it is possible only as grace, as gift. We are “gloriously imperfect human beings” brought near by God out of love. In our praying we need to ask to be placed with Christ, God’s son, and we need to ask to truly desire to find him in serving the poorest and the most different from us.

To finish this talk I just refer to the giving of the gospel book to the new deacon at ordination by the Bishop. In the Roman rite the book is placed into his hands with the words “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you now are. Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practise what you teach.”   It is all gift, all grace! No way can we make ourselves rightly believe, read  teach and live. It is the Spirit’s work of grace.

May we, by this grace, imitate Jesus, God’s Son, who came, not to be served, but to serve, and so one day, come to reign with him in heaven.


This beautiful poem by R S Thomas was read to us today during our annual Deacons’ Day of Reflection.  It encapsulates the liminal place that is dear to us deacons:  neither outside nor in.

Do you want to know his name?
It is forgotten. Would you learn
what he was like? He was like
anyone else, a man with ears
and eyes. Be it sufficient
that in a church porch on an evening
in winter, the moon rising, the frost
sharp, he was driven
to his knees and for no reason
he knew. The cold came at him:
his breath was carved angularly
as the tombstones: an owl screamed.
He had no power to pray.
His back turned on the interior
he looked out on a universe
that was without knowledge
of him and kept his place
there for an hour on that lean
threshold, neither outside nor in.
– R S Thomas

A DIACONAL APPROACH: using the tools of consensus

The World Deacons Executive changes to consensus

This guest post on change to consensus is from Rev (Deacon) Sandy Boyce of the Uniting Church in Australia. Sandy is President of the DIAKONIA World Federation –

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

Why change?

‘Slow down – please!’

‘Please stop using English colloquial expressions!’

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

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

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

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

How the change was introduced

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

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

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

Additional tools used to help the change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was the change worth it?

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

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




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

(Malcolm Guite)

And if you’re still struggling to find resources for tomorrow, try this:

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



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

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

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Archbishop Justin tells us

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

Get your tickets now!



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

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

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

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

(image from Global Christian Worship)

BISHOP OF CARLISLE: the case for a Distinctive Diaconate

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

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

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

+James Newcome The case for a Distinctive Diaconate


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

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

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Icon of Julian with her cat by Br Robert Lentz OFM

Mother Julian

Show me O anchoress, your anchor-hold

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

Show me again in whose hands we are held,

Speak to me from your window in the past,

Tell me again the tale of Love’s compassion

For all of us who fall onto the mire,

How he is wounded with us, how his passion

Quickens the love that haunted our desire.

Show me again the wonder of at-one-ment

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

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

And looks on us with pity not with blame.

Keep telling me, for all my faith may waver,

Love is his meaning, only love, forever.


Here’s what canon law says:

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

Guidelines issued jointly by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* George Cantuar    * John Ebor 

July 1992

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

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

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

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

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

The diaconal principle therefore is:

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

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

Find these notes at

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