Ignatian spirituality is profoundly important for many deacons, especially for his spiritual exercises.  Today the church celebrates Ignatius of Loyola.

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St. Ignatius Loyola was born in 1491, one of 13 children of a family of minor nobility in northern Spain. As a young man Ignatius Loyola was inflamed by the ideals of courtly love and knighthood and dreamed of doing great deeds.

But in 1521 Ignatius was gravely wounded in a battle with the French. While recuperating, Ignatius Loyola experienced a conversion. Reading the lives of Jesus and the saints made Ignatius happy and aroused desires to do great things. Ignatius realized that these feelings were clues to God’s direction for him.

Over the years, Ignatius became expert in the art of spiritual direction. He collected his insights, prayers, and suggestions in his book the Spiritual Exercises, one of the most influential books on the spiritual life ever written. With a small group of friends, Ignatius Loyola founded the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits. Ignatius conceived the Jesuits as “contemplatives in action.” This also describes the many Christians who have been touched by Ignatian spirituality.

Ignatian spirituality featured largely in this year’s Deacons’ Day of Reflection for Exeter diocese with Deacon Ed Channing:  Talk 1:   Called and empowered to serve:


Talk 2:  Between altar and marketplace:


3.  and Temptations for Deacons:



FROM READER TO DEACON: Christopher Whinney

Chris Whinney (Diocese of Exeter) muses on the difference in his ministry from when he was a Reader compared with now, when he has been an ordained Deacon for eight years.


Being a deacon as opposed to a Reader has given me a deeper sense of responsibility and commitment. This in turn I think gives me the authority of the collar, which gives more assurance to the public and particularly in home visits, for a funeral for instance.

This illustrates my reason for making this move, namely that I wanted a closer connection to the altar which would help me to do a better job. A Reader is a (much-valued) lay member of the congregation, albeit with some training;   for me, being a deacon demands greater commitment.

I did not want to get bogged down in a vicar’s role, but rather, support him/her in providing extra help.  I like the idea of the servant deacon as part of the community who pops up, like Philip (St Philip the Deacon Acts 6:1-7), where needed.

It’s interesting to compare Chris’s approach with the now widely-accepted view of the diaconate not being located primarily at the altar, but at the door, looking out into the community.  It’s also interesting that he still considers the diaconal role to be a corollary of the priest’s ministry, rather than a ‘full and equal order’ in its own right.

In actual fact Chris spends most of his time ‘popping-up’ in the community, building bridges and reaching out pastorally.



Last week I posted Rosalind’s first paper from the International Roman Catholic – Anglican Conference on the Diaconate which took place in May in Canada.


I’m so pleased to share her second paper, on the role of the Deacon in Worship.

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Here’s a taster to whet your appetite:

So the deacon offers hospitality on the church doorstep, inviting people to worship. This continues in the formal liturgy as the deacon invites people to clear their consciences with God and, like Peter on the seashore, to put their failures behind them and know that they are forgiven and can hold their heads up in God’s presence. The deacon offers the people the hospitality of the gospel, God’s good news of his incarnational and transforming presence among us; at times in centuries past guarding those precious gospel scrolls and books literally with their life. And the gospel must be heard clearly: Benedict was firm that readers must be able to edify their hearers,[i] and learning to read well in public is a diaconal duty

[i] The Rule of St Benedict. Chapter 38

Read the whole paper here:  Brown, R. 2. The deacon in worship, June 2018-1

image of deacons from Church Life Journal:  University of Notre Dame


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