The group of deacons in Exeter diocese belong to the College of St Philip the Deacon, who was always at the disposal of the Holy Spirit to go wherever he was guided, and to explain the gospel to whomever would listen.  Canon Philip Mountstephen, Executive Leader of the Church Mission Society *STOP PRESS* it’s just been announced that he will be the new Bishop of Truro! –  connects wandering and gospelling with the way that the Celtic missionaries worked, and draws out lessons for the way we minister today.  It’s profoundly diaconal.

Not all those who wander are lost

Not all those who wander are lost

The Revd Canon Philip Mounstephen

22 August 2018 12:11PM


Does the Church today need mission agencies, like CMS, USPG and Mothers’ Union (to name but three amongst many)? Isn’t the amazing growth of the Church in the global south both eloquent testimony to the success of mission agencies – and evidence that they’re not needed anymore?

Recently I joined the ‘Navigators of Faith’ for one leg of their sea voyage around Britain. The aim is to follow in the wake of the Celtic saints who did so much to spread the Christian faith around the British Isles and beyond. These saints tended to be monks who were sent out on mission from their communities to take the gospel wherever the wind (and the wind of the Spirit) took them. Inevitably it was not a wholly organised enterprise, but dependent on much that was outside their control, the wind and the tides not least.

That came home to me forcefully as I sat in the cockpit of the ‘Rival Star’, some 17 miles off the North Yorkshire coast, when a bee alighted on my yellow jacket. I was rather surprised to see him so far from home. ‘Tough luck, chum,’ I thought to myself, ‘you’re not going to last long out here.’

But he seemed quite unconcerned with what I took to be his fate. In fact as he sunned himself on my jacket he took time and trouble to preen and clean himself, busily putting two of his six legs to good use. And a few seconds later off he flew, I know not where. But he was not, I suspect (and as I had thought) lost.

Others were busy too, that sunny, still afternoon. Gannets flew purposefully and beautifully overhead. A seal snorted, startlingly, behind me, studied me and went on his way. Puffins whirred past. And a lone minke whale arched its back, several times as it surfaced for fresh lungfuls of precious air.

‘Not all those who wander are lost’ says Gandalf in Tolkein’s ‘Lord of the Rings’, and our afternoon companions didn’t seem lost either. The Celtic monks in whose wake we sailed ‘wandered for the love of God’. And they were not lost either. They may not always have known where they went. But they always knew why they went: to make the good news of Jesus Christ known.

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We in the West live in a society which can be very focused on direction, but have little clue as to purpose. How much better to be confident in purpose even if the direction isn’t always clear – like my friend the bee, and, indeed, those ancient Celtic monks.

And there’s a lesson in that for the Church of today. We still need to be ready to be taken where the wind of the Spirit leads us, always ready to surrender our sense of direction to the greater purposes of our God. At our best the mission agencies have done just that, being ready to be led onwards and outwards by the Spirit, in a way that is often harder for the Church in its more institutional and settled form.

The Western world of today is not so far removed from that of the 6th and 7h Centuries. Indeed post-Christian Europe is in a very similar situation. We need today what my predecessor, Max Warren, called, ‘The Spirit of Iona’, and it may be that pioneering spirit is best expressed through the mission agencies. Indeed for Warren, ‘The Missionary Societies of the Church are the true safeguard and citadel of the spirit of “Iona”.’[1]

In that there’s a challenge to us in those agencies; a challenge to ensure that we keep the flame of that spirit burning bright. But there’s also a reminder to the church in its more settled form: to learn afresh how to ‘wander for the love of God’, with a clear sense of purpose, even as we wait for the wind of the Spirit to make our direction plain. And we in the mission agencies may be best placed to help the wider Church do just that.

Canon Philip Mounstephen is Executive Leader of Church Mission Society

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[1] p.21 Max Warren Iona and Rome CMS, London 1946

#pmountstephen @pmountstephen


Lessons learned in an estate context

From a series of tweets by Ray Driscoll

estate 246

Ray Driscoll is a transitional deacon.

“As my deacon year draws to a close, and I head off to a retreat tomorrow, I’ve been reflecting on what has been and thinking about what I’ve learned about ministry in an estate context.

“Attractional ministry doesn’t get the same kind of traction here as it does in other contexts. People love to chat about spirituality and will open up over the garden wall but don’t think that suggests they will come to your event / supper / course.

“Therefore, it is good to spend at least as much time on the pavements as spent planning and running events. Make it your job to walk slowly through the estate, build in time to be interrupted. Here God waits for you in the unexpected.

“Here, your clergy collar is a blessing and a tool. Estate people will cut to the chase and you’ll know where you stand quickly enough. Wear it as much as you can.

“In Estates, people suffer the constant ebb and flow of funded services based on whoever in government. Therefore, they take nothing for granted. The sheer long-term presence of the church is a witness to the faithfulness of God. This is a strength and an opportunity.

“The beginning of the embodiment of that story is the “doing with” rather than “doing to”. Restoring the dignity of the individual is often the opening line of that story. I’m grateful for my incumbent teaching me this.

“Consequently, the gospel takes a different shape. Most people don’t need to be told they are sinful, they know that, not least because of the labels they carry for where they live. Here the stories of Jesus engaging with “the tax collector and sinner” take on a living form.

“Simply retelling these encounters to the person in front of you is a kind of lectio divina, they will find themselves in the story. You’ll probably pass three Zacchaeus’ on your way to morning prayer but there are many less Nicodemus’ in your path.

“There’s something about speaking a new story corporately too. In this context the gospel is good news for the collective too, celebrating and calling out the shared good of a place. The churches task is to celebrate that, especially when no-one else does.

“Estate ministry is like no other that I’ve experienced. It is attritional and costly, you need endurance and a wide ranging set of skills, especially adaptability. I may have moved a mile down the road but it is like a different world!

“I still have much to learn. Questions include: What does the gospel look like to the (white van) men? How do we grow working class lay and ordained leaders? How do we as a small and low-resourced church reach the young people of our parish? The list keeps on going!”


I must admit to a certain amount of envy when I see how well-organised and committed the Christian Reformed Church diaconate is in Canada.  They have some excellent resources for deacons, a very good website, loads of encouragement and real vision, purpose and direction.  We could learn a lot from them!

Diaconal Ministries Canada

This is from their current post:

Diaconal Ministry Developers (DMDs) are encouragers and coaches for deacons. They are experienced in diaconal work and are available to help deacons understand their role and work out their calling in the church and its community. DMDs are available to connect with and visit every diaconate (the team of deacons in a church)

Check out their ‘Engaging Communities’ and their ‘Living Justly’ tabs too as well as the current section ‘Equipping Deacons’.  I hope you find it as inspiring and thought – provoking as I do.

Here they are:



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The Association of Episcopal Deacons in the United States has recently produced a list of diaconal competencies for diaconal formation.  They are undergoing revision, but here’s the latest version for your interest.  It is fascinating to see where their approach is similar to ours, and where it’s different.

Association for Episcopal Deacons

You are to make Christ and his redemptive love known, by your word
and example, to those among whom you live, and work, and worship.
The Ordination of a Deacon:  The Examination, p543.
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect
the dignity of every human being ?
The Baptismal Covenant, p. 305.
You are to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world.
The Ordination of a Deacon: The Examination, p. 543.
(Formation image from ANFH)



It’s wonderfully exciting to announce that the diaconal College of St Philip the Deacon (Exeter) will be attending the first-ever Sung Evensong in honour of Philip the Deacon on his feast day,  11 October this year at Exeter Cathedral.

Time of the service:  5.30pm

For tea and deaconversation, meet in the Cathedral cafe from 4pm!

All are welcome.

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Today 10 August the church celebrates the martyr, Deacon Laurence.  In our intercessions,  Christians like him are to be remembered,  still being captured, unjustly tried, robbed of possessions, and made to suffer ghastly deaths.

Lord, have mercy:  and grant us the grace, courage and humour of Laurence.

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Laurence or Lawrence (about 225-258) was one of the seven deacons of ancient Rome who were martyred under the persecution of Valerian (emperor 253-260) in 258.  After Sixtus was elected bishop on 31 August 257, he ordained Laurence a deacon and placed him in charge of the administration of church goods and care for the poor.

In the persecutions under Valerian, numerous presbyters and bishops were put to death.. Sixtus II was one of the first victims, beheaded on 6 August 258. According to a legend cited by Ambrose of Milan, Laurence met Sixtus on his way to execution, and said: “Father, where are you going without your son? Holy priest, where are you hurrying without your deacon?”

Sixtus answered: “I am not leaving you or forsaking you. Greater struggles yet await you. We old men have to undergo an easier fight; a more glorious triumph over the Tyrant awaits you, young man. Don’t cry; after three days you will follow me.”

After the death of Sixtus, the prefect of Rome demanded that Laurence turn over the riches of the church. Ambrose is the earliest source for the tale that Laurence asked for three days to gather together the wealth. Laurence worked swiftly to distribute as much church property to the poor as possible, to prevent its being seized by the prefect.

On the third day, at the head of a small delegation, he presented himself to the prefect. When ordered to give up the treasures of the church, he presented the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the suffering, and said that these were the true treasures of the church. One account records him declaring to the prefect, “The church is truly rich, far richer than your emperor.” This act of defiance led to his martyrdom. It is said that Laurence was burned on a gridiron or “grilled” to death. According to legend, at the point of death he exclaimed, “I am done on this side! Turn me over and eat.” (More likely, he was beheaded like his bishop and fellow deacons.)

(From Deacon Ormonde Plater’s Calendar of Deacon Saints)


Australian Bishop Tom Frame does some serious and honest thinking about the diaconate in this address to the Anglican diocese of Melbourne.

It’s titled “The diaconate in 2030:  What might it look like and how do we get there?”  by Tom Frame, Director of St Mark’s National Theological Centre and Professor of Theology at Charles Sturt University

Here’s a taster (I’ve put some thoughts into bold type):

Let me here suggest a critical difference between priestly and diaconal
ministry as it seems to be evolving. In my view, we will do well to divide our efforts
into two categories: mission and ministry. Mission has its focus beyond the gathered community where the principal beneficiaries are people who are not members of the Church. Ministry has its focus within the gathered community where the principal beneficiaries are the members of the Church.
Priests have their primary focus within the gathered community; deacons are most active beyond it. This divide, and it is more an analytical tool than an organisational principle, can help us to assess where the bulk of our effort is located. In effect, is
the Church serving itself or others? At St Mark’s, 95% of our effort is serving the Church because the beneficiaries of what we do are overwhelmingly Church people.  Many parishes, if they were to conduct an audit, would find that 80% or perhaps more of their efforts were directed internally. In effect, there is much more ministry than mission.
But if we have an order of ministry whose focus is beyond the gathered
community, we avoid duplication (deacons trying to be priests) and we ensure an
outward focus. I am not saying here that deacons do not have a place and a function
in the gathered community or that the remit of priests is restricted to those who are
Church people. But in wanting to secure a place for the diaconate and to prioritise
outreach, I am inviting Anglicans to consider a very broad and general outlook which finds complementarity between the roles of deacons and priests.
Adopting this approach creates a need for diaconate-specific education and training which will be construed around mission, outreach and engagement. As people who can make connections within and between communities, who facilitate conversation and encourage dialogue, who can identify shared interests and common aspirations, deacons will be different kinds of people to priests and their formational needs will be different.

Full document here: