DIRECTOR OF THEOLOGICAL EDUCATION in Anglican Communion supports focused diaconal formation

Very positive support from the Director for Theological Education in the Anglican Communion, Rev Canon Dr Stephen Spencer,

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concerning the proposed #distinctivedeacontraining at Queens Foundation @queensfdn:

“The modules that David Hewlett is suggesting look spot on to me. The range of topics and structure look excellent.”

See the details of Dr Hewlett’s proposal here:

You’re invited to take these proposals to your ordination training providers and ask them for their response.  How many are likely to take up this offer, especially the module for IME1?



A very blessed Christmas to you all, and a peaceful and hopeful new year. 

I can do no better than offer you a poem of Ephrem, a deacon of the early church in Asia.

Although Christmas was not a major celebration in the early church, “Hymn on the Nativity IV,” one in a series of early Syriac poems by Ephrem (d. 373), a deacon of the church in Asia, has survived, and it points to the paradoxes, reversals, and symbolism that became an important part of Christmas poetry.


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Mary bore a mute Babe
Though in Him were hidden all our tongues.
Joseph carried Him, yet hidden in Him was
A silent nature older than everything.
The Lofty One became like a little child, yet hidden in Him was
A treasure of Wisdom that suffices for all.
He was lofty but he sucked Mary’s milk,
And from His blessing all creation sucks,
He is the Living Breast of living breath;
By His life the dead were suckled, and they revived.

(from DIVINE INSPIRATION: THE LIFE OF JESUS IN WORLD POETRY, edited by Robert Atwan, George Dardess, and Peggy Rosenthal, Oxford University Press)

NEXT DEACONS’ NATIONAL CONFERENCE! (and what to do until then)

I’m thrilled to announce our next national deacons’ conference!  It will be on 16 May 2020 at the same venue as this year, the Frances Young Centre at Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham.

The speaker will be the Rt Rev Martin Seeley, Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, and Chair of the Church of England Ministry Council.

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His theme will be: 

‘Towards a Flourishing Diaconate: Theological, Pastoral and Formational Perspectives’.

Some time next year we will once more put up the booking details on Eventbrite, but obviously it’s a bit too early at present!

I realise that some people might be feeling a bit disappointed that it seems so far away.  I’d like to encourage you to see 2019 as a way of preparing for the conference.  There are 3 regional deacons’ conferences that I know of next year: 

  1.  in York 22-24 March:


2.   19-24 June:  FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS in Edinburgh with Diakonia Region Africa Europe (DRAE) in Edinburgh

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3.  6 July at Buckfast Abbey in Devon:  CHRIST’S SERVANTHOOD AND OURS with Rev David Runcorn

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If you can’t get to any of these, please consider getting together with deacons nearby:  either in your own diocese, or, if you’re on your own, in nearby dioceses.  It doesn’t have to be big or posh or even a conference:  it could be an informal lunch, diaconal chat and time of prayer.

Think through the three issues that +Martin will be addressing.  What are our hopes for the diaconate?  How do we want it to flourish?  What is involved with making it flourish, in theology, in pastoralia and in training and formation?

But most of all – just enjoy being with other deacons!  Feel the love of like-minded others, and most of all, of God for you and of you for God.

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DIACONALLY-FOCUSED TRAINING: a message from the Principal of Queen’s Foundation

When we had our national conference in Birmingham in October, the Principal of Queens Foundation, Dr David Hewlett, attended the whole conference and announced that he’s planning to include some courses especially with deacons in mind.
Dr David Hewlett
He already has three deacons on his staff, two Methodist and one Anglican:  and the college trains Methodist deacons as well as offering general ministerial training for Anglicans and others.
Given that the vast majority of deacons get little or no diaconally-focused training, this is a real gift to the diaconate.
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I asked David if he would set down for us what he has in mind, as follows.
I encourage you to print this off and either send or take what he’s offering to your diocesan training providers, and ask them for their response.  Would they, for instance, consider sending a diaconal ordinand to Queen’s for the IME course (number 3) on diaconal identity etc?  (It will of course come down to money, but there may be different financial pockets available to cover the cost.)
Please let me know your thoughts, either in the comments section or through the deacon email and I’ll relay them to David for his consideration.
From David: 
What Queen’s can offer
Our experience of working with other groups in ministry is that the opportunity to gather and learn from and with each other is central to any programme.  (The consultation (* ie our October conference) demonstrated that graphically).  Gathering for learning is likely to involve residence because deacons are widely dispersed.  We have found a good pattern to be either two 2-day gatherings (one at the beginning and one near the end of a module) or 1 three day gathering. 
I have consistently heard two priorities (but think I heard a third interest at the meeting last month). 
Possible modules
1.  Learning about community engagement, building and empowerment.  This could include several elements, e.g.:
  • ministerial reflection on the practice of ministry among those who are marginalised;
  • reading mission primarily through the fourth ‘mark’ of mission;
  • the experience and self-understanding of deacons being ‘beyond’ the gathered church;
  • to gain skills of community development, using ABCD (asset-based community development) models and/or using Citizens UK models of community engagement and empowerment. 
2.  Apologetics which takes popular culture seriously and engages those who are ‘hard to reach’.  I have in mind people like Clive Marsh, Simon Sutcliffe, Robert Beckford who could stimulate creative thinking and practice.
3.  The third thing I heard at the conference, and which Paul Avis helped stimulate, was learning more about diaconal identity, its history, theology and vocation.  We don’t have anything on the books about this, but I don’t think it would be hard to put something together, and perhaps provide a basis for developing a resource for deacons in IME1.
For some people accreditation of learning matters and I would want to honour that.  The best way we have found to do this is to offer this learning as a post graduate certificate.  Since all deacons should have completed a diploma qualification in their initial ministerial education, all can be admitted to this level.  If someone doesn’t want to do so they don’t have to.  The model we have developed is to offer the first module as a taster: complete it, discover you can do it, and you can count it toward your PG Cert.  Complete it and realise this is not for you, and you can leave with minimal cost and no sense of failure.
If we were to offer two modules for a PG Cert, the first taster module would cost for £300 which includes accommodation for three or four nights; the second module has to be a more realistic price of £1,200, again including accommodation costs.  Deacons would have to meet their own travel costs, and if they wanted additional overnight accommodation they would need to pay a modest rate for this (£23.50 per night for B&B).
I would want to continue the conversation about whether this learning can be shared with Methodist Deacons, not only because I think it is good to enrich the group, but also because it may help form viable cohorts and keep costs down. 
How does all this sound?”
I look forward to hearing your diaconal responses! 


BISHOP’S DEACON: Ben Bradshaw considers the origins and potential of the diaconate

Deacon Ben Bradshaw has recently had this excellent article published in New Directions.  I am very grateful to him for permission to post it here.  I have put some of his points in bold type.

Exploring the origins of the diaconate and considering its future

By Fr Ben Bradshaw

Deacon and Chaplain to the Bishop of Sodor and Man

Ben  at his licensing as chaplain in January this year

For nearly 2000 years theologians have been defining the ministry of deacons, specifically trying to describe the unique differences between the role of a deacon and that of a priest. This has been a great gift to the Church as it has enabled the ministry of deacons to be developed and to flourish into a number of different areas; deacon as humble servant, deacon as missionary to the poor and marginalised, deacon proclaiming the Gospel, deacon as bridge-builder, deacon as bishop’s assistant. Yet despite being blessed with a variety of traditions and studies on the diaconate, large parts of the Church of England continue to struggle to fully understand or embrace the ministry of deacons.

John Collins in his ground-breaking book, Diakonia: Reinterpreting the Ancient Sources (OUP, 2009) suggested that in the early church a deacon was not simply seen as a humble servant but rather a ‘commissioned agent’ ready to perform a duty on behalf of the bishop. To begin with the Church commissioned deacons to serve as the bishop’s assistants and administrators; deacons made up his staff team, as opposed to priests, who would represent the bishop in churches with delegated episcopal authority.

Deacons worked for the bishop, priests represented him.

Saint Ignatius of Antioch writing to the Magnesians less than 70 years after Christ’s death provides evidence and a helpful insight into the different relationships, take care to do all things in harmony with God, with the bishop presiding in the place of God, and with the presbyters in the place of the council of the apostles, and with the deacons, who are most dear to me, entrusted with the business of Jesus Christ’.

The Bishop as the head of a diocese takes the central role in the leadership and mission of the Church.  To support the Bishop in this vast ministry he ordains priests to represent him to congregations and to share in the cure of souls. Deacons have a different relationship to the bishop as they do not represent him and they do not share in the cure of souls, rather a deacon works for the bishop and this important difference can be evidenced most clearly in two ways:

The first indication is found at a diaconal ordination; specifically that the bishop ordains deacons alone, unlike at the ordination of priests when clergy colleagues assist. This important difference symbolises the personal relationship that a deacon shares with a bishop.

The second indication is in the title of the senior clergymen that the Bishop appoints to support him in his mission and oversight of the diocese; these senior clergy are of course called archdeacons.  From the earliest days of the Church it was the deacons who supported bishops in the work and administration of the Church. Priests would be with their congregations and it was left to the deacons to serve and assist the bishop. Indeed, it was only in 1662 that canon law was changed to stipulate that all archdeacons must be priests.

It is regrettable that many in the Church of England have forgotten the historical relationship between a deacon and a bishop. I am grateful that I am able to serve my diaconal ministry in my work as the chaplain to the Bishop of Sodor and Man. It is however a great shame that I am currently the only deacon serving as chaplain to a diocesan bishop. How wonderful and appropriate it would be if more bishops were to appoint deacons to serve as their chaplains, such a move would breathe new life into the diaconate and would bring the Church back into line with the traditional understanding and deployment of deacons. The only way that more deacons would be able to serve as bishop’s chaplains is if there was a change in the selection process; unfortunately the majority of bishops continue to stipulate that candidates applying for a post of bishop’s chaplain must be priests, but why?

My ministry as chaplain to a bishop is one of service and support. As chaplain, I support and assist the bishop to carry out his important ministry throughout the diocese. Deacons, like bishop’s chaplains, need to be content to work behind the scenes, facilitating the public ministry of the bishop in a quiet and unobtrusive way. A bishop’s chaplain does not just offer administrative support, although that is of course an important part of the job; chaplains also offer spiritual support by praying the Daily Office with their bishop. Chaplains also provide liturgical support for bishops, not just at major occasions but also on a week-by-week basis when the bishop visits different churches to celebrate the Mass. As a deacon and a bishop’s chaplain I quite appropriately assist the bishop every Sunday by fulfilling my liturgical diaconal duties.

Every aspect of my work as a bishop’s chaplain is diaconal in its nature, which makes it all the more surprising and a little disappointing that the majority of bishops fail to consider appointing a deacon to serve as their chaplain. Of course, those who are ordained as priests forever remain deacons and can without question fulfil the role of a bishop’s chaplain. I would however suggest that it is challenging to live out and fulfil a priestly ministry when serving as a bishop’s chaplain. The distinctly priestly responsibilities are not required; there is no cure of souls, no flock to be the shepherd of and no congregation to administer the sacraments.

So far I have focussed on just one specific area of diaconal ministry, that of the deacon serving the bishop. There are of course many other distinctly diaconal ministries that have developed and evolved throughout the life of the Church. These can be summarised as the diaconal commission to work as missionaries in the world, to proclaim the Gospel to those outside the life of the Church, reaching out to the poor and marginalised and bridging the gap between the Church and the world. The deacon can provide such a ministry as their very orders free them from many of the responsibilities that are required of priests.

It would be brilliant if the Church could offer a renewed vision that included supporting and discerning more vocations to the diaconate. I suggest that for this to happen a number of changes are required. Bishops, dioceses and parishes need to be much more open to the idea of appointing deacons to appropriate stipendiary positions.

It is not just in the appointment of bishop’s chaplains that deacons are normally overlooked, but also in numerous other stipendiary roles. For example, the majority of advertisements for DDOs often stipulate that any potential candidate must be a priest; yet a deacon could equally serve in that role. The work of seeking out, developing and supporting candidates for various forms of ministry falls within the boundaries of diaconal ministry. Such an appointment would also fit well with the tradition of deacons serving on bishop’s staff teams.

A recent edition of the Church Times listed three vacancies for residentiary canons, but sadly none were open to deacons. This is despite the fact that Canon C21 clearly states that deacons can be appointed as residentiary canons once they have been ordained for six years. One could argue that every cathedral should have a resident deacon to enable the important and distinctively diaconal ministry to flourish in the life, work and mission of a cathedral. Perhaps the strict requirement for a priest is about easing the pressures on the Mass rota? However, by automatically excluding deacons we risk failing to seriously acknowledge and appreciate the three-fold order of ministry that we have been entrusted with.

The most regrettable exclusion of deacons in the recent history of the Church has been in the modern day development of new pioneer ministries; with the majority of stipendiary positions only open to priests, yet the job description nearly always describes the work that the Church has historically commissioned deacons to do. Deacons are the original pioneer ministers! Deacons from the earliest times have been tasked with reaching out to those members of society with whom the Church has struggled to connect with, becoming a bridge between the Church and community. Deacons have the freedom to engage with those on the margins of the world as they are released from the demanding requirements of leading a parish; they are set loose to proclaim the Gospel in new places to new people.

If we are to attract younger candidates into a renewed distinctive diaconate then the Church needs to welcome them into its life and mission. It is an unfortunate reality that the vast majority of deacons are forced to find a fulfilment of their ministry through secular employment as chaplains in schools, prisons or hospitals. How have we reached a position where the NHS is more supportive of diaconal ministry than the Church of Christ? A lack of opportunities to minister and serve the Church undoubtedly steers candidates towards ordination to the priesthood when perhaps their gifts and talents would be better served as deacons; such a consideration is rarely explored.

One way in which all Christians can help to encourage and establish a new and younger generation of distinctive deacons is for us to concentrate our conversations around the ministry that a deacon CAN do, rather than defining diaconal ministry by what they CANNOT do.

We must also make sure that we do not copy the mistake that Thomas Cranmer made by labelling the diaconate as an ‘inferior office’. Priests do not hold a superior vocation to deacons; all vocations whilst different are always equal, whether lay or ordained. The Church however must not use any renewed diaconate as a way to save money by reducing the level of training a deacon needs compared to a priest; deacons, just like priests are ordained into holy orders and should be formed and training accordingly.

We can also help to shape the future of the diaconate by refining the language that we use. It is unfortunate that there is pressure to put a word in front of ‘deacon’ to define the ministry. There is and can only ever be one diaconate; It makes absolutely no difference if a deacon hopes to be ordained into the priesthood or not.

Whilst there remains a demand to differentiate between those deacons who hope to be ordained priest and those who do not, I would suggest that the best phrase to use is ‘distinctive deacon’. Previously the Church has used ‘permanent deacon’ which is unhelpful, not simply because only God can know what is permanent, but also because every priest remains a permanent deacon! The worst phrase that we can use for a potential priest ordained into diaconal orders is ‘transitional deacon’ which by its very implication reduces the diaconate to little more than a priestly apprenticeship.

In conclusion, for the Church to foster an environment that would enable a renewed diaconate it first needs to open up more stipendiary positions to deacons; to do so would be to follow the structures and teaching of the early Church. As Christians we can also play our part by speaking positively of diaconal ministry and focusing on the many distinctive gifts that deacons can offer. Most importantly we can pray, pray for an increase in vocations to the diaconate and pray also that the Church of Christ will fully embrace the three-fold historic ministry that has been passed on from the Apostles; deacons, priests and bishops.




Diaconal Ministries Canada has an excellent website with many good resources for their deacons.  Although it’s not an Anglican church, they have a very well-worked-out understanding of diaconal ministry under 4 headings:  compassion, justice, stewardship and community ministry.

The following comes from their series of 12 devotions for deacons,  concerning the nuts and bolts of community ministry.  This devotion focuses on partnership.

Scripture Reading: Philippians 1:1-11

Scripture Reading: Philippians 1:1-11

In Acts 16, Paul is on a journey visiting churches he has established and firing people up for the gospel. He has probably mapped out a route already and set his course –until the Spirit of the Lord tells him differently, that is. Paul wants to go to Asia. The Spirit says no. Paul wants to go to Bithynia. The Spirit says no again. And then Paul receives a vision, sending him to the outer reaches of where the Jews had scattered: a Roman colony with no temple, no place of worship or gathering. Yet Paul obeys.


Without a temple in which to preach, Paul goes down to the river to speak to the Gentile women there. This isn’t necessarily a promising start, by the standards of the day. But, because he listens to the Spirit, Paul’s conversation with the women by the river eventually leads to a church plant – the Philippian church, a church that becomes Paul’s “partner in the gospel” (Phil. 1:5).


Partnerships are important for ministry. At its heart, ministry is relational. Paul understood this and depended on the blessings of partnership to help and encourage him.

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Partnerships are Spirit-given: before arriving in Philippi and establishing the church, Paul is redirected by the Spirit away from other places of ministry. He is given a vision that will lead him to Philippi. The Spirit guides Paul into this important partnership.


Partnerships begin with commonality: partnerships work well when there is a fundamental understanding of what is shared. For Paul and the church in Philippi, they “share in God’s grace” (vs. 7). It is a basic place to start. Sin is a great equalizer; everyone is equally in need of grace and each person is equally made in God’s image.


Partnerships focus on strengths: in strong partnerships, each partner has something important to contribute. Paul knows that the church in Philippi supports him through prayer (vs. 19), and will also “stand firm” (vs. 27) for the gospel. Paul realizes that his encouragement and teaching are also important to the church (vs. 24). Together, as partners, Paul and the church encourage and pray for each other and work from their strengths to advance the gospel together.


Partnerships give joy: encouragement is critical to ministry and to partnership. Paul is writing the letter to the Philippians from prison, and, as he prays for the church in Philippi and is being prayed for, God gives him joy.  Joy transcends experience and energizes mission.


Deacons, you need partners, like Paul, who will serve with you in your church and community. By the grace of God, however, you will form many partnerships as you live out God’s call on your life. Your partners may be members of your church who are equipped and called to serve with you. Your partners may also be your neighbours whom you serve and through whom you receive blessing. There are others such as community agencies and churches.


Seek out the Spirit’s leading as you seek out partnerships. Pray! Allow God’s Spirit to humble you and work through you. Open your heart as you partner and serve alongside those to whom the Spirit will lead you. Look for, and be blessed by each others’ strengths. Never lose sight of the fact that we are all in need of grace: from the deacon sitting next to you to the members of your congregation, to your neighbour in need who might just bless you in surprising ways.


And, last of all, expect joy.

(image from


Advent Sunday  Christian Rossetti

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BEHOLD, the Bridegroom cometh: go ye out

With lighted lamps and garlands round about

To meet Him in a rapture with a shout.

It may be at the midnight, black as pitch,

Earth shall cast up her poor, cast up her rich.

It may be at the crowing of the cock

Earth shall upheave her depth, uproot her rock.

For lo, the Bridegroom fetcheth home the Bride:

His Hands are Hands she knows, she knows His Side.

Like pure Rebekah at the appointed place,

Veiled, she unveils her face to meet His Face.

Like great Queen Esther in her triumphing,

She triumphs in the Presence of her King.

His Eyes are as a Dove’s, and she’s Dove-eyed;

He knows His lovely mirror, sister, Bride.

He speaks with Dove-voice of exceeding love,

And she with love-voice of an answering Dove.

Behold, the Bridegroom cometh: go we out

With lamps ablaze and garlands round about

To meet Him in a rapture with a shout.


(Art by Amy Grigg)
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