Recently I came across a booklet on the website of the diocese of Melbourne in Australia about their policy on the diaconate. I found it very clear and most encouraging, and I think it has elements which can help us here in the UK. I have posted extracts on our Deacons’ Facebook page
and here I will cut and paste below most of what is said. Here’s the link to the whole text.
I have put some words in the text in bold to highlight the main points. Please let me have your reactions, either on here in the comments section, or on the Facebook page (see link above) or send an email to email@example.com
1 The Distinctive Ministry of The Deacon
What it means to be a Distinctive Deacon in the Diocese of Melbourne
THE DISTINCTIVE MINISTRY OF THE DEACON Adapted with permission from A New Life in Christ: the distinctive ministry of the deacon © 2007 Diocese of Canberra & Goulburn
2 Holy Orders in the Anglican Church
It would be difficult for anyone to give an account of what it means to be a deacon in the Diocese of Melbourne without first addressing the issue of holy orders – in particular asking the question: Why has the church taken one of the holy orders, that of deacon, previously assumed to be an order passed through on the way to becoming a priest, and restored it to a distinctive and permanent order without the assumption that the minister who is a deacon will ever be ordained to the priesthood? The short answer is that the ministry of deacons has a long history dating back to biblical times. The deacon in the early church was a permanent order. It is only since the Middle Ages that the order has been used as a transitional order, i.e. a period of training or preparation for the priesthood. An examination of the liturgies for ordination in ‘A Prayer book for Australia’ (pages 785 & 793) will show differences in emphasis between the ministry of a deacon and that of a priest.
Why ordain deacons at all? Why not join deacon and priest into one order? There are those who argue for this and those who argue that, in effect, bishop and priest come out of the same ‘stable,’ but the deacon has a different reason for being. Bishops oversee and delegate to priests their episcopal authority to gather, teach and nurture the community of Christ, whereas the bishop authorises the deacon to assist the bishop to focus the church and the world alike on issues of justice, mercy and compassion. Deacons are not apprentice clergy. They are emissaries of the bishop and servant leaders in the ‘diakonia’ (ministry of service) of Christ. They carry out a distinctive ministry to the world and to the church. They work in many different fields and may often be found outside the mainstream of the church, at the boundaries and in the ditches of society. Rethinking the role of the diaconate in the contemporary church has meant rethinking and re-framing the roles of everyone who is baptised into the church of God. Thus baptism is the primary calling to ministry.
image from deacon john 1987’s blog
3 What does the renewed diaconate look like?
Images and metaphors
There are many images that are used to give some idea of the role and being of a deacon: • go-between • servant leader • bridge to the world • prophet • fellow-traveller • evangelist • intercessor • apologist • teacher • pioneer. All of these metaphors encapsulate the role of deacon. These ways of being and doing are not exclusive to the deacon; they are shared with everyone else in the church. A deacon however can demonstrate the outworking of these ministry metaphors for the benefit of the whole church.
Why renew the diaconate? In summary the reasons are:
• to recover the ‘diakonia’ of the whole body of Christ;
• to clarify what it means to be a member of God’s church today;
• to bring about change in the culture of the church, refocussing it towards Christ’s mission;
• to bring into sharp focus our current ways of doing and being;
• the Fundamental Declarations section in the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia commits us to a threefold order of ordained ministry;
• each order is understood out of reference to the other.
A strong priesthood and episcopate needs a strong diaconate. What does the renewed diaconate offer? By recovering the distinctive role of deacon on a more permanent basis, the Diocese of Melbourne sees opportunities to:
• imaginatively explore new possibilities for ministry;
• develop a clearer vision for the ministry of all believers;
• develop a clearer understanding of what it means to be bishop, priest, or deacon within the context of a ministry belonging to all baptised believers; and
• use deacons as signposts for a renewed outward-focussing church.
• messenger• envoy • herald • adviser • healer • advocate • enabler• ambassador • bridgebuilder
What do the deacons in this Diocese do?
The ministry of deacon in this diocese is as varied as the number of deacons. some possibilities for ministry include the following:
Chaplain A number of deacons in the Diocese have roles that include aspects of chaplaincy. Their ministry may be centred on schools, local nursing homes, aged-care facilities or hospital chaplaincy units. They may be licensed to these ministries or operate from a home base church but spend most of their time equipping others for ministry at the margins of society, away from the gathered church. They care for the young, poor, the sick, the lonely, the outcast, and the marginalised and bring their concerns to the attention of the local church.
Deacon in the Parish Deacons are licensed to a local parish as part of their ministry responsibility. Within the liturgy, they represent the church scattered, bringing the hurts of the world to the attention of the church. Some of these deacons will have a specific ministry to special groups (e.g. children’s ministry; developing and leading pastoral care groups; leading parish home and hospital visiting teams; working with mental health patients.) In all of these activities, they work in association with the incumbent of the parish.
Diocesan Deacon Several of the deacons operate at the diocesan level employed by Diocesan agencies in specific areas appropriate to their order and ministry. All of these deacons work to support, encourage and equip the work of others for ministry in the church of God.
Where do we need more deacons? The church needs deacons in ministry leadership, in education, in parish ministry and in prophetic and advocacy work. We need advocates and prophets. There are some people with these gifts, working to bring justice to all levels of governance in church and society. They often work at the margins, critically questioning unjust structures. They are prepared to be unconventional and challenging. They are prepared to break new ground, to be a ‘burr under the saddle’ of those in authority. We need deacons with gifts, knowledge and a passion for the environment, nursing, education, working with children and young people, among indigenous people, and more. The Diocese is concerned with issues such as poverty, the environment, justice, the needs of marginalised groups, and the reconciliation of Aboriginal people and later migrants to the rest of Australian society. There are many members of the church ministering in these areas in the Diocese., Some of these may have the call to the diaconate but are not sure what it means for them.
At this point in the brochure there are two pages of the diocesan policy in Melbourne. See the link at the end for the whole script. Then the final page says:
Specific Provision for training and support for the Order of Deacons
There will be a designated unit of study within the pre-ordination training program, which explores the distinctive nature of diaconate as an order of ministry. Deacons must participate in the formal post ordination training activities organized for the clergy of the diocese. In addition, specific events and opportunities are provided for Distinctive Deacons to encourage a sense of collegiality in their particular order, and to deal with issues which pertain more particularly to their circumstances of ministry. A Committee for the Diaconate operates as a sub-committee of the Board for Ministry in drawing Deacons together on a regular basis for fellowship and training including conferences.
The Deacon in the Liturgy of the Eucharist
Liturgical practice in the Diocese is varied but generally follows the rubrics of A Prayer Book for Australia. The Prayer Book records definite liturgical roles for bishops, priests and deacons. If a deacon is not present, a priest or an authorised lay person exercises the role designated for the deacon. As a distinctive order, deacons are encouraged to play their role in all aspects of the liturgical life of the church community. While actual practice depends on local circumstances, the following may be seen as specifically ‘deacon’s’ ministry:• the call to repentance (prophetic role)• the reading of the gospel (heraldic role) • serving at table (servant role)• the dismissal (go in Peace… mission role).
A Final Word
The grace of orders enables us to fulfil the tasks that would otherwise be impossible, including the changing commitments that impact both on our own family and the other members of the church. The community of faith has placed their faith and trust in the ordinand to be a faithful servant leader and a committed follower of Jesus Christ. Ordination involves family and community transforming old relationships into new ones. It brings shared pain and shared joy. Ordination is a call to faithfulness and accountability through which we pray we might also grow in holiness of life as imitators of Christ.