Distinctive Deacons: making the body of Christ whole again
A Written Reflection
From my very first meeting with the Diocesan Vocation Advisory, the calling to the Distinctive Diaconate has been loud and clear. I read Terry Drummond’s paper ‘Distinctive Deacons: Ministry in the Public Square’ (from the Deacons’ Tool Kit*) and knew this ministry was for me. The Bishop of Carlisle, Rt Rev James Newcome, in his recent article, ‘The Case for the Distinctive Diaconate’, says the time is ripe for the Diaconate’s renewal and revitalization. This year the House of Bishops has approved and commended a shared discernment process for Priests and Distinctive Deacons, which highlight the special and varied gifts that the different callings require.
So why this groundswell of support for the Diaconate? Because of the world’s pressing social and environmental problems, the world needs Jesus and his radical views like never before. With fewer people regularly going to Church, deacons can take the Church to the people and through their ministry show Jesus to the world and explain how his message can change lives.
For the body of Christ to be complete it needs a revitalized Diaconate with a distinct and focused ministry, working in harmony with bishops, priests, readers and laity. As Ephesians 4 16 says: ‘He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps others to grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.’ For the Church to be healthy, it needs a vibrant Diaconate.
As part of my preparation, I talked to Anne Tomlinson, principal of the Scottish Theological Institute, where Distinctive Deacons are selected to work with their parish and in the wider diocese in a range of mission fields most suited to their abilities and talent. They have a working agreement with their bishop to be placed in a specific area so their impact can be measured. Anne put me in touch with Deacon Sue Ward, whose ministry in Edinburgh is split three ways. In addition to her liturgical duties, her time is divided equally between dementia ministry with one parish, the Hope Street Soul Food project in another, and travelling around the diocese with her sponsoring bishop being visible as a Distinctive Deacon and explaining how her distinctive role can make a difference in the world outside the church building. This is targeted ministry that helps local needs and is tailored to the deacon’s skills.
I have found that the more this work is visible, hearts are changed and more people want to join in with diaconal ministry. Encouraging and enabling others in their diakonia is simply wonderful. Doing the work of Jesus can only bring you closer to him and transform your life and those around you.
Today’s world greatly needs the Church and the five marks of mission. Report after report highlight how the poor are getting poorer and welfare reforms are having a disastrous effect on the society as a whole. The Children’s Commissioner recently published a report saying that 200,000 children in England do not have a permanent home.
My particular mission calling is working with the homeless community and tackling food poverty. Working with the homeless is a privilege and getting to know and helping many of its community is humbling. I have seen lives transformed, lives lost and most just stay the same, but the best way to help them is to get to know them as a friend and brother. You learn to laugh with them, pray with them, and cry with them.
Deacons have always been prophetic. A prophet reviews the past and may share a word about the future, but fundamentally sheds light on the present. There has never been a more crucial time for deacons to speak out about injustice, look after the weak and challenge the powerful and the wealthy. Deacons are the hands and feet of Jesus, going about our Father’s business by urgently putting into action the Good News of the Christ where it is most needed.
*Deacons’ Tool Kit: https://exeter.anglican.org/ministry/vocations/diocesan-deacons/
(More on Rob Taverner, his farm and his amazing ice cream! https://www.tavernersfarm.co.uk/)
A very helpful discussion between Whatsapp deacons on this sometimes-vexed topic. Note: a DD is a Distinctive Deacon. Readers, who are not ordained but are lay people, are nowadays known also as licensed lay ministers (LLMs).
Julie Wheeler Exeter: Wondering whether there are thoughts on this? I am meeting with our team rector soon to chat about what ministry might look like short and medium term. One question I know we’ll be teasing out is how might a DD (Distinctive Deacon) role differ from a reader role? The team currently has a number of readers but no DD…thoughts? Julie
Newly licensed lay ministers (or Readers) diocese of Oxford (2016)
Julia Halpin Exeter: I am a newbie, but as I understand it so far, my ministry isn’t going to be in the church building, especially not at the east end up front. It’s a west end, at the door and outside the church ministry, taking the servant church to those who don’t come, and being recognisable to include and welcome those who hover at the edge. Julia
Peter Burren Exeter: DDs are the hands and feet of Christ. DDs go out in to the community taking God’s word out to people (amongst other things). I recommend the book ‘Inferior office?’ by Francis Young. My wife is a reader and I am a DD ordinand. The two roles are quite different in many ways!
Chris Saccali Athens: I was a Reader, but (since my ordination as a DD) my diaconal role has taken me out into the margins with refugees and the persecuted
Bev Cree Exeter: ‘Inferior office‘ a very good read. Yes Julia you are right. I do lead and preach but not on a regular Rota: I fill in some of the gaps to keep my hand in as it were. I am at the back welcoming those nervously stepping into church. We are the bridge community to church and the other way round too. I hope you find it as rewarding as I and the rest of us do. It is quite different to all the other roles, we are unique.
Gill Kimber Exeter: I totally agree with all of this. The problem is, that our liturgical roles are identical, because the church has neglected its diaconate, so Readers have stepped into those roles. I think that’s what confuses people: they see both readers and deacons preaching and assisting. I find the most helpful thing is not to look at where our ministries overlap, but to look instead at the main focus of our ministries. (I have long talks about all this with a very good reader friend!) A reader’s PRIMARY job is to teach and preach and build people up in their faith – a very necessary and vital role. A deacon’s PRIMARY focus is to look and reach outwards from the church, working with those on the margins and identifying and meeting needs in the community. If we look at the primary focus of each ministry, I think it becomes clearer. My reader friend and I agree – if we deacons are encouraging people into the Christian faith, we very much need our reader colleagues to look after them and teach them!
Chris Saccali Athens: I think it is crucial to our role that we read the gospel facing outwards to the world. We show our role liturgically too.
Gill Kimber: Absolutely. I believe that reading the Gospel is the deacon’s sacrament.
Debbie Baker Newcastle: Gill I so wholeheartedly agree with your comments. Having done 3 years Reader training and NOT got Licensed: then accepted for Ordained Priestly Ministry – yet in my first year as a Deacon realised that I was doing and focusing on all I felt called to be and do. If I became ordained as a NSM Priest it was the focus of what I did that would shift. That identity and that work would get squeezed out to the margins rather than the centre of who I am and what I am called to do. We need great gifts of Teaching and Preaching and building up faith from our Readers.
Julie Wheeler Exeter: Thank you all, that’s really helpful to hear how it works in practice.
I think one of the challenges for us locally is that one particular reader has had quite a wide ranging role over quite a long period, perhaps as you say filling in for lack of DD in that time. The point about PRIMARY roles is really helpful
Paul Hollingworth Winchester: Not only do I agree with all the above but at a meeting with my DDO and his team I explained how also we as DD’s have a leadership role in pastoral care beyond the church door. They found this very helpful and the fact that we are the first and continue to be pioneering ministers as well as our liturgical roles.
Janice Price Southwark: I recently led a training session with the Diocesan Vocational Advisers on distinctive Diaconal ministry. They were very unclear about Reader and DD. A number said it needs someone who is called to this ministry to articulate it and then clarity develops.
Cheryl Belding St Edmundsbury & Ipswich: I feel that as DD’s we are a visible presence out of the church and into the community. This gives us the opportunity to reach people who perhaps do not or cannot get to church. If I am acting as liturgical deacon I receive bread and wine then prepare the sacraments prior to the president taking over. In our church a reader would not do this. They would not read the gospel either. It’s amazing how we can all do the same thing in so many different ways!😊!
Julia Halpin Exeter: In our church lay people assist with HC and also read both Gospel and OT lesson. I would not even think of taking this away from them. As you say, so many different ways of doing things… 😊
Chris Saccali Athens: The Deacon processes the gospel in and I now lay it on the high altar. The priest receives the bread and wine brought up by the people and I then lay the Holy Table. I make the Gospel acclamation.
Deacon Abi reads the Gospel in York Minster
Gill Kimber: Yes, and there’s a big difference liturgically between high and low church. The great thing about the diaconate is that it bridges the divide.
Debbie Baker Newcastle: In the Parishes I have been in across Newcastle upon Tyne it has varied according to the tradition of the church. However largely like Julia I have been part of churches where lay people read the Gospel as well as OT/NT readings on a rota basis. Lay people are Welcomers on a rota, lay people are Licensed to assist at distribution of HC on rota etc. Readers have set up and cleared up if not Priest doing it him/herself. This is due to there being so few Permanent or Distinctive Deacons across Newcastle Diocese for so many years. Many of the Liturgical roles you talk about which have been done by Deacons (in the past) are now done by a wide range of others. Many people here have no understanding of DD at all.
David Bean Southwell: I am deacon in a 2 church parish. One is higher than the other, so I am always the liturgical deacon on the one but take my turn on the rota for “Eucharistic Assistant”, along with the lay readers, in the other.
Debbie Baker Newcastle: I wish to affirm my fellow brothers and sisters and not remove or challenge what they do (in the liturgy). I have to keep thinking and praying about what is my PRIMARY or Distinctive role. Sometimes it’s being that gap between Lay and Ordained connecting us all, so we are working alongside each other in harmony and raising one another up.
Gill Kimber: Keeping focused is not only important for us, but also for the church and the community.
Debbie Baker Newcastle: Absolutely I agree. 😀
Bev Cree Exeter: Isn’t it great that we all: readers, priests, deacons and pioneers are all endowed with unique gifts, love the Lord and are called to serve in so many diverse and interesting ways. Harmony is key: united we achieve so much more. If we are suspicious or worse, envious, then the cracks become obvious and soon become widened and deeper. Never allow disunity or we become servants to the devil. I know who I’d prefer to work for!
Debbie Baker Newcastle: Absolutely agree.
David Bean Southwell: Might an edited version of today’s thread make a good posting on the blog, Gill? There’s such good stuff been shared!
No sooner said than done, Deacon David!
For years now we have been trying to get distinctive deacons added into the Church of England clergy stats, as a distinct unit, instead of being included in the general clergy stats. This would really help to see how the diaconate is doing across the country, and would give us some objective data.
I’m in touch with Louise McFerran, Senior Statistical Researcher at Church House. They are rejigging the way they collect stats, and this is the best opportunity we have to find a way of helping them to collect up the distinctive deacon statistics.
Here’s what she says:
Having read your list I’m wondering if we’ve been approaching this wrong by thinking in terms of job roles, and we should be thinking in terms of titles. For example if all (and only) Distinctive Deacons, (regardless of whether they are listed as PTO etc) had a title of “Deacon” then we’d be able to filter on this. …
The best source for people data moving forward will be the new HR system, which we are encouraging all systems to feed off, so if we can get that right, then we’re in business. The idea is that when people express an interest in ministry, for example going through the BAP process they will be entered on to the system. If we can get that first title when they are ordained entered correctly, then that’s a start. Then it will be up to dioceses to keep records up to date. I think we need a multi pronged approach:
- Encourage dioceses to ensure that Distinctive Deacons have an identifiable title in their diocesan directories/people systems
- encourage Distinctive Deacons to check their own titles in their diocesan directories and ask them to be amended if not
- and then if you’re able to provide me with a list of the DDs you know about I can do some QA work this end.
I don’t think it’s going to be a quick fix, but I do think we have a real opportunity to get this right with the new system.
So please, collect up the stats in your diocese and send them to me, and I’ll pass them on to Louise, so we can make a start. I have an old DACE prayer diary, which lists all the people we knew about who were deacons in your diocese up to 2017. Check your diocese and if some of the names are new to you, do follow them up to find out if the people on the list are (1) still deacons and (2) still there!
Get in touch with me via the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/DistinctivelyDeacon/
or the GoDeacons Whatsapp
or through email email@example.com
Looking forward to hearing from you. Let’s get this sorted!
(image from North East Waste and Resource Recovery Group)
A reminder of our next national deacons’ conference! It will be on 16 May 2020 at the same venue as last year, the Frances Young Centre at Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham. Put the date in your 2020 diaries now and ringfence it! Accommodation will be available on site at a very reasonable cost. If you’re eligible, you can apply to your diocese for CME funding.
The speaker will be the Rt Rev Martin Seeley, Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, and Chair of the Church of England Ministry Council.
His theme will be:
‘Towards a Flourishing Diaconate: Theological, Pastoral and Formational Perspectives’.
This autumn we will once more put up the booking details on Eventbrite.
Some people might be feeling a bit disappointed that it seems so far away. I’d like to encourage you to see the next few months as a way of preparing for the conference.
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.