When I was first made warden for the diocesan College of St Philip the Deacon, I worked on a document with the DDO and the bishop of Plymouth outlining not only my own job description but also an introduction to the college.  That was five years ago.

Since then my diocesan steering group, to whom I’m accountable, has made various decisions and I decided to update the document.  So ‘An Introduction to the College of St Philip the Deacon’ has gone through various revisions and has been discussed and endorsed by the bishop of Exeter’s staff meeting.

It’s a very practical document, outlining the identity and ministry of the distinctive deacon as we understand it in Exeter, and includes the fact that we’re not only responsible to each other for mutual support, but also that we have a responsibility to raise the profile of our ministry in our areas. There are lots of ideas which have now become practices here in Exeter.

So here it is, with the hope that you’ll find it useful, and that it might even offer some inspiration if you’re in a position to think about getting your own DDs together.  Feel free to share it with your diocesan officers.

An Introduction to the College of St Philip the Deacon

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The Church of England recognises three orders of ordained ministry: bishop, priest and deacon. Those called to priesthood spend an initial period of time in ordained ministry as deacons before becoming priests. Others are called most strongly to remain in the diaconate as deacons. The diaconate exists as a ministry in its own right throughout the Church of England, often called the ‘distinctive’ diaconate.   Distinctive Deacons in Exeter belong to the College of St Philip the Deacon.

Scope of ministry of Distinctive Deacons

Distinctive deacons have a strong call to an outward-looking, community-minded ministry with the hallmark of mission through service according to their gifts and inclinations. They prefer to be out and about, making contacts, building relationships, identifying and meeting needs, creating stepping-stones between God and the world. Deacons are pioneers, radical in their outlook and ready to try new ways of serving God in the community. They often have a particular concern for issues of poverty and justice and many minister to those on the margins of church and society.

Distinctive deacons serve under the bishop’s authority, usually alongside their parish priest with whom they minister as an ‘ambassador for Christ’. They proclaim the gospel as Christ’s heralds in their life and work, encouraging congregations to share the good news of God’s love with the community. Deacons have a recognised role in church services which reflects the hallmarks of their ministry, such as reading the Gospel, encouraging intercessory prayer and sending the congregation out at the end of the service to play their part in God’s mission.

A distinctive deacon is at present a self-supporting minister, and many deacons continue in secular employment, their vocation deeply influencing the way they do their job and develop their ministry. Their diaconate encourages all baptised Christians to glorify God by reaching out to others.

Setting God’s People Free

This report by the Archbishops’ Council asserts ‘Until, together, ordained and lay, we form and equip lay people to follow Jesus confidently in every sphere of life in ways that demonstrate the Gospel we will never set God’s people free to evangelise the nation.’ Part of the calling of the Distinctive Deacon is to encourage the diakonia of all the laity, and this includes enabling and inspiring the whole church to reach out to their communities with gospel love.  The ministry of the distinctive diaconate offers a vital bridge between the gathered congregation and those outside the church and so is in pole position to assist with the challenging task of setting God’s people free to evangelise the nation.

The College of St Philip the Deacon

The college comprises all those in the diocese who are ordained to the Distinctive Diaconate and DD ordinands.  The patron saint of the college is St Philip the Deacon, whose feast day falls on 11 October. The bishop of Exeter invites DDs to make this a day of special intention.


The warden of the college to be a Distinctive Deacon, accountable to a bishop and the diocesan deacons’ steering group. The bishop to convene the college annually, building on the historic relationship between bishops and deacons.  

The purpose of the College of Deacons

  1. The College exists for the encouragement, prayer and support of all those who share the Distinctive Diaconate calling.
  1. To share good practice between Distinctive Deacons, between incumbents of Distinctive Deacons, and between the two by
  1. To share the vocation in the diocese of the identity, role, ministry and deployment of Distinctive Deacons by
  • including mention of any Distinctive Deacons in ordination services and in the diocesan website coverage of such ordinations
  • playing a liturgical role at diocesan Eucharists
  • contributing to vocations days
  • hosting enquirers/ordinands as mentors/buddies: ‘deacon for a day’
  • continuing to use, develop and encourage the use of the resources on the deacon page of the diocesan website
  • requesting regular articles in the diocesan magazine

a.  For Clergy – raising both theological and missional understanding of the deacon:

  • Opportunities to be sought at deanery chapter and deanery synod levels to present the meaning of the distinctive diaconate
  • opportunity to preach about the distinctive diaconate at an annual vocations Sunday and/or at other times

b.  For Congregations – especially but not exclusively where a Distinctive Deacon is deployed

  • the incumbent to explain to the congregations the focus of the DD ministry
  • article in parish magazine
  • explanation and modelling by DD of collaborative nature of ministry in meeting needs in community

c.  For Ordinands (Distinctive Deacons) in training – to work with courses and colleges to contribute to the training of Distinctive Deacons currentlyin IME Phase 1 as they meet with those in IME Phase 2 and beyond by:

  • inviting a Distinctive Deacon each year to attend and contribute to a training event
  • raising awareness of and using resource papers as developed by the warden and diocesan deacons’ steering group, endorsed by the bishop of Exeter: see deacons’ web page on the diocesan website
  • using learning/working agreements for deacon curates and training incumbents
  • using the ministry reflections for DD curates included in Phase 2 portfolios
  1. To encourage vocations to the Diaconate
  • Member of the college to be a vocations adviser
  • Resources on the distinctive diaconate to be sent to vocations advisers and updated when necessary
  1. To be a support and advisory group to help shape strategy with regard to the development of the ministry of the Distinctive Diaconate in this diocese, and with regard to deployment of Distinctive Deacons.

Length of training licences:  three years.  The end of the Distinctive Deacon’s curacy to be marked, like all curates, with an  interview with the bishop and a special service in the parish.

Distinctive Deacons and Occasional Offices in the diocese of Exeter:   After their first year in Deacon’s orders, Distinctive Deacons may baptise as a regular part of their missional brief. They may also conduct weddings with the permission of the Bishop, in the absence and with the agreement of their incumbent. This should be the exception rather than the norm so that wedding ministry does not distract from their primary role. They should, however, be fully involved in marriage preparation and in the wedding service where appropriate.  Distinctive Deacons should also be invited to act as one of the liturgical deacons at services in a mission community where the Bishop is presiding.

Distinctive Deacons to remain as DDs during the three years of their curacy, whilst being  free to explore priesthood if wished.

After completion of training, the future ministry of the Distinctive Deacon will be explored with the bishop.




Here’s a fascinating interview from Episcopal Cafe with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church in the USA about deacons.  He is absolutely spot-on, and it’s worth reading the whole thing as it’s enormously encouraging.

But there is a very different voice from a deacon who actually has a life and living in the world, what people call the real world, not just the church world, but the real world, and has a life in the church. They actually become the most profoundly bridg[ing] people in terms of leadership. They’re bridge leaders intrinsically. I mean that is the nature of the order, which is why the ordinal actually talks about the deacon bringing the hopes and needs of the world to the church and the church to the world, back and forth.

The deacon is at the intersection of world and church, if you will. Which is why the deacon reads the Gospel. I mean it’s not because it’s an honorific position. The deacon is reading the Gospel because it is the teachings and the life and the spirit of Jesus, who was God incarnate, who bridged Heaven and Earth. You see what I mean? Who is our bridge to church, our faith in the world. And so the deacon is that person, at the intersection. That’s a unique charism and calling for the deacon. It’s not the same for priests. It’s different for a priest. It’s not the same for a bishop. Though, the irony is bishops and deacons have the most in common.

The full interview is here:


Many thanks to Deacon Alison Handcock for flagging this up!  Two cheers for Southwark and their championing of Distinctive Deacon vocations as well as priesthood.  Only two cheers because they are still wanting ‘a priest’ champion.  Bold type is my addition.

Diocesan Champion for Ordained Vocations

Job Description

The Diocese of Southwark encompasses urban South London, which includes almost every ethnicity, with parishes stretching into the more rural parts of East Surrey. It is one of the most multicultural and diverse dioceses in England.

One of the principles at the heart of the Bishop of Southwark’s vision for the Diocese is that of vocational renewal. The role of Diocesan Champion for Ordained Vocations is key in promoting the ministries of priest and distinctive deacon across this diverse Diocese, and to encourage vocational discernment to these ministries; to be the first port of call for those considering a vocation to priesthood or the distinctive diaconate; and to provide and support creative and imaginative resources for incumbents and deaneries that will enable them to identify and discern vocations to ordained ministry.

We are seeking a priest who:

  • has a demonstrable interest in, and some experience of, encouraging and discerning vocation;
  • is able to provide imaginative resourcing for adults across a spectrum of spiritual traditions and educational backgrounds;
  • is a gifted communicator, with an ability to think strategically and creatively;
  • has a sound theological and educational knowledge with a willingness to develop further;
  • is experienced in working successfully with a wide range of church traditions and styles of ministry;
  • is an effective team player, able to relate to and consult with people at all levels.

For informal enquiries please contact the Revd Canon Leanne Roberts, the Director of Vocations & DDO, on

To apply, and for further information, please apply through the Church of England Pathways careers website

Closing date: 2nd February 2020

There is an occupational requirement that the job holder be an ordained priest of the Church of England, or a church in communion with it.


An honest, thought-provoking article by Benjamin Mann for the Catholic Exchange.

It’s primarily for those who are exploring a call to Catholic priesthood but is relevant to everyone discerning a vocation.

It is quite traditional and correct to speak of “discerning a vocation” – particularly to consecrated life or the priesthood, though also in regard to marriage, careers, and other major commitments. In modern Western culture, however, the idea of vocational discernment has become problematic, producing unnecessary indecision and anxiety.

The problem is not with the traditional concepts and language, but with us and our mindset. Shaped by the modern sensibility of intense self-consciousness, and by the consumer culture’s obsession with options and the “pursuit of happiness,” we think too much about ourselves and our preferences. Often, we are looking for the wrong things in a vocation. And we approach the discernment of our calling in a correspondingly wrong way.

This is true across the board: with regard to choices like marriage and work, just as for consecrated religious vocations and the priesthood. In all these areas, we invest the idea of a vocation with expectations our forebears did not have. We think that discernment consists in figuring out whether those expectations will be met. Then we become frustrated when no option seems to fit the bill.

Our expectations are wrong. Consciously or not, we sometimes expect a vocation to solve all of our problems, answer all of our questions, and satisfy all of our desires. But these are not the purposes of a vocation. Discernment, likewise, does not consist in finding the choice that will meet those expectations.

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Your vocation will not live up to these unrealistic hopes. Nothing in this world will answer all your questions, solve all your problems, or satisfy all your desires. These are impossible, immature ambitions, and the spiritual life consists largely in realizing that they are impossible and immature.


The purpose of life is the unitive devotional service of God, which includes the love of our neighbor (in whom God dwells). This is the real purpose of any vocation. Some forms of life, such as monasticism, are ordered directly to this end; other states of life are oriented toward it indirectly. But these are only different versions of the one human vocation: to love and serve God, and become one with him in Christ.

A vocation – any vocation – is a school of charity and a means of crucifixion. Your vocation is the means by which your self-serving ego will die in order to be resurrected as the servant and lover of God. This is all that we can expect; but this is everything – the meaning of life, all there really is.

My vocation is where I will learn to let go of my questions, carry the cross of my problems, and be mysteriously fulfilled even when I am not happy. We have some choice as to how we will undergo that process; we do not – so long as we abide in the grace of God – get to choose whether we will undergo it.

This, it seems to me, is the attitude we should bring to discernment. I am not choosing between makes and models in a store, looking for the perfect fit or the best value. One is faced, rather, with the question: How I should lose my life, in order to save it? (Luke 9:24)

Of all the wrong expectations that we bring to vocational discernment, perhaps the most pernicious is the expectation that “everything will finally make sense.” We imagine that our true calling, when we find it, will bring a kind of total coherence and resolution to our fragmentary, broken, unresolved lives.

Modern life – with its combination of extreme intensity and instability – promotes both the inner fragmentation of the psyche, and the intense self-focus that makes such fragmentation especially painful. Naturally, we want the pieces to be put back together, the loose ends tied up. But we cannot expect this in the course of our present, earthly lives.

To be sure, a true vocation will have a certain coherence about it: one will understand his task, his direction, in a new way. He will have a degree of clarity, at least regarding which route he is to take on the pilgrimage toward his ultimate destination.

But it is a trap – and perhaps a very common one – to think that my vocation will sort out and join together all the scattered puzzle-pieces of my life, healing all the inner disintegration and painful incoherence of my past, present, and future. Your vocation will not cause life to make sense in that way.

Discernment is not about finding the hidden, magic key that will unlock your life and solve the riddle of your being. When you figure out what you ought to do with your life, and begin to do it, you will be just as much a mystery to yourself as you are now. Your daily confusions, recurring frustrations, and deep puzzlements will remain. Life, even life illumined by faith, will be an enigma – at least as much as before.

This is how things must be for us on earth. Things will be different only in the world to come: where we will see clearly what we now see only “through a glass, darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12), where my secret and eternal name – which I do not even know yet – will be given to me (Rev. 2:17). Your vocation is not the answer to the question of your being; it is only a part of God’s pledge that the answer will be given in the end.

Nor will your vocation heal the deep sense of incompleteness and longing that you feel. This is critical to realize. Many people fail in their vocation – perhaps especially in the vocation of marriage – because they expect their life’s calling to satisfy, or at least take away, the impossible and inexpressible longing that lies within them: that strange mix of awe and desire and sadness before the mystery of existence.

But your vocation, whatever it may be, cannot do that either. That longing is ours as long as we are in this world. We must bear it, and let it become a “vacancy for God.”

All of this – the sadness and perplexity of life – will accompany you in your vocation. It will exist, with no contradiction, alongside the joy and truth of the Gospel. It is what we must suffer until we are fully united with God in eternity.

But that union must begin here and now, if it is to occur at all. Your vocation, in the end, is simply the means by which you will allow it to occur.

“There’s no escaping yourself,” conventional wisdom says. That is perhaps half-true, at least in the order of nature. But it is not true in the order of grace. There, God provides an escape, or something better than an escape: a transcendence that preserves all our natural gifts, while taking our focus off of ourselves. We remain ourselves; but our focus simply rests on the Lord – “everywhere present and filling all things.”

Then we have escaped: we no longer look at ourselves, anxiously or pridefully or in any other way, beyond the bare and necessary minimum. We simply look upon Christ, and on our neighbor with whom he identifies himself. (Paradoxically, it is only then – when we have almost completely forgotten ourselves – that we see ourselves rightly, and know who we really are.)

But that is the only escape there is. You cannot take a shortcut simply by getting married, or becoming a missionary, or changing careers, or joining a monastery. Such choices must be made, and such responsibilities embraced; but they will not, in themselves, provide any escape from ourselves. These external situations are only necessary means, the circumstances in which our liberation becomes possible.

You will enter into a new state of life, your chosen and God-given vocation; and yet, because you have not been radically renewed, you will experience it as largely familiar once the novelty has worn off.

Someday this will not be the case: you will be changed, if you persevere. But this change in you will not occur through the mere changing of circumstances. They will reshape you – God will reshape you, through them – over the course of years.

Slowly, you will be freed from the trap of selfishness in which you were born. In the school of your vocation, Christ will teach you to forget your wants, and even your needs, for the sake of the charity that “seeks not its own” (1 Cor. 13:5).

No matter what calling you embrace, your vocation must be your means of letting Jesus into your life completely, learning to love God more than yourself.

This does not mean fixating on a sentimental idea, or worshiping an enthroned mental abstraction. It means living in the fullness of Reality: recognizing and loving the Lord who is absolutely transcendent yet totally present, the Son of God who “plays in ten thousand places, / Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his / To the Father through the features of men’s faces” (G.M. Hopkins).

That one of these faces should be your own, and that the light of your eyes should be the light of Christ living within you: this is the goal of your vocation, whatever it may be.

But you will not reach that goal by ordinary human means: not by the calculation, strategy, and careful hedging of bets that seem – but only seem – to make the world go around.

The central question in discernment is: How shall I die with Christ, to rise with him? How will I lose my life to find it? What will bring me to the point where I can say, with St. Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me”?

Such thinking is more than countercultural; it goes beyond our natural inclinations. But this is the perspective of the Gospel, the self-emptying attitude of Christ that should also be in us. And it is the only mindset by which we can revive three vocations – marriage, consecrated life, and the priesthood – that are currently in trouble.




Right everyone, here’s something really important for us DDs. Rev Ian McIntosh, head of ministry formation for Ministry Division, has sent me his first draft of formation criteria for Distinctive Deacons for IME 1 (only). (IME stands for Initial Ministerial Education, and is for the phase of training that happens on theological courses or theological colleges prior to ordination).

I’ve said that I’ll share these widely with other deacons so that the feedback I give him is as representative as possible.

He has worked closely with the formation criteria we developed in Exeter (at MinDiv’s request). Please take a look, and let me have your response. This is our chance to make a difference for the diaconate!

Let me know in comments below or email if at all possible by the end of this week. MinDiv is working fast on all the criteria.

Apologies for the size of print:  if you hold down CTRL and press the plus sign several times you will enlarge it.



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It might have been just someone else’s story,
Some chosen people get a special king.
We leave them to their own peculiar glory,
We don’t belong, it doesn’t mean a thing.
But when these three arrive they bring us with them,
Gentiles like us, their wisdom might be ours;
A steady step that finds an inner rhythm,
A  pilgrim’s eye that sees beyond the stars.
They did not know his name but still they sought him,
They came from otherwhere but still they found;
In temples they found those who sold and bought him,
But in the filthy stable, hallowed ground.
Their courage gives our questing hearts a voice
To seek, to find, to worship, to rejoice.

Malcolm Guite