I’m delighted to say that we are offering DEACONS INTERRUPTED, an autumn zoom for distinctive deacons – and anyone interested – to discuss the diaconal elements of Al Barrett’s and Ruth Harley’s best-selling book, Being Interrupted. This book is making waves this year, and is a radical look at how we do mission. It’s a long time since I was so excited by a book ! – because so much of it turns out to be diaconal.
May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Distinctive Deacons are called by God to be ordained, but not to be priests, and people often find this very odd. But deacons have a long spiritual pedigree, because we started right at the beginning of the Christian church, and our reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us how this came about.
There we find that the church is growing so quickly, its efforts to feed the needy widows are failing. In order to address this, the apostles gather all the believers together and put the problem to them. They ask the church to choose seven men to have the responsibility of meeting the needs of those who are being pushed to the margins of the church.
Why do the apostles do this? Why do they not themselves feed the hungry? After all, that’s what they did with Jesus when he fed the 5,000. The apostles’ answer to this question is very interesting. ‘‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.”
For the longest time, this has been interpreted as the apostles doing the really important work, of preaching and praying; while the seven do the secondary work, of meeting the needs of the poor. But is that really what the apostles are meaning? Why are they so concerned about this complaint, concerned enough to call the whole church together, several thousand people? And the people themselves thought it important enough to bring to the apostles, rather than dealing with it themselves.
So important, in fact, that the apostles would have had to leave preaching and praying, in order to address these needs. Of course they could not do so; it was their primary calling. So they authorised others to take on that responsibility.
It was not just an authorisation, though. It was full-on apostolic authority, formal divine authorisation that comes from the Holy Spirit, and the laying-on of hands of the apostles in what we might see as the first recorded ordination.
So this diaconate, as we now call it, was not just an afterthought, it was not just administration. If deacons didn’t do what the church should do by caring for the needy, the apostles knew they would need to do that work as well. Their time spent on preaching and prayer would have been robbed. It is not too strong to say that the mission of the church would be subverted and would no longer look like Christ, who fed the hungry as well as preaching the Kingdom.
So, this caring for the poor and defenceless, this reconciliation work with an ethnic minority, so relevant to our own day, turns out to be central to the life of the newly-forming church. Without it, the church can not be fully the church.
This care is central to what the Holy Spirit was doing in the young church. That’s why the seven had to be people full of the Holy Spirit, and wise. Christ was working through his body, through prayer, preaching, and caring for the needy. So diaconal ministry, at ease on the margins of the church and society, caring for those who are unjustly treated, is crucial for an authentically Christian church and is part of its very identity.
There’s something else here too. The apostles are very clear about their primary focus, and are also clear about when they needed to say no. I sometimes wonder whether our own Church of England ministries might not benefit from being clearer about the primary focus of each vocation. For example, for a long time now the diaconate has been seen as ‘the servant’ ministry. And of course, it is. However, surely all ministry – indeed, the calling of all the baptised, is to servanthood as modelled by our Lord. We all need a servant heart.
A servant heart is fundamental to the church’s identity, and the deacon stands as an icon or image of Christ the servant to remind the church of this. But God the Holy Spirit does not continue to call people to be deacons in order to be just a reminder. The distinctive nature of our calling is still found in that primary focus inspired by the choice of the Seven in Acts 6. You will still find us on the edge of the church, holding the door wide to those who are needy. You’ll find us on the margins of society, amongst the dispossessed and voiceless. You’ll still find us going into the streets and alleys of the town, the country lanes, to bring the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame into the kingdom. You might not always find us inside the church building. But you will find us in the community, making friends, building relationships of trust, working collaboratively with others, making connections between the love of God and those who have not yet experienced that love, so that all of us together may meet people’s needs with the down-to-earth gospel of Christ.
It is also the deacon’s task to animate and enable the diakonia, the servanthood, of the whole church. Ministering with priests and lay ministers, we work out in practical terms how we can learn as Christ’s body to look outwards, to open our arms and hearts, our money and our time, to that community outside our doors. Our diaconal vision is quite simple. How can we help our churches to see themselves as Christ the Servant in our neighbourhoods? Because that’s what we are called to be and to do.
The Church of England is currently engaged on renewal of mission and ministry, working towards a simpler, humbler and bolder church. We’re told that we need lots more priests to make this happen.
We need more deacons. Lots and lots of deacons, working in ordained partnership with priests and lay ministers, side by side in God’s vineyard. We need deacons at national level on General Synod, where some of the debates focus on issues of justice and the powerless in our society. Deacons are those who go out into the forgotten corners of the world, and as such we have something important to contribute.
In the last couple of years General Synod has decided to plant churches on every major estate in England. From the start, I have thought that we should have some kind of recruiting ‘drive’ to identify and train distinctive deacons for estates ministry. As the Faith and Order Advisory Group report says, deacons are those who cross boundaries, make connections, bring people together: they are well-placed to move into challenging new contexts, with their network relationships of mission and evangelisation. It is part of a deacon’s DNA.
Deacons stand in a liminal space, between church and neighbourhood, and it is part of our calling to interpret the one to the other, to understand the different cultures in our work places and communities, educate the church when necessary, and together work out, under the Holy Spirit, how best to incarnate the gospel in our localities. In this we follow our Lord Jesus Christ, who was himself incarnate in our locality, grew up in one of our human cultures, and was therefore able to speak his message of grace and life in a way ordinary people could understand.
It’s not always an easy space for a deacon to be in. Because of this, friends, family, relatives and church friends, you are of the greatest importance to your deacon. There isn’t always a template or a model for what God is calling us to do, because some of what we do is new, it’s pioneering, it hasn’t been done before. We have to move forward not always knowing how to do things. Your prayers are critical for your deacons, so that they are supported as they listen to both God and the community. Your love is a place where they can be themselves. And sometimes, you need to be the ones to bring your deacon back to earth, to stop them overdoing things because there is always more to be done. Help your deacon to recognise when they need to say that important word ‘no’, when they should be turning off that mobile phone. Deacons, like everyone else, need to recharge from time to time. You’re the people who know them best – help them to do it, to be the best God is calling them to be. And perhaps to remind them sometimes, only God is indispensable.
The church needs the diaconate, because the Gospel must be done, as well as prayed and preached. The gospel lies at the heart of diaconal identity and ministry and is the very nature of the church. We deacons are heralds of the gospel, called to proclaim it in word and deed. It is our greatest privilege and highest honour to read the gospel in public worship, because the gospel is our Lord Jesus Christ. Without the gospel of Christ, we have nothing.
Deacons, may the wind of the Holy Spirit fill your wings, as you go out into the world, and proclaim that Gospel with everything God is giving you. Amen.
I am grateful to Sarah Roberts Gardiner for this article on a subject very much under current discussion in the search for a more inclusive church. She says she offers this reflection
from a place of having my own disabilities: cerebral palsy, dyspraxia and hearing loss as well as sight issues, and being a family member and friend to those with additional needs.
Sarah Roberts Gardiner
Reflecting on the use of disability terms in wider society, scripture, and liturgy.
‘Deafness, blindness, dumb, mute, and crippled’ are some of the words used by society as a whole, amongst others, to describe disabilities. But they are used so frequently, and in a negative way, that people don’t even know they are doing so. Please don’t use these words unless it is to describe an actual condition.
Imagine if I used descriptions like ‘blue or brown eyed’, ‘creative’, or ‘reflective’, in a negative way. These are just characteristics, and any characteristic that makes you you is beautiful and to be respected, EVEN IF it also causes limitations or frustrations sometimes. It especially needs to be respected if society sees a characteristic like this as negative.
Yes, most things have their downside; for example, to be creative is sometimes to be anxious; but why not celebrate who people are, rather than using those terms in a derogatory way?
Of course, if there is a blind or deaf person in Scripture that’s different, because it is describing someone’s physical state; its the metaphorical use of the term which doesn’t help.
Sometimes disability terms are used to indicate a character flaw, an attitude that causes a problem. For example:
‘Deaf’ should refer to Deafness or hearing loss, rather than meaning someone is uncomprehending, unwilling to hear, or displaying wilful ignorance.
‘Blind’ means being blind or having sight loss, not that a seeing person is deliberately or accidentally not noticing something, or refusing to perceive a concept.
‘Dumb’ means literally being without speech, non-verbal. It’s not about being fearful or stupid.
Other words are simply quite difficult for some people.
‘Crippled’ – for some people this word has been adopted, others like me have their reasons for hating this word; try ‘unable to/finds it difficult to walk’.
Instead of using the disability term as a shorthand for something other than a medical condition, it would be kinder to those with actual disabilities to say what we actually mean.
For me, it’s not about being Politically Correct; it’s about honouring people and their experience of life.
The Bible is ancient, our liturgy is traditional, and sometimes wider society still uses these terms automatically, but let’s not use language that puts people down.
Sarah Roberts Gardiner
Sarah describes herself as:
DIstinctive Deacon Ordinand in Gloucester Diocese and clergy spouse, passionate about inclusion, loves spending time on the fringes of church, writing poetry, reflections (like these!) and working on the social side amongst those living with dementia and their carers. Christian togetherness runs through her veins as does chocolate. And the thing she gets up for in the morning is her dog Charlie 😄
Alice Smith, Head of Mission for CAPuk, has recently been recommended for training as a #distinctivedeacon (diocese of Chelmsford). Here’s her story.
Although it has been a two-year process, I still find myself surprised to be at this junction, this next step in my Christian life! I’ve been in church communities since the age of 14 and, in that time, lots of people have suggested to me that I should consider ordination. By ordination, most people mean ‘collar, cassock, christenings’ or being the main Church leader. That has never felt a comfortable fit for me – and I have definitely been of the view that one member of clergy is quite enough for any household!
What I did know, quite early on in my Christian life, is that I was called to work with young people and have been much more comfortable starting new things and being part of the messier aspects of church and community life! With Andy’s discernment journey and training towards ordination for the priesthood starting in 2011, we entered a period of significant change and upheaval, moving 3 times before landing, finally in Hutton in 2017. That settled-ness has given me the space to stop and consider again what God is doing in my life.
A number of helpful conversations with significant people introduced me to the Distinctive Diaconate and I was challenged to at least explore the possibility. The oldest ‘order’ of ministry in the Church, with St Stephen listed as the first appointed deacon (and martyr) in Acts 6, deacons were called to serve the wider community, bringing the needs and hopes of all the people into the Church, through relationship, prayer and active service.
The words of the ordination service itself were also really helpful, with Deacons being described in this way:
They are to serve the community in which they are set, bringing to the Church the needs and hopes of all the people. They are to work with their fellow members in searching out the poor and weak, the sick and lonely and those who are oppressed and powerless, reaching into the forgotten corners of the world that the love of God may be made visible.
A more outwardly focused and intentionally ‘edgy’ feature of this call is becoming a significant part of the conversation about how the church responds to and grows in our post-modern and highly complex world:
As those who cross boundaries, make connections and bring people together, deacons are well placed to move into the challenging new contexts, with their network of relationships, of mission and evangelisation. (Bishop James Newcome)
Distinctive Deacons have been part of the church forever, and yet majority of those who offer for, train and are ordained serve for just one year as a Deacon, an apprenticeship almost. It becomes a transitional year, learning the ropes with an experienced Priest and eventually going on to be ordained again, this time ‘priested’, at which point they are able to preside at the Eucharist, marry people and go on onto ‘Incumbent’ status or solo Church leadership.
So, what does this all mean for me now? Without wanting to describe these next steps in negative terms, it might be helpful to describe what I’m not going to be doing!
Firstly, I’m not going to be leaving my job – I’ve been selected to train as a Self-Supporting Ordinand so will continue to work 4 days a week as Head of Mission at Christians Against Poverty.
Secondly, I’ll not be doing any formal academic training, but will take part in a range of modules and formational training tailored to being a Distinctive Deacon. I’ll train at St Mellitus College at Chelmsford Cathedral on a Thursday evening for a year and will, God willing, be ordained in Autumn 2022.*
Thirdly, I’m not going to be stopping what I am already involved in within the Parish. Daily Prayer, Rooted Community, Children’s Ministry etc. will continue to be key areas for me, where I am standing on the threshold of church and community and being a bridge and connection between the two.
Fourthly, I’m very clear that, while I’ve discerned this particular path for my life, together with Andy and affirmed by the wider Church, this call is not just for me! As a Deacon, my role is to embody the church in mission and encourage all of you in this area too!
It is a releasing and empowering ministry, standing as a reminder and a demonstration to the wider church of their call to worship, proclamation and pastoral care too. Rosalind Brown: Being a Deacon Today
Being part of this Parish, the friendship, faithfulness and encouragement that is so present here is a huge part of God’s call and I look forward to where this journey and the next few years will take us all. Thanks be to God and please pray for me!
(image of St Phoebe from Wikipedia)
*Alice has given me this explanation on Whatsapp as to why she is doing less training than is normally required, and I have permission to use it:
[17:53, 26/08/2021] Alice Smith (Chelmsford): I have an MA and PGCE so I’m not being asked to do any further accredited study. [17:58, 26/08/2021] Alice Smith (Chelmsford): Probably also worth adding that, until June I also worked as a tutor at St Mellitus, involved in formation for ordinands and lecturing youth ministry BA student. My understanding is that DD training, under the new selection characteristics will be more bespoke in time but that will depend on institution and individual background etc. I’m expecting to do modules on sacramental theology, a research project, an alternative placement and probably some modules around mission and apologetics across the year.
The Roman Catholic International Diaconate Centre has invited us to their conference next month.
Study Conference and General Assembly 2021
Titled “The Changing Face of the Diaconate in a Changing World”, the International Study Conference and the General Assembly of the IDC will take place from September 15 to 18 2021 as a zoom webinar. Find all the details on their website (scroll down)vhttp://diaconia-idc.org/#5
The webinar will address the question
How do deacons respond to ecological, economic,cultural, social and health crises in the world today?
MY MOTHER is a good, Anglican, Church-in-Wales-going woman who, when the possibility of my being ordained first arose, exhibited some nervousness. A few years ago, however, when I told her I was heading for prison ministry full-time, she said she was relieved. “Why?” I asked. “Because you are not very good at being a parish cleric,” she replied. Grateful as I professed myself to be for her candid response, my inward reaction was rather different.
I’ve since discovered, however, that my present job has given her great cause for hilarity with unsuspecting folk. When acquaintances, or friends of hers, ask after me, she wryly responds, “Oh, she’s in prison. . .”
NOT much in prison is DIY. There is very little anyone — prisoner or staff member — can actually do for themselves. Each part of the community relies on others to play its best, for the whole thing to work. There are few technologies to make our lives any easier: no direct-line phones; no Zoom.
The pandemic has enforced a return to simpler times. With no gathering for corporate worship in person, and no audio-visual kit available to provide an alternative, weekly interaction has been reduced to a simple leaflet with a short reflection on the readings of the day: something that can lift the imagination beyond the confinement of spending up to 23 hours a day in a room with a lavatory, and place the individual in the perspective of God’s wider world, if only for a while.
Each leaflet is individually named and addressed, and delivered to the door of its recipient. Woe betide me if it doesn’t arrive! But, unlike feedback at the church door on a Sunday morning, my weekly response is now based on the number of typos I managed this week. I console myself with the thought that at least the leaflet’s being read.
WHENEVER a hand-written envelope arrives with my name on it, it fills me with terror. What have I done? Whom have I offended? But the contents are sometimes a surprise. As prison chaplains, we are often involved when prisoners are at a loss about what they can do. We become what I have always seen deacons as being — bridges: individuals who can be the conduit between Church and the edges of society. In a prison context, we may be bridges between home and family; between the living and the dying.
At the start of the pandemic, the father of one of the toughest and most notorious and intimidating individuals in our community was dying in hospital. There was no way of enabling them to meet. We had offered a video call, but the hospital could not facilitate it. So we kept a contact with the hospital staff and family members via the phone. Within ten days, the father had died.
Some weeks later, an envelope arrived on my desk. The card inside it read, “. . . this can be a lonely place and I felt so much support, and good talks, and advice, and comforting. . . thank you. P.S. I was totally wrong about you and I take everything back! Ha ha!”
Without these walls
I AM hopeless at time off, although it does provide a chance to catch up with stuff — not just domestic chores, but also social media, and the connections that are harder to maintain when I’m working. In one hit, today, three separate interactions have highlighted opportunities for the distinctive diaconate — for those who understand themselves as go-betweens, with a special responsibility to cross boundaries, make connections, and bring the message of the gospel to the unchurched.
Perhaps the Holy Spirit is highlighting our need, as a Church, for people who are willing to be visibly part of its family and at the same time comfortable working with those in the marginal places of our world. I’d never thought that would be me — but perhaps also that’s what comes from being open to the unlimited possibilities of God’s good purposes.
One bread, one body
FOOD in prisons is prized, not only by prisoners, but by staff, too. If free food is on offer, the scene will resemble bees around a honeypot. Both staff and prisoners, if they want to cook for themselves, have to be innovative with the limited provisions available. I have seen some very interesting “curries” come out of kettles, and dessert creations emerge from residential-unit fridges.
As a team, we recognise the significance of food in all our faiths and cultures; so one of our big treats is to share food together — not eating our own meals alongside each other, but all of us eating the same food at the same time. Halal and kosher diets and other religious observances have all been catered for with only a microwave, toaster, and electric griddle.
When we eat together, differences are forgotten and joys are shared as we recognise in each other a communal nature and spirit. The one thing that prison ministry has taught me is that, wherever and whoever we are, we are all humans who experience the same emotions, even if, for the time being, we find ourselves laying our heads in rather different places.
The Revd Sarah Gillard-Faulkner, is a Distinctive Deacon, and the Anglican Chaplain of HM Prison Onley, Northamptonshire.
Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him,they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands,thus observing the tradition of the elders;and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it;and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.)So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not liveaccording to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?’He said to them, ‘Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, “This people honours me with theirlips,but their hearts are far from me;in vain do they worship me,teaching human precepts as doctrines.” You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.’
Then he said to them, ‘You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition!”
The world is full of strange habits that we label ‘traditions ‘. Over the past 18 months we have all introduced “new traditions”, from the use of hand sanitiser to face masks, from keeping 2m apart to not shaking hands or hugging. I read somewhere that it only takes around 8 weeks to form a habit. Which of your new-found traditions are in keeping with God? Which of our old ones do we understand? As the world slowly emerges (albeit at different rates) from this pandemic maybe now is a good time to examineour habits –new and old.
Loving God, as we gather as a scattered yet united DIAKONIA help us to focus on you. We come to you not with empty rituals, doctrines or traditions but with open hearts. King and Lord of the Church, rule over us with Justice, Equity and seek out our wickedness.As we seek your kingdom around the world, give us ears willing to listen, eyes –not only open, but looking and seeing, that our hearts are ready to receive each other, ready for a DIAKONIA of action.Help us to examineour own ways and to look to our hearts as we embrace the challenges ahead.As we are changed by you, God, let us relax and breathe safe in the knowledge that your ways are our ways. Our closing prayer is the ‘traditional words’of St Francisof Assisi:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:where there is hatred, let me sow love;where there is injury, pardon;where there is doubt, faith;where there is despair, hope;where there is darkness, light;where there is sadness, joy.O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seekto be consoled as to console,to be understood as to understand,to be loved as to love.For it is in giving that we receive,it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.Amen.
Elections are to happen shortly for the next quinquennium of the General Synod of the Church of England. I’m not standing again, having served for the last 11 years, the majority of which I’ve been the only distinctive deacon in the House of Clergy.
The whole point of the three houses of Bishops, Clergy and Laity is that the voice of laity and each order of ministry are heard. It’s therefore really important that the distinctive diaconate is represented in General Synod.
As the Church of England grapples with issues of injustice, bias and exclusion, deacons have something important to contribute as those who go out into the ‘forgotten corners of the world’ (CW Ordinal). The next Synod will prayerfully grapple with the next steps of Living in Love and Faith and with what good disagreement and mutual flourishing really look like. Surely this links strongly to our role of go-between and agents of compassion and love?
We’re all aware of current challenges in mission and evangelism facing the Church of England. As agents of mission deacons ‘accompany those searching for faith’ and have a particular ministry of nurturing and equipping other Christians to live out their baptismal calling. It is essential that the work of General Synod is grounded in God’s mission and not mere governance or guarding of financial reserves.
In non-pandemic times there are two sittings of General Synods (February and July) each year, with the occasional addition of a November Synod. Alongside the debates, there are normally small group discussions and fringe meetings. Each day at Synod includes worship, led usually by members of Synod. Members are also sometimes asked to be part of working groups or to represent the Church of England in ecumenical discussions. These invitations depend on skills and experience. There are several ways and places where a deacon can be both seen and heard.
There’s an expectation of bringing back and reporting on what has happened at each General Synod to your Diocesan Synod. Sometimes, a motion that started in a parish moves up through a Deanery and Diocesan Synod and is then taken back at debated at General Synod. These tend to be some of the best Synod debates and often focus on issues of justice and the voiceless in our society.
I can’t pretend that it is a minimal commitment and there’s a lot of reading and listening when Synod meets. The thought of speaking in the General Synod chamber in a debate might seem very daunting, but deacons are ministers of the Gospel in word and deed. The chamber is a place where we can bring to the Church ‘the needs and hopes of all the people’, ‘expectant and watchful for the signs of God’s presence, as he reveals his kingdom among us’ (CW Ordinal).
Last, but not least, as servants of God, through his Church, deacons must surely seek to be part of General Synod?
Please prayerfully consider whether you or another deacon you know might stand as a candidate in the upcoming elections.
26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go towards the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27 So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32 Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”
34 The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36 As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
The story of the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch is fascinating, not least because of what we are not told. Who was this man? Why would he travel many hundreds of miles to get from his home (ancient Nubia, now upper Sudan) to Jerusalem? As a eunuch, he was barred from the full worship of the God of the Jews — yet he came. Clearly he was devout. Moreover, he was eminently capable and trustworthy, since he was in charge of his queen’s entire treasury. He was acquainted with the Scriptures and was reading Isaiah as he was returning from his personal pilgrimage. It is difficult to imagine someone more suitable for hearing about Jesus. So “an angel of the Lord” leads Philip to the encounter on the desert road. At the Ethiopian’s invitation, Philip uses the passage from Isaiah 53 and “told him the good news about Jesus.” The telling obviously includes the need for those who believed to be baptized, for the Ethiopian asks for baptism at the first sign of water they find — probably a providential occurrence, since water is very scarce in that region.
In this compelling encounter we see how evangelism works at its best: God knows the readiness of the potential convert and leads an evangelist to the encounter. The conversation is between two people but is clearly guided by the Holy Spirit. The potential convert is ready and willing to hear, and the evangelist is willing to respond to God’s lead. Surely there are many in our world today who would like to hear “the good news about Jesus.” Their hearts are ready. Are we willing to be led to an encounter? Philip’s obedience shows us how to do it.
David Baumann has been an Episcopal priest for 47 years, mainly in the Diocese of Los Angeles and the Diocese of Springfield. He is now retired and has published nonfiction, science fiction novels, and short stories.
Emily Emmerson-Finch’s journey started when she got the bus.
Not catching a bus though: at the age of 22 she took the extraordinary decision to spend her savings buying a double decker bus and transforming it into a youth and community centre.
A church youth worker, Emily drove the bus around the York and later the Scarborough coastal areas. She hosted sessions for young people on board the bus, with the opportunity to pray afterwards, as well as drop-ins for families and youth work training to churches.
When she left to move to Newcastle in 2018, its work had touched the lives of 5,000 young people and the Bus Stop charity had been established. She remains a trustee of the charity and it is still going strong on the North Yorkshire coast.
Now she is embarking on a new journey – of training to become a distinctive deacon in the Church of England.
“The young people I met through working on the bus called it their ‘second home’ and a place where they felt that they really belonged,” she said.
“They described the bus as their church and they challenged preconceptions of what church is. I started exploring ordination four or five years ago. It was when I was on the bus that I felt that God was maybe calling me.
“But I was confused at that time as I thought then that a vicar was very much inside the church. My passion is for reaching out to people who don’t come to church.
“Then I found out about the diaconate – I am going to be trained as a distinctive deacon and my focus as a distinctive deacon can be described as being at the door of the church, welcoming people in and also encouraging the church to go out into the world.”
At our regional Deaconversations last week, we were talking about how deacons are called to be in the community ‘with’ people: alongside, listening, learning, affirming, working ‘with’.
I was asked to repost this reflection by Deacon Alison, ‘With’.
Deacon Alison Handcock
In the ordination service for deacons the word ‘with’ appears several times. Deacons are called to work with priest and bishops as ambassadors of the kingdom; to study the scriptures with the people of God.
Deacons are ordained to an outward-focussed sacramental and representative role, and called to model collaborative ways of working and to empower all the people of God in their own diaconal ministry. Some deacons work and connect between other agencies and churches as a bridge or stepping stone, linking the church with the world.
In the process of this pondering I looked up the word ‘with’ in the Gospels and was fascinated to see when it showed up. There were lots of occurrences when Jesus is with his disciples, but several too when he catches them arguing with one another. . . a stumbling block to working with.
This can be read with different voices
There’s 72 of us – how on earth does he expect us to work together? We’re all different, all passionate about our cause . . . and about our way of doing things. It would be so much easier to go alone to do things my way! It’s simpler, less complicated.
But we are called to go together. ..to ‘be’ and to ‘go’ WITH Him and WITH others to places beyond our boundaries.
But both prove difficult at times; for ‘WITH’ requires us to listen. . . to truly listen, to him and to others.
‘WITH’ forces us to let go of control and our preconceived ideas.
‘WITH’ confronts the language of comparison and coercion by respecting and rejoicing in difference.
‘WITH’ challenges us to walk slower and more intentionally, to carefully navigate choppy waters in order to see a different view.
But ‘WITH’ also gives us companionship, friends to party with and a box full of gifts, which when shared, open doors to a new future.
‘WITH’ opens up new ways of working, of hearing, of living together –where no-one is greater than the other and all are called to serve a world beyond ourselves.
‘WITH’ is counter cultural, it goes against the grain . . . take no sandals, no purse, no attitude that will hinder what Jesus says.
To ‘GO WITH’, in body or in mind, is to go beyond what we know – to discover a new shape, a new language, a new hope . . . together.
‘WITH’, calls us to represent Christ, WITH his power and authority among the least, the lost and the lonely, and to join in WITH what God is doing, among a people who have not yet learnt the language of ‘WITH’.
(Twitter image With Winner)
('With' is slightly edited for length and for ease of use)
For those of you who are deacons in ‘secular’ work, this looks very helpful: from Dr David Clark, who is a Methodist deacon and has a background in relating the Christian faith more effectively to the world of work.
The Rev Ian McIntosh is Head of the Formation Team within the Church of England’s National Ministry Team. He oversees work on lay and ordained initial ministerial formation, and as part of this has been involved in the new shared discernment process and new formation frameworks, both of which have a focus on the distinctive diaconate.
Last Saturday Ian took part in our national/international conference ‘Towards a Flourishing Diaconate’. He gave an excellent, short paper which really rejoiced our deacons’ hearts! Here it is.
Distinctive Deacon Charisms
Bishop Martin has spoken about some of the qualities that the Church will be looking for distinctive deacons to inhabit as they make their way through the discernment and formation processes in the Church of England. And those qualities are seen as they are displayed in the four domains which he has mentioned.
I have been privileged over the last year or so to have worked with Deacons, Gill Kimber and Liz Carrington, to produce some more detailed evidence statements that can be used in IME 1 and 2 to assess how well this process of inhabiting qualities is going. Some of you have contributed to this and I am also aware that Anna Sorenson’s work feeds into this process too.
What we have noticed as we have prepared these statements are four particular areas which mark out the ministry of a distinctive deacon and which we have distilled from the more detailed evidence work. They are not earth-shattering and many of you will be exemplifying them already. But they do go some way to articulating what this ministry is all about. In particular, these points might help to sharpen where this ministry is indeed distinctive and different from that of a priest.
A deacon In a world-facing engagement rooted in local communities: One of the dangers of a grid system in a discernment process is that it imposes a reality on the world which in truth is more nuanced. So, one of the domains that will be used in the new process is that of the World. But for many deacons that really needs to be defined as the local community in which so much ministry is located and towards which deacons are plainly committed. That sense of being deeply placed and situated in a locality is so fundamental to much diaconal ministry both in parochial and chaplaincy settings. It is represented in partnership work with social agencies, in being an ambassador and working for community cohesion and in spotting where God is at work in a place. This fundamental alignment and orientation to the local community as part of God’s wider world marks out a deacon and picks up much of what Rosalind Brown’s work highlights. It is reflected too in the domain of the deacon’s relationship to Christ which expresses her discipleship, rooted as it is in empathy and pastoral relationships with those who are not within the church community as much as it is in displaying a world-focussed and life transforming faith. Yes of course we recognise that deacons have roles within the church and at the margins between church and world, but it is their ministry within the local community which often marks them out.
Deacons as community educators: This charism has been at the heart of much of Ann Morisy’s work on Journeying Out and it is a deliberately nuanced phrase which plays with the concept of education both within the church community and in the wider community. One of the ways in which I think these formation grids will develop in the future is to have a much more porous line between the columns of church and world – almost all ministry needs to have that porosity especially that which is diaconal in terms of the to and fro of bridge building work. Such a designation as community educator would not be sought by all and cannot capture the whole of this ministry, but a deacon often acts as an animator within a local community, for instance in ways that not only work to provide food banks but who work to challenge the structures of society which lead to them being needed in the first place and to be the agent of God’s kingdom of justice as they advocate for the change which needs to follow. Likewise, many deacons will exercise that educative role within a local church community which seeks to listen, learn and engage with its context. A deacon may be at the heart of gathering the stories of the community which can be broken open on a Sunday morning in worship, reflected on and offered along the lines of that which has been written about from Hodge Hill in Birmingham within the work of Ruth Harley and Al Barrett. The grid tries to pull out this sense of being a community theologian by making those deep connections which learning can bring between church and world and which can then animate Christian disciples to be witnesses in that world.
Deacons as Pathfinders: The role of a deacon as a pathfinder and signpost to Christ both for individuals and for communities is one of those “hidden” charisms which the formational grids hold. It may need more articulation. But it hints at the ways in which deacons, in their wider community engagement, have opportunities to point people to Christ, to meet their curiosity about God with resources as to how they might continue to explore and to find. Pathfinders too for communities seeking to know how to be so as we emerge from a pandemic; animators of a church community who has lost its way in connecting with those who live around its crumbling building. Deacons as pathfinders within the Church to remind the whole church of its diaconal character, to be a living icon of Christ, to engage liturgically in pointing the congregation to Christ found as much in the presence of the poor as in bread and wine. This is about a hospitality and openness to the world.
All these require an Imagination and Agility: These are crucial aspects of all ministry in times when inherited narratives are either not known or need re-interpreting. Flexibility to spot and see where God is at work and to have the courage to follow are inherent in these grids.
DIAKONIA World Federation is exactly that: it comprises a federation of diaconal ministries from different Christian denominations, an ecumenical organisation which keeps us in touch with each other so that we can learn, grow and develop together through shared experience and wisdom.
DIAKONIA is split up into global regional groups. DOTAC (sorry about all these acronyms!) is Diakonia of the Americas and the Caribbean, and they are running a series of seminars on Mondays in May.
May 3: Reverend Doctor Carlos Emilio Ham. “Diakonia in Times of the COVID Pandemic: Are We Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution?”
May 10: Sister Dottie Almoney. “Reclaiming the “D” Word –Diakonia in the Church”
May 17: Deacon Dionata Rodrigues de Oliveira. “Brazilian Perspectives on the Diaconate:Empowerment, Diaconal Methodology and Transformation”
May 24: Reverend Doctor Margaret Ann Crain: “Full and Equal Order: 25 Years of the United Methodist Order of Deacon”
May 31: Reverend Canon Deacon Michael Jackson: “The Diaconate: Seeking an Ecumenical Consensus”
The conference is free, but registration is requested.
IF YOU HAVE REGISTERED, AND CAN’T FIND YOUR ZOOM CODE, LOOK FOR AN EMAIL FROM ANGLICAN NETWORK OF DISTINCTIVE DEACONS, AND SCROLL DOWN … AND DOWN!
Here are some details:
A Message from Anglican Network of Distinctive Deacons:
We are delighted that you have booked for the ‘Virtual’ Deacons on the Move 2021 conference and we look forward to seeing you soon. Please read this email carefully. It contains:
1. Programme details and timings
2. Joining instructions
a. Changing your display name
b. Joining information
c. Zoom link
3. Biographies of Speakers and Panellists
4. Additional information and contact details
1. Programme Details & Timings
9am Zoom opens for log on
9.30 Welcome: Deacon Gill Kimber
9.40 Morning prayer
9.55 Introduction by Bishop James Newcome
10am Session 1: Bishop Martin Seeley
10.50 Coffee break
11.10 Session 2 with breakout groups: Bishop Martin
12noon Panel Q & A
12.30 Summary and closing prayer – Bishop James
2. Joining Instructions
a. Please change your Display name
People will be joining our conference from all over England and beyond. To help us know where you are joining from and in what capacity, if possible, please change your Zoom display name to show your Name, Role, Diocese, Country. (Eg Fred Smith, Dcn, London, UK)
For role abbreviations we suggest:
Deacon = Dcn
Director of Ordinands/Ministry= DDO
Deacon Enquirer = Enq.
How to changeyour zoomdisplay name:
In Zoom go to ‘Settings’ (symbolized as a cog wheel) – click on ‘Profile’ – click on ‘Edit my profile’ – make changes to ‘Display Name’ –save changes
b. EarlyLog on
With well over one hundred people having registered for today’s conference it will take a while to admit everyone. Zoom will open at 9am. Please join as soon as you can after this time.
c. Zoom Link
If you have already registered, you will have received an email with the zoom link. If you haven’t yet registered but would like to, please do so, and the links will be sent to you.
IF YOU HAVE REGISTERED, AND CAN’T FIND YOUR ZOOM CODE, LOOK FOR AN EMAIL FROM ANGLICAN NETWORK OF DISTINCTIVE DEACONS, AND SCROLL DOWN … AND DOWN!
3. Our speakers and panellists:
At the end of the morning there will be the opportunity to put questions to our panel. During the conference please use the chat facility to send questions for the panel directly to Co-host Jess Foster.
Our panellists are:
The Right Reverend Martin Seeley – Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich
The Right Reverend James Newcome – Bishop of Carlisle
Deacon Liz Carrington
The Rev Ian McIntosh, Head of the Formation Team within the Church of England’s National Ministry Team
Joy Gilliver, Head of Discernment in the National Ministry Team
4. Additional information and contact details:
CONFERENCE FEEDBACK: please send feedback from today’s conference along with any ideas or suggestions for future conferences by email to email@example.com
Its fair to say that within the Anglican Church, the diaconate is a ministerial order which is unique indeed. It is for many, a transitional place where they move from the diaconate to priesthood. But there are a few, like myself, who are called to it permanently. All who are called to ordained ministry are to be Deacons, but few remain distinctively so.
So what are we all called to? Well, the ordinal states:
Deacons are ordained so that the people of God may be better equipped to make Christ known. Theirs is a life of visible self-giving. Christ is the pattern of their calling and their commission; as he washed the feet of his disciples, so they must wash the feet of others.
The biblical setting out of this ministry is most clearly seen in Acts chapter 6, where we find Stephen and six others chosen to serve the widows of the community at table. And in his first letter to Timothy, St Paul describes the attributes of one who is called to this service.
The word Deacon comes from the Greek ‘diakonia’ which means literally ‘to serve’. That service is not only to the Church of God, but also to the wider community around it. At my ordination the preacher talked of the Deacon as the “go between” role; it is the order that goes between church and world, being the living presence of the church in the community in which deacons live.
The Deacon should be the eyes and the ears of the local church in a particular area. This almost suggests being a really nosey person! However, the Deacon should be observing, engaging, interpreting, praying and bringing the needs they see in the wider community to the attention of the Body of Christ.
For me, the diaconate is a bit of a chameleon of all the ordained expressions of ministry we have in the church. It can be the visible presence of Christ within and without the walls of the church community, and it seeks to bridge the divide between them. It is and always will be the original pioneering ministry.
Currently, I’m serving as a prison chaplain, so I seek to serve the people, both staff and prisoners, in whatever way is deemed right and proper for their needs at any given time. I am able to be a bridge, to build a way across the wall and to heal divisions, to bridge the gap that exists between mainstream life and the church, between resident and family, between organisation and person. To sit alongside people in their isolation from the world.
These are the joys of the diaconal calling. To sit with people where they are, how they are and in whatever need they have. The original Deacons were called to serve the table of the widows. Deacons are called today to serve wherever they find themselves, through the proclamation of God’s word, teaching and care.
Deacon Sarah Gillard-Faulkner
Published by the Additional Curates Society, April 2021
Then I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?” (Apocalypse 5:2)
We encounter many figures in the Apocalypse who are mysterious at best and confusing at worst, or commonly misunderstood. Angels might seem to be one of the more easily understood figures of the Apocalypse, but we should not jump to such conclusions so quickly.
When reading early Christian texts like the Apocalypse, it is a rule of thumb that the animals and monsters we meet are there to stand in for people that the original readers might recognize – for instance, Roman emperors like Nero. Angelic beings also sometimes appear as human figures – like the “young men in white” who announce that Christ is risen to the women who meet them at Christ’s tomb. But figures who are introduced as angels – who are they?
The angels in the Apocalypse can be understood to be the deacons, who serve at the eternal celebration of the Eucharist before the Throne of God, just as earthly deacons at the celebrations of the Eucharist were commonly understood to be angels, the “messengers” who announce the Gospel and the prayer intentions of the community, and who make other liturgical announcements (such as “Let us bend our knees” or “Arise! Stand upright!” or “Bow your heads unto the Lord”) and who swing the censers-thuribles of smoking frankincense. The angels in the Apocalypse make similar announcements, such as calling forth the one worthy to open the scroll, and offering the incense that fills the air around the heavenly altar and the Throne of God. The angels-deacons of the Apocalypse tell the visionary author what to write and when to stand up or step forward.
The angel-deacons in the Apocalypse are also wearing vestments similar to those that earthly deacons wear during the celebration of the Eucharist: splendid tunics and sashes/stoles. (The stoles that earthly deacons wear are sometimes compared by early Christian liturgical commentaries with the wings of the angels, especially when the stoles are tied to one side to make the distribution of Holy Communion easier.)
Burning incense is one of the most important things angels-deacons do. The smell of incense is more than aromatherapy; it is profoundly theological. The sense of smell is an affirmation that we have bodies. Christ in his Incarnation came to save our entire being – body, soul, mind, and spirit, not just our intellects. The classical approach to Christian worship provides an embodied approach to worship.
Angelic figures in the Apocalypse are also sometimes compared to the eunuchs who function as imperial officials that keep the imperial system running. When the Apocalypse was written, eunuchs and angels were both thought to be asexual, beardless adults who served the imperial-heavenly court in a variety of ways – messengers, announcers, stenographers, record-keepers. Typically, eunuchs could not be ordained deacons but they could become monks.
Deacons! Angels! They coordinate the actions of the Eucharist on earth and in heaven, standing before the Throne and altar. They tell us what to do and when to do it. They burn the fragrant incense that nourishes the righteous and drives the devils away. They assist with the distribution of Holy Communion that also nourishes the faithful. They are one of the ways we unite what happens on earth with what happens eternally.
Deacon Paul Hollingworth shares his vocational journey, through ups and downs, divorce, remarriage, Roman Catholic and then Anglican ordination. Thanks, Paul! It’s always inspiring to learn how God has been at work in someone’s life, leading them to the diaconate.
My Deacon Journey
by Rev Deacon Paul Hollingworth, Romsey Abbey, diocese of Winchester
Over the past ten and a half years in which I have been an ordained Reverend Deacon, I am often asked what a deacon is, and why am I not a priest? Well, here is my story in which, I pray, you will find some answers and inspiration.
My journey started at eleven years old, when I was the only member of my immediate family to be confirmed in the Church of England at St Augustine’s, Gillingham, Kent. I went on to become a member of the choir at my local church of St Barnabas, Gillingham. Through this early ministry in the Church I started to grow, and realise faith was becoming very important in my life.
But, as happens a lot today, my teenage years led me astray, and I drifted away from attending church. But my faith never really diminished, as from my confirmation I was aware of something nagging me to do more. I did not become aware of what this was until I reached my mid-thirties. So read on and find out what.
By twenty-one I was married to my first wife and had two wonderful sons, but this marriage was not to last, and we were divorced after seven years. This was a major turning point in my life, as I started a new life and tried to make sense of what the past had meant. For me, I quickly learnt that although I was not at that point a ‘practising Christian’, my faith had helped me through a traumatic time, and the nagging feeling I’d had in my youth returned. However, I still did not fully realise what this was, other than it felt as if someone was almost constantly telling me to open my heart and listen.
For the next couple of years I struggled with what it was to be single again, and moved back in with my parents. During this time my parents supported me, and especially my mother who I was very close to. My mum had a strong faith, and that I believe is where my faith developed from. My father was an atheist and unfortunately stopped my mum from going to church, although she read the bible every day.
After a couple of years I met Mary, who was a divorcee with two beautiful daughters, and we were married after two years of going out with each other. We both felt that we wanted God in our marriage, and at that time only the local Methodist Church in Gillingham would marry us as we were both divorcees. From this moment on my path was set to start my journey of becoming a deacon.
Mary and I, after a short stay in Chorley in Lancashire, moved to Romsey in 1986. Mary had an upbringing as a Roman Catholic and wanted to start going back to church. This was the moment I realised how much I had missed Church, and the nagging in my soul started in earnest. We agreed to find a RC Church and go together to worship. This was St Joseph’s in La Sagesse Convent, and at that time the priest was Father Louis Cotterall.
The community, especially the nuns, welcomed us and I very quickly became involved in ministry within St Joseph’s, from moving furniture for the nuns, to reading scripture at Mass on a Sunday. My Christian faith continued to grow, and eventually during Mass one Sunday I got this massive feeling I had to talk to the priest, as God was calling me for something and I had finally opened my heart and listened.
From my discussion with Fr Louis, it became evident that I might be seeking ordination, and in the RC Church this meant as a Permanent Deacon. But before we could even consider this, Mary and I would have to go through a marriage tribunal to see if our previous marriages could be annulled, as this would then allow me to become a Roman Catholic, and our marriage could be solemnized in the RC Church.
This process took two years, which I found very difficult, as my faith had grown to such an extent I now knew God was calling me to ordained ministry. In the end, both our previous marriages were annulled, which opened the door to me becoming a Roman Catholic. My journey towards ordination as a deacon began in earnest. I had a year of discernment led by the Franciscan nuns at their convent in Sway. This was followed by three years of formation training through St John’s seminary at Wonersh near Guildford, which Mary and I attended one weekend in four.
This all culminated in my ordination as a Permanent Deacon on 4th July 2010 in Portsmouth RC Cathedral.
About a year after my ordination, I started to question the RC Church’s teachings as some did not sit comfortably with me and felt very exclusive. This was against my developing ministry that God had called me to, which was to look after the sick, dying and those on the margins, regardless of their faith or none. I struggled with this for several years, and eventually it led to seeking my return to the Church of England as a Deacon. Romsey Abbey community, the ministry team and Bishop Tim welcomed me with open arms. For me it felt, and still does, that I have returned ‘home’; and on 6th January 2017 the Archbishop of Canterbury accepted my RC ordination and give me my Permission to Officiate (PTO).
At first the Church of England guided me towards becoming a priest, but after some months I realised this was not what God had called me for, I was and am a Deacon. So you may ask, how a deacon is different to being a priest?
The first thing to understand is that there is a three-fold ordained ministry in the Church of England, Deacon, Priest and Bishop, and each is a distinctive but interwoven ministry. Having said this, both priest and bishop are first ordained deacons as a foundation of their ministries. A deacon at ordination is told “Theirs is a life of visible self-giving. Christ is the pattern of their calling and their commission; as he washed the feet of his disciples, so they must wash the feet of others. Searching out the poor and weak, the sick and lonely…..into the forgotten corners of the world.” Therefore, a Deacon is a humble servant reflecting Christ the servant to all, and normally comes out of and serves the community they are in.
At their ordination, Priests “are called to be servants and shepherds…..to proclaim the word of the Lord….to be messengers, watchman and stewards of the Lord…they are to bless the people in God’s name.” And so Priests are shepherds and therefore have further responsibilities to the parish they are sent.
Although Deacon and Priest each have a focus that varies from each other, we work together as a team in doing God’s work. The main things for me as a deacon are that, yes, I do have liturgical roles within the Abbey, to assist the priest and serve the congregation; but my main ministry is outside the building taking God to everyone, especially showing Christ the humble servant to those in need.
So you can see that a life’s journey can take many turns, but each one needs us to learn and understand what it means in our life. All that you have read about my journey has made me who I am: my mum’s strong faith, understanding the pain of divorce, the love of Mary and the absolute unconditional love of God. All this has given me the grace to take Christ in my heart and mind to everyone I meet, and to have the gifts of empathy to meet people wherever they are on their own journey.
Another thought-provoking post from Diaconal Ministries Canada, by Erin White.
Read: Acts 4:23-31
When we step into the place of prayer, it is often to ask the Lord to change circumstances. We pray for healing for someone who is sick, comfort for someone who is grieving and for the Lord to change the heart of someone who is walking away from God’s kingdom. Prayer changes things, and the Lord is able to move in people’s lives and circumstances because we pray.
But prayer does not just change a situation. It will also change who we are so that the Lord can use us to be his change agents in this world. God’s word is a double-edged sword, and it works on us just as much as on the situation we are praying for.
It can merely be the Holy Spirit’s action, giving us a more profound love for the person we are praying for. But it can be a more profound effect. In Acts 4, Peter and John had been in prison because they had been speaking about Jesus. The religious leaders threatened them and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.
Once the leaders released Peter and John, these apostles gathered with the believers to report on what had happened and then they moved into a time of prayer. They prayed about the persecution and discrimination they faced. You would think that the focus of their prayers would be to stop the persecution and to protect themselves from future imprisonment. But instead, they prayed that they, not the religious leaders, would be changed.
Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. (Acts 4:29)
The believers pray for great boldness to be able to speak. They ask the Lord to perform signs and wonders and for them to have opportunities to talk about Jesus.
What is the role of prayer in your diaconate?
How have you seen God move in big ways; in your life, your diaconate, and/or your church?
The religious leaders were intentionally seeking to limit the believers’ ability to talk about Jesus. They were effectively blocking the advancement of God’s kingdom. They were seeking to stop the gospel message of freedom through Jesus Christ. But instead of praying for the blockages to be removed and for things to be easy, the believers prayed for the boldness to speak and witness about Jesus, even amid difficulties and persecution.
Their prayers were not “Change this bad situation, Lord,” but “Change us, so that we can be effective in this situation!” How many times do we pray, asking the Lord to make things easy for us, instead of praying for the strength, wisdom and empowerment to go through challenging or difficult circumstances?
God heard and answered their prayer in such a tangible way that the building was shaken. The believers were filled with the Spirit and spoke boldly. They still faced persecution and jail time (Acts 5:18), but the Holy Spirit empowered them to deal with those situations. The Lord changed the situation by empowering the believers to speak boldly about Jesus, and the result was that the gospel message spread and many of the Jews put their faith in Jesus Christ as their Messiah.
What challenging circumstances do you face today?
Are there places you want the Lord to step into and change?
Spend some time in prayer, asking the Lord about how he may want to change you to become the change agent for the situation.
Prayer changes things, and often the first thing that needs to be changed is our hearts.
The Scenic Route (optional)
“It is not so important what happens to us; it is more important what happens in us.”
Pick a day this week and read through Psalm 51, a psalm of David. This Psalm was written after Nathan, the prophet, came to David revealing his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband (see 2 Samuel 12:1-13).
After reading, reflect on the following questions.
What was David’s prayer? What was he asking of God?
What did he recognize was needed in himself for God to work?
What does he request of God in vs. 13-17? What outcome does he hope for?
David did not ask for a change in his circumstances but cried out “Lord, change me!” He prayed for a clean heart and a right spirit. David asked God to change him and clean him up so that he could be a blessing to others.
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
I’m so pleased that Deacon Liz Carrington has made it possible for many more of us to listen to, enjoy and profit from Bishop John’s leadership on the rich subject of prayer. Bishop John was the speaker for the Diocese of York’s annual distinctive deacons’ conference: this year, it could not be at Wydale Hall, but as it was on zoom it was recorded and made available to the rest of us.
Deacon Liz and Deacon Dot Hicks have written an introduction:
This year our annual weekend gathering at the Diocese of York’s Wydale Hall retreat centre had to be conducted online instead. Although we were not able to meet together in the usual way Zoom does bring its own blessings through the possibility of a wider reach. We welcomed thirty one participants; deacons, ordinands and people in discernment, with half from dioceses beyond York.
Rev David Mann, DDO, opened the meeting and welcomed The Right Revd John Pritchard, retired Bishop of Oxford, as our speaker. Deacon Liz Carrington led the opening prayers, followed by a brief introduction to the work of Bishop John. His well-known books on intercessory prayer have been an inspiration to many.
Session One – The Story So Far
Bishop John started by quoting Jesus with the words “Abide in me as I abide in you” (John 15.4-5) as the heart of prayer and invited us to think of our own experience. What were our first memories of prayer? Who was involved? What sort of things did we pray for? What type of prayers were they? Perhaps it was transactional prayer, when we were asking for something; for example when a child’s says “I want you to look after Mummy. If I pray, can I have the answer I want?” Or maybe it was thankful prayer for the good things that happen in our lives and the people around us.
We were invited the ponder these questions in a few moments of quiet.
Bishop John stressed the importance of finding ways to pray that speak to us and that we can make our own.
The ACTS method of praying
A – is for adoration, where we praise God for his creation
C – is for confession, our regrets. God does not need our confession, he has already forgiven us, but we need the cleansing of confession.
T – is for thanksgiving, throughout the day.
S – is for supplication, to meet our deep concerns.
We should talk with God as if he were a friend.
Bishop John described prayer as a natural response to life, and gave us another striking image, asking us to think of sun bathing. The sun is always there. A sunflower turns its face towards and follows it throughout the day. It draws its life from the sun. That is what prayer is. God is the light of our lives, we must turn our faces to the sun to draw His life to us. “The sun is up early waiting to shine on us if we draw back the curtains.
Using the word PRAY was another suggestion.
Prepare, light a candle, play some music
Remember, things that you are thankful for
Ask, for those you are praying for
Yourself, offer yourselves to God
Other ways to pray could include Celtic daily prayer, quiet time with bible reading notes, and online prayer such as ‘Sacred Space’. These and many others are means of abiding with God.
Bishop John commented on the varied settings and circumstances that prompt prayer for example praying within a special relationship, or in no special time or place but just getting on with the day, glancing at God and chatting about what we see and hear around us. Things we notice can trigger a meaningful image that draws us into prayer, for example waiting for water to become warm. Prayer needs time, time to be present, to prepare and be quiet.
The following books were suggested:
Stephen Cottrell Prayer: Where to start and how to keep going 2020 How to Pray – alone, with others, at any time, in any place. 2010
Pete Greig How to Pray: A Simple Guide for Normal People 2019
John Pritchard How to Pray: A Practical Handbook 2002
The Intercessions Resource Book 2018
David Wilkinson. When I Pray What Does God Do? 2015
Session Two – Moving On
In his second session Bishop John talked about wanting more. He gave us an image of standing on a dry river bank. Only by wading in can we be transformed. He paused for us to consider which season we were in and whether we were praying in a way that was life giving for us rather than following the ‘ought to’ approach. Where were we most alive, most connected; how was God present and what were we learning?
Moving on in prayer will lead us to greater stillness and silence. Silence allows us to attend to others and turn to God and Bishop John suggested we might try Lectio Divina (Holy Reading), to mediate on a text and move beyond words into contemplation.
God is ever present during our day but the practice of Examen allows us to notice that reality, review its significance, and respond. Music, art and poetry are sensory pathways to prayer.
Session Three Praying With Others.
In the third session, about helping others to pray, Bishop John suggested using prayer groups, short courses on prayer, a sermon series on prayer, intercession workshops, contemplative church services, quiet day and retreats, pilgrimage, and festivals of prayers.
Lastly, he spoke of the spiritual character of the schools of the different Saints and where we might fit.
St Peter shares a robust ‘get on with it’ characteristic ‘ with a recognisable structure. Books of prayers would fit this approach.
St Paul, the thinker, has a drive to perfectionism and wants to make intellectual sense. He is capable of deep, and sometimes mystical, response to God.
St John is traditional with a special relationship with Jesus. Prayer is more reflective, seeking, reaching out and longing. Prayer needs space and time.
St Francis brings a love of nature and people which appeals to those who want a simpler faith.
Most of us will fit into one or two of these approaches.
The day concluded with a discussion in groups about Chaplaincy.
Bishop John had given us something to look forward to when he sent us these words in advance:-
“For a Christian, to pray is to breathe. It’s essential to staying alive. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Nor does it mean we’ve ever ‘got it sorted.’ As deacons we all know our need of help if we’re to breathe deeply and to help others to breathe with us. So this day will be given to the vital experience of prayer, both for ourselves and for others. We’ll ponder and pray, think and practise. And I hope we’ll talk, laugh, and perhaps take some new things away.” We certainly did – especially the inspiring imagery.
Our thanks are due to Bishop John and to all who contributed to a wonderfully enriching day.
Last year we had to postpone our deacons’ national conference because of the pandemic. When we rebooked it for this year, we never dreamed that we would still be in the grip of the pandemic, and still unable to meet face to face. So we have had to cancel the face-to-face conference: but undeterred, we deacons powered through and we can bring you really good news!
First, if you’ve booked, full refunds will automatically be made to you, and should appear in your account over the next few days.
The best news is that our conference will now take place online on Zoom instead, and for half a day rather than a full day.
Same date: Saturday April 17th 2021
Same keynote speaker: Bishop Martin Seeley
Same inspiration: ‘Towards a flourishing diaconate’
Same start time 9.30am …but different finishing time 12.45pm
…. so shorter journey time: just settle down in your favourite chair and power up your pc/laptop/tablet!
A programme will be posted on Eventbrite once it has been finalised.
The Virtual ‘Deacons on the Move 2021’ event will be held on zoom and will be free of charge.
‘VIRTUAL Deacons on the Move 2021’ organising group
Nb For those who booked accommodation at the Queen’s Foundation please contact them directly at firstname.lastname@example.org arrange a full refund.If you have booked elsewhere, please get in touch with your accommodation provider.
Acts 6 describes the establishment of the role of deacon within the community of believers. A dispute over meeting the needs of the Greek and Hebrew widows led to the leadership making the decision to find people who could meet the needs within the community.
The leaders looked for people who were described as being full of the Holy Spirit. They found Stephen who is described as being “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5)
The twelve decided that they needed to find seven people who would meet the practical needs of the community. These seven needed to be ‘qualified’ to serve in this position.
What qualities would you have looked for in these seven?
Now compare your list to what the apostles came up with in Acts 6:3.
What are the similarities? The differences?
Filled with the Holy Spirit
The fact that the apostles specifically looked for people who were full of the Holy Spirit suggests that some of the congregation were not! So were some only half full? Were others empty? Just exactly what did the apostles mean when they looked for people full of the Holy Spirit?
When we look at the original language, the English word “full” is translated with several Greek words. These Greek words all have slightly different nuanced meanings. In Acts 6, the word used for full describes a state of being full rather than the act of being filled.
The Apostles were looking for people who demonstrated by their lives and character that the Holy Spirit was at work within them. The Holy Spirit was doing the work of sanctification within them, conforming them to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29).
Take a moment as a group to discuss together what it means to be full of the Holy Spirit. Give an example of where you’ve seen this ‘quality’ in another person.
How do we make sure that we are full of the Holy Spirit?
There are people in our lives who we know well, and there are some who we would describe as just being an acquaintance. When the apostles were looking to appoint deacons, they did not want people who were just acquainted with the Holy Spirit. They wanted people who knew him well!
It is important to remember that the Holy Spirit is a person. He is the third person of the trinity. As such, he is not a force or power. R. A. Torrey, American evangelist, pastor, and educator, said:
“If you think of the Holy Spirit as a mere influence or power, then our thought will constantly be, ‘How can I get hold of the Holy Spirit and use it?’ But, if you think of Him in the biblical way, as a person of divine majesty and glory, your thought will be ‘how can the Holy Spirit get hold of me and use me?”
So the question is not how full of the Holy Spirit am I, but how much of my life is surrendered to the Holy Spirit? The apostles were looking for people within the congregation who were surrendered to God. They wanted people growing in relationship with the Father and the Son through the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
When we look at our personal lives how much are we allowing the Holy Spirit to change us, sanctify us, and make us more like Jesus? What kind of relationship do we have with the Holy Spirit?
How is that evident in our diaconate?
So how do we get to know the Holy Spirit?
God’s Word tells us about the Holy Spirit. Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, the Spirit is shown to be actively at work within our world. As we read Scripture, we get to know a lot about the Holy Spirit. While that is important and necessary, it does not bring us into a relationship.
Just as in a human relationship, a relationship with the Holy Spirit develops through spending time together. We need to spend time with Holy Spirit, and we do that through prayer. Prayer is a supernatural gift from God that brings us into a close relationship with God the Father through the Holy Spirit. As we enter into prayer, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal who he is, who the Father is, and who Jesus is. Then the Spirit will do just that!
We need to give the Spirit some space to speak to us. This might mean we need to pause and spend time listening to Him rather than just telling God what we want.
The Scenic Route:(optional)
Below is a prayer exercise that may help to create a space where you can grow deeper in your relationship with the Holy Spirit. Encourage your fellow deacons to do this as well and help keep each other accountable. If you agree, share your experiences. This can also be done individually for those wishing to go deeper.
Take 15 minutes out of your day. Find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed. For some, that could be in a comfortable chair in your living room. For others, it might take place as part of a walk outside in a local park. Fifteen minutes may seem like a long time, but in reality, it is just 1% of your day!
For the first 5 minutes, focus upon praising God for who he is and what he has done. You could make a list of his attributes as a way to stay focused.
For the next 5 minutes, move into a time of prayer. Ask the Lord for the things you need (petition) and others’ needs (intercession).
Then in the final 5 minutes, ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you about your relationship with God, and then listen to what He has to say. He may give you the impression of Scripture to look up or a picture for you to think about.
If a distracting thought comes, simply choose to ignore it and return to asking the Spirit to speak. It may be helpful to write down in a journal what you hear the Holy Spirit say.
Note:This might not be easy at first, and some days will be more challenging than others. But as you persevere and allow the Holy Spirit to speak, you will begin to grow in your relationship. The Spirit will bring words of encouragement as well as point out areas where change needs to happen. He will highlight areas of God’s Word to be attentive to. And the Spirit will begin a change within.
You will find that you are as Stephen was, full of the Holy Spirit, and will be able to bring wisdom, faith, and grace into the ministry situations in which the Lord places you as a deacon.
Deacon Jane Ellis, from the Episcopal Church of the Ascension (Birmingham, Alabama) writes a weekly blog. With Ash Wednesday coming up this week, she pondered how she would observe Lenten discipline.
Ash Wednesday is next week February 17, 2021. As we move into Lent let us take into our hearts these words from the Gospel of Mark “This is my son, listen to him.”
When I read this today, I immediately knew what I was going to do for my Lenten discipline this year. I am not giving up my two chocolate Kisses that I have each evening. I am not giving up the glass of wine I so enjoy with a meal during the week. I am not going to walk further each of the 40 days, nor am I giving up cursing. I won’t be eating just fish on Fridays, or even giving up red meat on any other day during Lent.
NO! I am going to ramp up the intensity of listening for Jesus in my daily life. This spiritual practice will require of me the carving out of time and focus to be still, to be present, to tune-in myself to being open, to listening for the still small voice.
To ‘listen to him’ involves the spiritual practice of obedience. Not just in the ritual of prayer but by being present to the holy in everything. When we can learn to see Jesus in everything, and in all of our lives then we will enter into the process of metamorphosis. That slow change of transformation, from who we are to whom God wants us to be.
When Jesus went up on the mountain he was authenticated by his heavenly Father. Right in front of his three, inner-most disciples Peter, James and John, Jesus was changed, morphed from being a man of holiness to being the holy son of God, Emmanuel, God with us.
Standing there on sacred ground surrounded by Moses and Elijah, who represented the law and the prophets, and his three beloved disciples, whose shoulders the future of spreading the Good News stood, Jesus was transfigured. The face of Jesus became dazzling white, filled with the divine light of love and God said, ‘this is my beloved son; listen to him.’
As Christians this is our charge: listen to him. But you know sometimes we may not like what we hear. Jesus may instruct, or enlighten us to look deeper within ourselves, to be more honest within ourselves. What we see may indeed need to be changed, morphed even from old to new. The key is to place ourselves again and again in his presence so we too will experience a change in how we love, how we care for others, and how we care for ourselves. Have faith that God will give us what we need when we need it.
God is still coming among us even today, calling us to mountaintop experiences, beckoning us to transformation by his dazzling light and love. All he asks is that we listen. And, if we commit to the spiritual practice of listening to and for him, if we commit to habitually walk with him, dwell with him, rest with him then I believe Jesus will reveal his desire for us, he will come to us and when he does, he will morph and change us into who we are called to be.
When we focus on Jesus the divine inner spirit, of God in us, we will bring about an inner transformation, a metamorphosis of the old self to a new self and we will begin slowly to become more Jesus like. So, let this be our Lenten prayer: come Lord Jesus have thine own way, thou are the potter, I am the clay, mold me and make me after thy will, while I am waiting, yielded and sill.
I invite you to join in this spiritual practice of listening during this Lenten season. Lord knows there has been too much noise over this last year, so I urge you to be still, open your ears, open your heart.
Diaconal Ministries Canada is not episcopalian, but their clarity of understanding of the deacon’s ministry, and the practicality with which they work it out, make their resources inspiring and helpful. Here in the Church of England we have a long way to go, to educate our church into understanding that the diaconal form of leadership is collaborative and enabling. DMC really get it!
They see eight tasks for deacons to exercise their spiritual leadership, and here’s a taster:
1. EQUIP AND MOBILIZE THE CHURCH
It is the primary role of the Deacon to remind God’s Church that each person is called to diaconal work, according to his/her gifts and abilities.
Regularly communicate to the membership on diaconal work being done, future plans, and how they can get involved.
2. LEAD AS EQUALS
“By His Spirit God equips… leaders so that believers may grow in faith, develop disciplined Christian living, serve others in selfless love, and share with all the good news of salvation… Deacons and elders, together with the ministers, are responsible for the general administration of the church.” This ‘principle of parity’ ensures FULL representation of the church.
Given the different gifts, responsibilities, and mandates of Deacons, Elders and Pastors, it is important that all three be represented at Classis and Synod meetings in order to listen, pray, and assist in the hearing of God’s voice and the leading of His church.
Deacon Michael has kindly shared this revision of his previous study with us, a very valuable piece of work in an area of study where resources are so few. Canon D. Michael Jackson is Deacon at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada and the longest-serving deacon in the Anglican Church of Canada. Find the whole paper here
The author has been a deacon since 1977 and is the longest-serving deacon in the Anglican Church of Canada. For many years, he was challenged about why he was a deacon: “When are you becoming a real minister?” “When are you being ordained?” “Why are you not going on to the priesthood?” While Anglicans have traditionally paid lip service to the three orders of ordained ministry of bishop, priest or presbyter, and deacon, in practice they have more often been in the situation described by a preacher at an ordination of “transitional”deacons in the 1980s in the Episcopal Church in the United States:
[The preacher] knows full well that this person in front of him, now being ordained with such solemnity, will to all intents and purposes have to go through it all again in six months or a year’s time to be ordained as a priest. Of course we say, “Once a deacon, always a deacon,” but this is pious fiction. The ordination of a deacon, as at present practised, is usually little more than a farce.1
The diaconate has evolved immensely in the generation since those words were written, not only in the Anglican Communion but in the Roman Catholic, Lutheran and other churches, where the “vocational” diaconate has come to the fore and proved its value. Changed understandings of diakonia, diaconate and deacons have very much influenced this evolution. Our purpose is to introduce the renewed diaconate to those who may not be familiar with it, and provide helpful information to deacons, diaconal candidates, and indeed all interested in the Church’s ministry.
The ecumenical dimension of the diaconate is prominent in The Diaconate Renewed. The Anglican Diocese of Qu’Appelle entered into a covenant relationship with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Regina in 2011 and the diaconate was very much on the agenda, culminating in the conference held in 2018. In 2020 the covenant expanded, to include all jurisdictions of the Anglican, Roman Catholic, Ukrainian Catholic, and Evangelical Lutheran Churches in the Province of Saskatchewan. The four churches, locally and worldwide, share a historical experience of the order of deacons and now share in its renewal.
A detailed study of the liturgical role of the deacon is provided in a separate paper, The Deacon in the Worshipping Community, also available on the website of the Diocese of Qu’Appelle.
All Saints Day, 2020
1 Reginald Fuller, quoted in James M. Barnett, The Diaconate: A Full and Equal Order, revised edition (Valley Forge PA: Trinity Press International, 1995), xi.
I have not come across social futurism before, but I found this post on Word on the Streets. It is so helpful and practical I decided to share it, as different churchmanships can take these principles and apply them differently to their own contexts. (Ed)
Mal Fletcher, a social futurist, recently spoke in an online session with church leaders organised by Everything. In the discussion he was asked, “Many of us have found we’ve had a lot more people viewing online than we had attending on a Sunday prior to lockdown. So whilst we’ve had a lot of engagement, engaging viewers to disciples is a skill that for many of us are somewhat floundering at at this point in time. We’re not quite sure how to do that. Thoughts and comments?”. His response was as follows:
I think the most important thing is to keep in the back of our minds, the idea that the transition from cyber church to real church is not necessarily a smooth or fluid one for most people.
Most people who see us online have gone there looking for answers or are just curious during this period, looking for hope perhaps. They have not gone to that session with the idea that “I would like to go to a physical church today, but I can’t.”. So we have to go into this question with the understanding that we must transition people gradually from one to the other.
For many people, it’s not going to be as simple as saying, “We’ve done digital church. Now we can gather again. So please come along to our physical church.”. We will find probably 80% of those people will never come straight into physical church. So I’m suggesting to pastors something like this:
Firstly, if we start off with our digital services live streamed or pre-recorded, which is what many churches do now, then the next stage beyond that might be that we invite people from that service to a digital Q&A. This is where, after the service, one hour after this service, you can go to Zoom. Here’s the link. And you’re going to be part of a group of people who can ask the preacher or the pastor, any question you like about what he or she said today. That’s very attractive by the way, Q&A is hugely attractive to people as we know, especially in this age.
Secondly, move then from Q&A into perhaps an Alpha style general introduction to faith. So if you came along to the Q&A, maybe you’d like to explore Christianity a bit more.
Thirdly, go from that into an online connect group. Same thing we do when we come together physically, but we’re doing it online. Then they might be ready for a face-to-face connect group or in time, offline weekly services. At least that gives the opportunity for someone to say that the church did everything it could. It gave me every opportunity to move from being a cyber follower or just an interested party online to a really engaged, discipled Christian.
It’s so important we just don’t assume, make a false assumption that people, because they’re watching us online are particularly interested in what we offer on Sunday in a physical church.
I’ve even advocated, in further answer to that question, that we actually think about continuing the prerecording of our Sunday sermons for the digital, with a couple of acoustic songs, no big production numbers. Continue to put that out every week, in addition to streamed live services from a building for weekly services. Why? We don’t want to lose the people who see themselves as cyber viewers. “I came in for this. I like this. Why did you take that away from me? I’m not quite there yet, but I’m still interested.”.
It has benefits for the preacher because rehearsing what you say is always a good move, before you present it live. But also I think it raises up new technicians in the church – young people who are have enormous technological gifts and haven’t been able to use them. There’s not a lot of extra work if you choose to do this. I’m just saying, recognise the audience. It’s not the same audience you speak to on a Sunday. It’s a different audience with a different set of needs.
Deacon Paul Hollingworth preaches in Romsey Abbey about what being a distinctive deacon means to him. (Don’t be put off by the faintness of the first sentence or two – the sound man catches up quickly!)
There is no CofE training institution, with the honourable exception of St Hild’s in Mirfield, as far as I know, that offers dedicated training to #distinctivedeacons. We have always been trained alongside priests, with very little or no thought given to the fact that DDs have a different mind- and spirit-set and need dedicated training for our own ministry, not crumbs tossed from the priestly table.
As such, this volume of the Scottish Episcopal Church Journal is enormously heartening. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we saw such consideration given to the distinctive diaconate in the Church of England?
Deacons are people ‘on a mission, a messenger or ambassador—making connections between liturgy and pastoral need, building bridges between the life of the Church and those who are not yet within it.’8
They straddle the boundary between church and public square, discerning Christ at work in both locations and helping others make the crossing. As such they require the skill of bilingualism: the ability to understand the cultures of church and community, speak both languages and facilitate dialogue between the two.
As agents of transformation, they may find themselves addressing ‘structures of power and political stakeholders’,9 working with those on the margins to transfigure all that countermands God’s shalom in the world. The role demands skills in advocacy and a ‘regrounding in the prophetic tradition’,10 speaking truth to power, critiquing the status quo and energizing others to join in the work.
Nor is it simply the world that gets critiqued; deacons may find themselves also calling out apathy within the Church, tackling structures and systems which inhibit mission, and prevent the budding into growth of new ways of being.
As those who cross boundaries, deacons are well placed to serve as pioneers and planters, moving into new contexts and breaking fresh ground; being ‘bridges between a church that is stuck, and a church that is moving forward; a church that is anxious about her survival, and a church into which the Spirit’s breath is blowing vibrant new life’.11 In short, the diaconal calling is to be a sign of the relationship between the Kingdom of God and the Church. Deacons are agents of the Kingdom, both within the Eucharist and the world.
Again and again we distinctive deacons ask the question, ‘what is the difference between us and pioneer ministers?’ This article gives a thoughtful and clear answer. I have put some sentences near the end in bold, as I find the conclusion inspirational!
The Vocational Diaconate as a Vehicle for Pioneer Ministry in the Scottish Episcopal Church
Director of Mixed Mode Training, Scottish Episcopal Institute
The emergence of pioneer ministry as a distinct approach to mission strategy raises questions about the appropriate vehicle for the expression of such a ministry in the Scottish Episcopal Church. Could it be the domain of new categories such as ‘ordained pioneer minister’ or ‘lay pioneer’, or should it remain the domain of those described in George Lings’s inelegant-but-effective phrase, ‘lay-lay pioneers’?1 At present, no specific category for this exists in the list of ministries in the Scottish Episcopal Church. The recognized ministry of Lay Evangelist exists on paper, but this may not be sufficiently broad to encompass all the potential activities of and outcomes from pioneer ministry. The goal of this paper is to explore whether and how the ministry of the Vocational Deacon might be a suitable vehicle for the expression and development of pioneer ministry in the Scottish Episcopal Church.2 It will address this question by looking first at pioneer ministry and what is meant by this fluid and elastic phrase. We will then look at the diaconal ministry as expressed in the SEC and recent literature and consider the relationship between the two.
What is meant by the term ‘pioneer ministry’?
The term ‘pioneer ministry’ is often used somewhat loosely and flexibly, and it can lack definition. But at its very base it is language that expresses an aspiration for something new and different in the Church’s mission in contemporary Western society. For its advocates, it is used to remind us of the need for engagement with those who are currently well beyond any contact with churches as currently formed (that is, it is not about those on the fringe of church; it is about those who never give church a second thought).
As the concept of a ‘mixed economy’ or ‘mixed ecology’ of church reminds us, there is still much that can be done in and through our existing models of church, as they still have the potential to reach a significant proportion of the UK population. In 2015, two separate and unrelated pieces of research3 showed that around 10% of the UK population still attend church on a regular or more-than-occasional basis (that is, more than just at Christmas and Easter) and that another 10% would accept an invitation to attend if invited by someone that they knew. This suggests that there is much we can still do in and through our existing and familiar models of church. But the remaining 80% of the UK population are currently indifferent and hard to reach. And as we follow someone who spoke about leaving the ninety-nine to go after the one (Luke 15. 1–7), it doesn’t seem unreasonable to sometimes leave the twenty to their own devices and put a bit of effort into reaching the eighty.
Pioneer ministry is often connected to and conflated with the idea of ‘fresh expressions’ of church. They are related but by no means identical. It may be helpful to think of pioneer ministry as a process (or a verb), with a fresh expression of church as one possible outcome (i.e. a noun). However, there is a close relationship in terms of the outreach strategy outlined above (reaching the ‘eighty’). Lings included the following principles in his definition of a fresh expression of church, produced for the purpose of his research:
The aim is for Christians to change their patterns and practices to fit into a new culture and context, not to make people change to fit into an existing context.4
The intention is that the outcome will be a church, not a bridge back into ‘real church’.
The majority of those who participate see it as their major expression of being church.5 As Male and Weston have recently shown, there is evidence that fresh expressions of church have been more successful in reaching a higher proportion of younger and unchurched people than other contemporary mission strategies.6 The term ‘fresh expression’ is falling from use in some places and is being replaced by the less jargonistic but more cumbersome phrase ‘New Contextual Christian Communities’.7
Whichever term is preferred, they do lead us to the need to identify and discuss what is central to our ecclesiology. What do we mean for something to be a ‘church’, and how much room do we have for flexibility and creativity? As I have noted above, pioneer ministry aims to engage with people where they are, to build community and explore what it means to follow Jesus in their own context, rather than inviting them to come to us. This is sometimes summarized as being ‘incarnational’ rather than ‘attractional’.
However, despite Lings’s definition above, Moynagh also advocates for an ‘engaged’ model of pioneering, which leads to growth in existing churches.8 In 2018, Leicester Diocese undertook research after 10 years of pioneer ministry within the diocese, and 180 different projects and initiatives were identified. Of these, around a quarter had led to a fresh expression of church, another quarter were still in development and were called ‘Edgelands’, and the main outcome of the remaining half were that they served as a ‘Bridgeback’ to existing churches.
This diversity of outcomes is explored and theorized by Hodgett and Bradbury 10, who show that a variety of missional expressions are possible outcomes of pioneer ministry, including social enterprises. They also show that the term ‘fresh expression’ covers a wide range of possible outcomes, from café church and Messy Church to neo-monastic communities.11 They also include ‘traditional’ church plants as outcomes of pioneer ministry, but there are those within the pioneer movement who are unhappy with that inclusion as they think it undermines the distinctive nature of pioneer ministry.
Fig 1: Hodgett and Bradbury’s pioneer ministry spectrum
Given this variety of outcomes, it is helpful to think of pioneer ministry as a learning and development process, and as a way of exploring different possible futures for the Church. Male and Weston note that it has a clear emphasis on listening and serving a locality and call it ‘a “slow burn” model, taking time for the communal shape of the Gospel in this particular setting to take form’.12 Baker argues that this is helpful because the current landscape is unmapped due to the huge social changes we have faced and are facing, and that this new world is a challenge for churches because ‘their identity, imagination, theologies and practices have been more shaped by modernity than perhaps at first we realised or like to admit’.13
Like Abraham, it is time to set out on a journey, even if we don’t know where we are going (Hebrews 11:8). A focus on pioneer ministry and/or fresh expressions of church can leave those who lead existing or ‘inherited’ models of church feeling criticized, undermined, or somehow bypassed. There is some legitimacy to these feelings, but perhaps also to the implied criticism too. My experience of conversations with both pioneers and inherited church leaders is, that both feel somewhat threatened and criticized by the other. It is here that a concept of a ‘mixed economy’ or ‘mixed ecology’ of church is helpful in providing for a degree of mutual recognition and respect. It is important that Michael Moynagh, one of the strongest advocates for fresh expressions of church, wrote the following:
New communities with a fragrance of church are not better than the existing church. Nor need they be alternatives. New and well-established types of church have their own distinctive missions, and it is possible to be involved in both at the same time. Emphasising the value of both will remove the fear that individuals are being asked to make a choice.14
However, given that we still mainly operate under inherited models of church with the vast majority of people and financial resources being poured into sustaining these, and that change tends to happen where it is facilitated and supported, a more diverse ecology that gives greater room for the expression of pioneer initiatives does mean that this requires some significant attention at this time.
The role of the vocational deacon as pioneer
The seeds of this paper were sown at the June 2019 meeting of the SEC’s Diaconal Working Group, which I was asked to attend, to explore how the discussions on pioneer ministry that were taking place at the Mission Board might be connected to their work on the role of the diaconate. The meeting observed that the diaconal role can lend itself well to pioneering work (every Vocational Deacon at the meeting said, when I described pioneer ministry in the terms outlined above, ‘that’s what I do’). Pioneers and deacons both have a translational role, to allow the liturgy to meet people in their own space and using their own language, instead of expecting them to adapt to our existing traditions, language, and liturgy. The meeting asked, ‘are diaconal and pioneer the same?’, concluding that there was potential overlap and asking that this be explored.
This is what this paper seeks to do. In the Scottish Episcopal Church, the role of Vocational Deacons is described in the following way:
Deacons are heralds of the Gospel, called to proclaim and make visible God’s love in word and deed. They seek out those in need to bring them the good news of the Kingdom, and bring the concerns of the world to the attention of the Church and its congregations, reminding them of their call to serve others in love in their mission to the world.15
It is the ‘seeking out’ function of the diaconate that concerns us here. We have already noted above, that the pioneer expects to go where people are, rather than expecting them to come to us. Their criteria for selection make clear the primacy of mission, evangelism and discipleship in the role:
E1 Candidates demonstrate their commitment to mission and evangelism in their thought, prayer and action. They demonstrate an excitement about the loving and saving purpose of God for the world, and have a firm desire to share this by word and deed.
E2 Candidates have a knowledge and understanding of mission and evangelism. They are alert to the opportunities for engagement with contemporary culture and are sensitive to the demands of particular contexts.
E4 Candidates are committed to developing the discipleship of others. They are able to nurture the faith of others and to equip others to witness to their faith in Christ.16
In addition, there is a clear expectation that innovative, creative and entrepreneurial initiative will shape their ministry, with a deep focus on contextual priorities:
F4 Candidates have the potential to lead strategically. They are able to look forward in an imaginative and theologically-informed way. They can take the initiative and have a creative, entrepreneurial approach. They are prepared to take risks and to implement a process of change with flexibility and resilience.
F5 Candidates understand and work with the dynamics of a community.17
The SEC’s 2019 alternative text for the ordination of Deacons confirms this theme and focus:
In the name of the Church, deacons are sent to declare the kingdom of God and to care for those in need, serving God and the world after the pattern of Christ. They have a commitment to outreach and witness, advocacy and prophecy, flowing from their historic ministry for the poor, needy and sick, and seeking out the careless and indifferent. They are called to build bridges between the Church and the world, and to be an expression of the unconditional love of God.18
In the above extracts from SEC documents, there are clear overlaps with the pioneer ministry principles discussed above. There is a focus on mission and evangelism, including inviting others into the journey of discipleship, and an expectation that this will be done in creative and entrepreneurial ways, allowing the shape of the local community to form the shape of any outcomes from their ministry, including the forms of discipleship and Christian community.
Other recent writing on the diaconate has affirmed its role in terms that sound remarkably similar to the pioneer ministry literature:
A mission-shaped church needs a mission-shaped ministry. It needs an outward-facing ministry as well as one that can build up the already existing body of Christ. In episcopally-ordered churches, bishops must be ‘bishops in mission’ as ‘the chief pastors of all that are within their dioceses’. Readers, Local Preachers and other lay ministers must become orientated to those outside the worshipping community as well as to those within. But the missionary reshaping of the church’s ministry bears particularly closely on deacons.19
Deacons are charged to reach into the forgotten corners of the world so that the love of God may be made visible. We should free them to be busy on those margins with the lonely, the overlooked, the homeless and the misfits; to be the church present and active in those situations.20 We could argue that the SEC was ahead of the curve in the way it has described the role of deacons as pioneers. It must be clearly stated that Deacons, while being communicant members of congregations, having a liturgical ministry and dovetailing with the work of presbyters, are primarily a task force at the disposal of the Bishop, for work, most of which is out in the world. They have their proper place in a diocesan rather than a congregational strategy of mission. They are a pioneer corps rather than auxiliaries to share the load of existing intra-congregational ministries.21
The mark of true diaconal ministry is to foster the initiation of lay ministries galore—to pioneer and then hand over, in order to be free again to pioneer.22 One of the advantages and challenges for diaconal ministry is that it is open to redefinition and reinterpretation. Klaasen notes that ‘from a church historian’s point of view, the semantics of diakonia are not clear […] Diakonia can be understood from different and varied perspectives and the term is not static in both its meaning and semantics’.23 Clark sees this as a positive thing, arguing that ‘the diaconate has always been an order of ministry well-suited to adapt to the changing needs of society and world. Over the years it has fulfilled a wide diversity of responsibilities.’24 He notes that the diaconate is still embedded in one form or another in the lives and work of many denominations (including the SEC) and suggests that there is no need to invent new forms of ministry when the diaconate already exists to fulfil this purpose. For the sake of the topic of this paper, he goes on to make a specific proposal:
A diaconal order of mission would carry greater credibility and significance if it were able to embrace and give coherence to the bewildering diversity of ministries —such as so-called ‘mission enablers’, ‘pioneer ministries’ and, even worse, ‘mission champions’ —which the church in the West is currently inventing to try to stem its decline. Such ministries frequently have vague or vast job descriptions, are unrelated to each other and, more important, to the ministry of the people of God in the world. Itwould give coherence to such ministries and add experience and skills to a diaconal order of mission, if they were incorporated into the latter.25
And so, in a variety of ways, a firm connection can be established between the vocational diaconate and the vision of pioneer ministry. As Clark notes, this connection helps in both directions. It roots the practices of pioneer ministry in a historic (but fluid and redefinable) order of ministry, and in return, pioneer ministry thinking and practices both serve to give a specific focus and direction to the diaconal ministry ‘for such a time as this’.26
One additional contribution that this connection between the pioneering and the diaconal can make is based on an observation by Klaasen; ‘the functions of [the diaconate since] the early church have been liturgical and caritative.’27 This combination is also found in the World Council of Church’s 2017 report on Ecumenical Diakonia, which notes that ‘Christian diakonia flows from the divine liturgy, it is a “liturgy after the Liturgy”. As Christians experience the gracious gifts of sharing, healing and reconciliation at the Lord’s table, they are commissioned to a lifestyle and to practices that bring these gifts to the world.’28
The question about the ecclesial status of fresh expressions was noted above, i.e. in what ways are they ‘church’? This is something of concern for more sacramentally-minded Christians, and which they have sought to address.29 The deacon’s role is a combination of liturgical and missional, and while a diaconal status does not allow every question to be answered easily30, one might hope that the vision for a creative and entrepreneurial diaconal ministry as outlined in the SEC’s selection criteria could also be applied to the ecclesiological questions that arise out of their missional initiatives.
It is not as if we are not already having to grapple with these questions, given the geographically scattered nature of churches and ministries in the SEC. A pioneering diaconal ministry will simply serve to add new and emerging Christian communities into this mix. I would argue that this would be a nice problem to have to address.
1 George Lings, Evidence about Fresh Expressions of Church in the Church of England (Church Army Research Unit, 2014). ‘By this invented term we mean people without any church badge, office, or in many cases training’(p.14). Or ‘normal people’, as they are otherwise known.
2 This proposal should not be taken to mean that it should not also be accompanied by a wider lay-lay led movement of pioneering. But it is important not to overstate the importance of lay-lay initiatives in the recent history of pioneer ministry, as encouraging as they are. In Lings’s 2014 report (see note 1 above) of a survey of ten Church of England dioceses, 40% of fresh expressions of church had been founded by lay-lay leaders, with 46% being led/founded by clergy (incumbents, curates, NSMs, OLMs, and so on). The remaining 14% were led/founded by Lay Readers (9%), Church Army evangelists (3%), and Ordained Pioneer Ministers (2%); some of these proportions will be a function of cohort size, but the numbers are interesting, nonetheless.
3 The two pieces of research are found at Talking Jesus, and in Stuart Murray, A Vast Minority: Church and Mission in a Plural Culture (Milton Keynes: Paternoster Press, 2015).
4 It might be argued that Paul said something similar in his Letter to the Galatians.
5 Lings, Evidence about Fresh Expressions.
6 David Male and Paul Weston, ‘What Does the Development of Fresh Expressions of Church in the UK Tell us about Mission Today?’, International Review of Mission, 108.2(2019), 276–89.
7 Michael Moynagh, Being Church, Doing Life: Creating a Gospel Community Where Life Happens (Oxford: Lion Hudson, 2014); David Male, How to Pioneer (Even If You Haven’t A Clue) (London: Church House Publishing, 2016).
8 Michael Moynagh, Church for Every Context (London: SCM Press, 2012).
9 They defined Edgelands as ‘a new pioneering missional enterprise whose current charism is not yet clear, but it is not yet “church taking shape” at this time’. A Bridgeback is ‘a missional pioneering enterprise that finds its charism is to connect or reconnect people to inherited church’.
10 Tina Hodgett and Paul Bradbury, ‘Pioneering Ministry Is A Spectrum’, Anvil: Journal of Theology and Mission, 34.1(2018), 30–34.
11 This point was also clearly made in 2004 in the seminal report, Mission-Shaped Church: Church Planting and Fresh Expressions of Church in a Changing Context (London: Church House Publishing).
12 Male and Weston, ‘What Does the Development of Fresh Expressions […]’, p. 285.
13 Jonny Baker, ‘The Pioneer Gift’ (chap. 1) in The Pioneer Gift: Explorations in Mission, ed. by Jonny Baker and Cathy Ross (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2014), p. 5.
14 Moynagh, Being Church, Doing Life, p. 253.
15 ‘Ministries in the Scottish Episcopal Church’(2018), p. 8.
16 Ministries in the Scottish Episcopal Church (2018), p. 11.
17 Ministries in the Scottish Episcopal Church (2018), p. 11
18 The Ordination of Deacons, alternative text (2019).
19 Paul Avis, ‘The Diaconate: A Flagship Ministry?’, Theology and Ministry, 2 (2013), 24–25.
20 Rosalind Brown, ‘Expanding the Theological Foundation of the Deacon’s Ministry’, Ecclesiology, 13.2(2017), p. 218.
21 Truly Called by God to Serve as a Deacon: The Report of the Bishops’ Working Group on Distinctive Diaconate (Edinburgh: General Synod Office,1987), p. 12.
22 Ibid., p. 15.
23 J. S. Klaasen, ‘Diakonia and Diaconal Church’, Missionalia, 48.1(2020), p. 122.
24 David Clark (2020), A Diaconal Church and Order of Mission: The Shape of Things to Come, p. 6.
25 Ibid., p. 7.
26 For Such a Time as This: A Renewed Diaconate in the Church of England (London: Church House Publishing, 2012).
27 Klaasen, ‘Diakonia and Diaconal Church’, p. 124.
28 Ecumenical Diakonia, (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 2017), p. 46.
29 See, for example, Steven Croft and Ian Mobsby, Fresh Expressions in the Sacramental Tradition, (Norich: Canterbury Press, 2009), and Ian Mobsby and Phil Potter, Doorways to The Sacred: Developing Sacramentality in Fresh Expressions of Church, (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2017).
A reflective post from Norma Higgott, a deacon in the Scottish Episcopal Church, on what it means to her to be a deacon hospice chaplain.
United Diocese of Mory, Ross and Caithness
Diakonía is more than humble service; it signifies the undertaking of a task or mandate commissioned by another, of ‘being sent forth to fulfil a task on behalf of the one who has the authority to send’.(1)
Deacons are people ‘on a mission, a messenger or ambassador —making connections between liturgy and pastoral need, building bridges between the life of the Church and those who are not yet within it’.(2)
Two descriptions of what the role of a deacon is —the first talking of them being sent, commissioned by God and by their bishop to the work they are called to; and the second talking of the in-between place where deacons often find themselves when they are working in the world, and yet trying to incorporate that world into the life of the Church. The hymn, ‘I the Lord of Sea and Sky’, which was sung at my ordination, speaks in the chorus about listening to God’s call:
Here I am, Lord, Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.
I chose it because, for years, those words had haunted me as I sought to discover how I could best serve the God who seemed to keep calling me. I felt called but I truly didn’t know what to — eventually, with the change of the church’s focus on the diaconate, and following much discussion as part of the Diaconate Working Group, I began to feel that this was perhaps what God was calling me to.
However, it was never going to be an easy calling; firstly, because it was so rarely recognized at that time as a true and necessary part of the Church’s ministry, and secondly, because being called to the diaconate meant being called to a ministry that was challenging, exciting and often unexpected. It is a ministry which is often misunderstood and underestimated, and one which requires people who are secure in their faith and calling, and willing to say, ‘Here am I Lord, send me.’
From the Scottish Episcopal Church: ordination of deacon
Following my ordination, I then had to discover where it was that God was calling me to serve his people, and quite by chance he handed me an opportunity which I have found fulfils my vocation and ministry, serving as a chaplain to the Highland Hospice. There God has called me to walk, as his Son did, alongside the sick, the troubled and the anxious, as they face their journey with cancer. There God challenges me to be his face to many folk who have lost their faith in him, to many who are struggling with their faith, to those who are not sure about faith but want to believe in eternal life, and to those who have no faith but need spiritual care to ease their path to death. God asks us to let his light shine, to show his love and compassion to all those we meet, and to be his Church in the world. Deacons are sent by God and by their bishop to serve as a prophetic voice, to be heralds of God’s kingdom, but there is no ‘one size fits all’ way of doing that, and we must all learn what is needed in our own situations so that we can just BE alongside God’s people.
Deacons are often called the servants of the Church. In the Old Testament, the word for servant (particularly used by Isaiah) is the one sent to live out God’s mission in the world and bring light to the nations. The Ordinal draws out this prophetic dimension to the deacon’s ministry:
They are to proclaim the gospel in word and deed, as agents of God’s purposes of love[…] searching out the poor and weak, the sick and lonely and those who are oppressed and powerless, reaching into the forgotten corners of the world, that the love of God may be made visible.
Chaplains are particularly called to be that agent of God’s purpose, walking alongside the poor, the weak, the sick, the lonely, the despairing and the bereft, to make the love of God visible to them. As a chaplain I am committed to being God’s loving face in the hospice, to ensure the spiritual wellbeing of those I encounter. I am there to love and care for people, patients, family and fellow staff members, through the good times and the bad, with love and compassion, helping them to make connections between life and faith.
My diaconal role takes place mostly outside the normal life of a congregation. I am there to live out the prophetic role of a deacon, to build bridges between what happens in church and what happens in the world, offering God’s love and compassion, and sharing and representing Christian values and beliefs. My ministry allows me to discover what is happening out there beyond the Church, with sensitivity and respect for the beliefs and values of all those I encounter. We are called to build bridges with those of all faiths and none, encouraging them to discover that spiritual wellbeing which will help them to value their life, and to discover what is important to them, what it is that makes their life complete and whole. We encourage them to look at faith and what part it plays in that spiritual wellbeing. It is challenging and exciting work, reflecting part of the ministry of Jesus during his lifetime when he too ministered outside the walls of the Temple and largely outside the gathered communities of faith. This diaconal ministry is about living out the Gospel in word and deed, making Jesus’s ministry as real as possible in today’s world with empathy and understanding, and without using religious terminology in a world that so rarely understands it or welcomes it.
My ministry is incredibly varied; no two visits are the same. When asked, I can’t really describe what it is I do as a deacon, other than that it means meeting people where they are on their journeys, listening to them, encouraging them in their questioning about life and death, and enabling, supporting and being alongside them as their journeys come to an end. It also involves leading worship, facilitating groups, and working alongside many others collaboratively. My role may involve being with people on a one-to-one basis but also engaging with families.
image from churchtimes.co.uk
Diaconal ministry also means that I have an opportunity to bring the world into the Church, to share what is happening, to encourage prayer for those outside the Church, and to help church members to explore some dreams and visions for their own community involvement. Deacons can help local church members to explore their own gifts by sharing their gift of being available, of being present and of sharing their call. Deacons can help local folk to understand some of the issues people are dealing with in their lives, and encourage them to deal with some of the difficult questions and experiences of life and death.
Pastoral care is one of the most fulfilling parts of my vocation and ministry as a deacon. Being alongside folk in the hospice, at times of bereavement, in times of joy and sorrow, sharing in conversations and in prayer, is a very great privilege; but it also comes with great responsibility. We are perhaps the only face of God they have ever met and got to know personally, and so it falls to us to ensure that we are the very best, most loving and compassionate, prayerful face; one that will truly show we are sent by God as his emissaries in the world, to bring his love and compassion to all.
It is my vocation and ministry as a deacon to be a presence without trying to ‘do’ anything, and thereby to allow God’s agenda to happen, for we are ordained to be God’s servants, following the path set out for us by Christ, the true servant, not a human one. We are commissioned to be the agents of God’s purpose of love in this world, which does not mean that we have to do anything other than be there for all those we meet, sharing love, compassion and care. This means listening carefully and being alert to all kinds of possibilities — finding the kingdom right under one’s nose (the treasure in the field), for often even when we aren’t looking for Jesus or expecting to find him, we stumble across him in unexpected places and people. Often just being alongside people and giving them space to talk can provide amazing insights into how God works in this world, to bring the kingdom into people’s lives and to bring light to the nations. If, as Isaiah tells us, we are to live out God’s mission in the world and to bring light to the nations, then we need to BE alongside people to recognize and encourage that light to shine, even when it is hidden from the eyes of the world. It is a privilege and a joy to have this opportunity just to BE.
Being commissioned by God to carry out his work in the world calls us to listen to what it is we are being asked to be, and then to be his voice and his body in the world, to be prophets in a world that doesn’t understand the term, and to be bridge builders, to enable those we encounter in our liturgical role to better understand the needs of the world of which we are all a part. The vocation of the deacon is not solely in the world; it must also be within the wider Church, sharing the work of ministry alongside their bishop, and thereby enabling the Church to support and pray for the work which is happening outside in the world.
As the Ordinal says, ‘to fulfil such a task is not in human power but depends upon the grace of God’.
References: 1. Paul Avis, A Ministry Shaped by Mission (London: T & T Clark, 2005), p. 106.
2. ‘Discerning the Diaconate’, Ministry Division of the Church of England (2011)
When I discover beautiful views, walk behind a waterfall, when I sit in the stillness of the garden the vastness and hugeness that comes from God is beyond words. It’s the moment when you just stop and feel that wow factor.
I’ve tried to blog about that wow moment, take the wow beyond three simple letters, give that silence space some meaning so that others can understand, but nothing comes close to sharing how I feel inside.
Exploring my vocation is very much in that vastness moment. It’s that wow with no words. Stopping in that wow to write what I feel, I just find tears and no words.
This has been frustrating, as during this discerning process of exploring my vocation I need to talk to others about what I am feeling in these wow moments. Praying about it is great, it’s easy and natural to do. After all these are Gods plans not mine. God also knows what going on in my wordless silent wow moments. But for the past year these wows have manly stayed just between me and God.
Last month the frustrations of not being able to find the words all got too much. I wanted to run away from the whole process. Go and hide somewhere where the words Priest, Deacon, ordination, vocation and discernment do not exist. But obviously you can’t run from God, this too has also been very frustrating.
Where ever I go this hugeness comes with me. It’s like a nagging little earworm that whispers and keeps whispering. When I am completely quiet, its whispers are sometimes the only thing I hear. It’s no longer avoidable, I need to think about the bigger picture. I am required to answer question 6 on the BAP registration form (Bishops advisory panel form ):
For which ministry are you a candidate? 1. Deacon ( distinctive) 2. Priest
All I need to do is tick one box . Deep down and for a long time I have known which box to tick. Ticking and acknowledging this is harder than I thought.
It seems wrong to give the answer to something so big by simply putting a biro tick in a box. It’s so huge, one little tick in a box and then onto question 7 !! I felt the question was not mine to answer. It felt presumptuous giving so much certainty to such a question. It’s a not promised path, It’s another step on the journey of exploring my vocation. Another step along an unknowing path trusting God.
I am sure many have filled out this huge form and boldly ticked the box, feeling confident in their calling. But for me these two little boxes have been consuming my thoughts. It feels such a huge relief to have faced this, to no longer feel quite so scared of what I am feeling. The last few months I have been nudged, loved, prayed for and gently coaxed to find the words that are etched in my heart.
Acts 6 The Message (MSG)
6 1-4 During this time, as the disciples were increasing in numbers by leaps and bounds, hard feelings developed among the Greek-speaking believers—“Hellenists”—toward the Hebrew-speaking believers because their widows were being discriminated against in the daily food lines. So the Twelve called a meeting of the disciples. They said, “It wouldn’t be right for us to abandon our responsibilities for preaching and teaching the Word of God to help with the care of the poor. So, friends, choose seven men from among you whom everyone trusts, men full of the Holy Spirit and good sense, and we’ll assign them this task. Meanwhile, we’ll stick to our assigned tasks of prayer and speaking God’s Word.”
One week ago today I got a phone call from the Assistant Diocesan Director of Ordinands with my results from the Bishops Advisory Panel I attended; now about 3 weeks ago. The news was that the advisors could not recommend me for training for ordination.
Okay, now that the headline is out of the way let me explain to those of you who have no idea what I was talking about what I was talking about. For the last 4/5 years I have been, to varying degrees, exploring my vocation within the Church of England as a vicar. I’ve felt called to this, to varying degrees (of course!), throughout that time and began seeing the ADDO (vicar who journeys with you and assists in continued discernment of vocation) about 18 months ago after I moved up to Chesterfield. I was sent to BAP by the Bishop with his blessing and with the encouraging words of all around me. Friends and family were expectant, they were confident and they were excited about what the future held. As I journeyed to Shallowford House I reflected on what I was about to do. BAP is a 48 hour intensive time in residence where 3 advisors observe and interview you in various settings, assessing you on different exercises and then, at the end of the time there, advise your bishop as to whether or not they should send you for training.
There are three possible outcomes:
1) Recommended. This means the advisors recommended that you are put through training for ordained ministry.
2) Conditional Recommendation. This means the advisors think you can be put through training but on certain conditions. These are generally specific to the individual or to do with something having not quite been completed.
3) Not Recommended. This means the advisors do not think you are suitable for training for ordained ministry.
I got the latter.
I do not intend, in this post, to go into why I think I was not recommended. To some extent that’s by the by and in submitting to attend a BAP I submit to the conclusion of the advisors be they positive or negative, whether I agree with the conclusions to the observations they made or not. This is a post to encourage those of you who have experienced something similar at BAP and also, I suppose, to encourage those of you about to or considering attending one.
As I trawled the internet searching for hope in the wake of the news all I could find were either bitter diatribes about horrible BAP experiences and how a ‘not recommended’ had destroyed someone’s life or stories from people who had attended once, got a ‘not recommended’, returned some years later and been recommended. Neither are encouraging (although the latter is certainly more encouraging than the former!). What I struggled to find were stories of how people had received the news and sought instead to take it how it is intended. I found no encouragement from people who had relatively recently received a ‘not recommended’ at their BAP.
When I found out on the Thursday night I was naturally upset. Something I was sure was my vocation had been suddenly snatched away from me, or so I thought. Over the next couple of days I began to internally process and question my instinctive response, hard though it was to do. Friday morning I went in to the office and sat down to begin my daily rhythm with posting and participating in the Morning Prayer for the Order of the Black Sheep website. As I looked at the screen and waited for the computer to load I must confess I did not want to do it. I wanted to just forget about all this. After all, my spiritual discipline clearly wasn’t good enough so why bother at all! However, that word came back.
What would have been the point of refusing to post and participate? What would I have achieved? At this time I needed the spiritual rhythm of the Daily Offices more than ever, I needed the ancient and I needed the communion of all the saints and the knowledge I was in communion with a truly catholic Church. I participated and it was tough. However I remain steadfast in the promises of God, even when I’m banging my head against a brick wall, I have the promises of God.
The next turning point came just yesterday (Wednesday) when I met with the ADDO to read through the report the advisors had compiled. It was hard reading, however I tried my hardest to not only see the ‘negative’ (I will come back to this in a moment) but also the positive. I read through and jotted some notes down in the margins as was suggested to me and then we came to discuss it. This was tough but I had to remember that in attending BAP I had submitted myself to the decisions and the perceptions of the advisors. I also had to remember (and this is perhaps the most crucial part) that this was not a setback.
It is so easy to see a ‘no’ as a blockade, a barrier or a setback in your journey and it is understandable to feel as though it is. However I must tell you, this is not what the decision should be seen as.
You are a disciple of Christ and you are following His call on your heart as best you can. As you try to discern it you come into contact with different people, you do different things and you make decisions that can go one way or the other. As you go on the journey of life there will be moments when you are certain you can see the road that you’re going on when all of a sudden the road takes a sharp turn to the left or to the right. At that sharp turn (which may have surprised you because that previous road looked like so much fun and you absolutely knew it was the right road for you to be on!) you have a decision to make. You can either stand at the bend staring out into the distance mourning the loss of the previous road or you can skid round the corner, perhaps hitting the dirt or scraping a load of paint off one of the doors or even setting the airbags off but eventually continuing with as much purpose and as much fervour as you did before.
I got a ‘not recommended’ and I feel okay about it. Not because I necessarily agree with the conclusions of the advisors or because I’m uber spiritual and awesome but because the reality of the Christian walk is that unexpected curves in the road appear far more often than we would like. It’s not our responsibility to moan about it, it’s our responsibility to continue to follow Christ’s lead in our lives, whatever road we are on, whether we know where we are going or not.
This is not a time to stop, this is a step on the journey, a reach forward on the monkey bars and a new opportunity to explore the unknown all the while residing in the mystery that is Christ.
May God’s peace guide you
May God’s peace comfort you
May God’s love show you
That God’s heart is with you
images from pastordude.com and Baptist Women in Ministry
“Questions, questions, why must there always be questions?”
This line from a children’s song by the late Roy Bailey has been popping into my head rather a lot in the four months or so since I was ordained as a distinctive deacon in Southwell Minister. Because there have been so many questions asked of me since then.
‘What’s a distinctive deacon?” is a frequent one.
“Why have you decided you don’t want to be a priest?” is almost as common.
At the recent diocesan conference, the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, asked two related questions – firstly, why have we forgotten as a church the historic three-fold order of bishops, priests and deacons?
Secondly, he asked “Where are all the deacons?” Quite a number of the eyes in the room turned to me at that moment, because I am now the only Distinctive (that is to say, Permanent) Deacon in the diocese.
But actually, the question that has been going round my head all this time is none of these. Rather, it is this. If, as the ordination service says, deacons are asked to live a life of “visible self giving”, what in practice does this mean in West Retford, Ordsall and town centre mission?
Or as a Methodist Deacon rather more succinctly asked “What does it mean to be a servant in this place?”
This is a question for me to prayerfully ponder for the rest of my first year as a curate. But actually, that question is one for all of us at All Hallows and St Michael’s, because one of the the key elements of the ministry of a deacon is to enable and encourage the diaconal ministry, the servant ministry, of the whole church.
So perhaps the one question we really need to ask each day is the one posed by a Roman Catholic deacon I know. Every morning he asks “Well God, what would you have me do for you today?”
This is an extract from a sermon by the Rt Rev Nicholas Chamberlain, bishop of Grantham, preached at the ordination of Ross Copley to the diaconate at All Saints Lincoln on 1 October. Find the whole sermon in ‘New Directions’ November 2020.
The limited, liminal, but powerful voice of the deacon, angelic in its messenger role, matters. Similarly, to minister as Christ bids us minister, as servants, is something that you embody as you wear your stole of authority across your shoulder as a towel, and in which you have to have the persistence of Raphael with Tobias and Tobit and his creativity. Deacons have, repeatedly, been entrusted with important and difficult tasks, such as the pastoral care of the weak and the vulnerable, and, as in the case of Lawrence or Stephen, have borne the cost of their service by giving their own lives as martyrs. To stand up for the poor, to argue for the right use of wealth, to minister healing in this persistent way, which is all part of your ministry as a deacon, is not without risk, but is vital to the health of the body as a whole.
Deacons are not called to be domesticated any more than angels are: they are called to have a particular and brave role in the life of church and world; they are called to remind us of eternal perspectives, and of earthly responsibilities, and to do so by using their hands and their voices, and this call is both joyful and costly. So while we often think of the ministry of deacons as being one that is essentially practical, I would like to suggest that the ministry of a deacon is actually distinctive because it combines the practical and the … theological. Deacons announce God, contend for God, work for God’s healing, and they do so in word and in action. It is the foundational ordained ministry of the Church …
Last year I approached our diocesan communications team (diocese of Exeter), and asked if they could record a video for our diocesan web page for distinctive deacons. I suggested that they interview the Rev Karl Freeman, the vicar of Emmanuel church in Plymouth, and his #distinctivedeacon the Rev Bev Cree.
Our comms team is absolutely great – really engaged with it, and recorded Bev and Karl this February. Then the pandemic came along … and how the team survived to tell the story I don’t know, what with helping churches all over the diocese to learn how to zoom services!
This week, they finally found time to finish the editing of the video and I’m delighted that it has now replaced the outdated video on our web page. I’m particularly delighted that Karl is so clear about the value of having a DD, as we are sometimes faced with incumbents who haven’t a clue who we are or what to do with us.
Please feel free to disseminate the link to the video and the web page as widely as you wish: it can go to incumbents, training incumbents, theological training courses, diocesan directors of ordinands and members of their teams – and anyone else you can think of.
And if our page would help you to persuade your diocesan staff that a dedicated page on your own diocesan website would be a Good Thing for #distinctivedeacons, please plunder the ideas on ours in any way which would be appropriate, and help your diocese move forward in developing the #distinctivediaconate!
The Pharisees are divided. In the preceding chapter, a man born blind receives his sight and the Pharisees just don’t know what to make of it. Some are “blind” themselves – ignoring the miracle and focusing on the fact that it unlawfully took place on the Sabbath. Others doubt the man’s claim that he was blind from birth. Still others do not find Jesus as credible as Moses or other historical leaders they revere.
The one thing the Pharisees do agree on is that the once-blind man should be thrown out of the synagogue for his stubborn faith in Jesus. So Jesus goes to find the man and, in doing so, confronts the Pharisees. It is right after this encounter that John records how Jesus uses the metaphor of shepherd and sheep.
The contrast is obvious between Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and the Pharisees, who are like thieves and robbers. Jesus leads His sheep by the “still waters” and “green pastures” while the Pharisees do not even enter the pen by the gate and abandon the sheep at the first sign of danger.
The metaphor goes even further, however. The Good Shepherd does not just lead the sheep, He has been entrusted with them. This parable is critical of the leadership of the Pharisees, but there is also an interesting and subtle connection to stewardship. The shepherd has a relationship with the sheep. There is a dynamic of care, not ownership. Their care and management are his primary concern.
Under the shepherd, the sheep experience a sheep-like shalom – the safety of being under the care of the shepherd where the dangers in the world around them are carefully navigated. The shepherd must confront all that would threaten the sheep – like “thieves and robbers” such as the Pharisees who were not stewardly with the spiritual gifts and legacy of leadership they had received.
Much like the shepherd, we, as stewards, care for what we have been entrusted with, confront all that threatens to waste or destroy, and manage responsibly what God has created. And we have been entrusted with much – relationships, time, wealth, God’s Creation, gifts of both ability and spiritual blessings.
Unlike the Good Shepherd, however, we are guilty of waste, the unjust use of resources, a lack of care. We do not lead as we should. Sometimes we act more like the thieves and robbers. But, praise God, there is grace for the undershepherd.
Deacons, you are shepherds of the people of God, along with the priests – leaders who will model the care that the shepherd extends to the sheep. Together, we are all called to expose spiritual dangers, such as those of excess and waste. We must show what the restoration of a just relationship with all creation might look like – how to live as caretakers, how to bring glimpses of shalom.
Deacons, you are called to model stewardship in your relationship with the good things God has entrusted to us. Of course this includes how you use people’s offerings, but it extends beyond that to your time, your gifts and your life – style.
But don’t be discouraged! Never neglect to look to the Good Shepherd. Jesus walks with you, extends His grace, and guides you as the perfect pattern of leadership and stewardly living.
Jesus is talking to the crowds, but His words are really meant for the disciples. He is telling stories which may have meant something to the people, with common enough references and familiar contexts. But the secrets of the kingdom, the truth within those stories, are given to those whose eyes could see and whose ears could hear.
Each picture, each story must have given the disciples yet another glimpse of the Kingdom; but they must have been confusing too. The Kingdom that Jesus was bringing was probably not what they were expecting. Little did the disciples understand that Jesus’ Kingdom, begun through ministry and established through the cross, would change their world. Even more, it would turn their world upside down. And, amazingly, in that chaos of change, would be reconciliation and peace.
The parable of the mustard seed is as small as the seed itself; like the seed, this little parable is full of potential for growth. And like the mustard seed, growth happens for a purpose. The mustard tree may not be the biggest, but it is a plant with a purpose. The listeners’ first thought might have been about how the tree is good (with its oil, spice and healing properties), but Jesus focuses on the birds. The birds perch in the shade of the tree. They are drawn to it. The tree is a place of blessing and safety for the birds. Like the tree, God’s Kingdom is about community and peace.
And like the mustard seed, the Kingdom is created from the small and insignificant. It is almost counter-intuitive to expect a large tree from a tiny seed. But the tree from the mustard seed was more like a weed, forbidden in the gardens of Palestine because it could easily overtake an entire garden.
A mustard plant makes sense, though. Why would Jesus compare His Kingdom to a something like mighty oak when Jesus Himself is its foot- washing, donkey-riding leader, who told secrets to fishermen and hung out with prostitutes and tax collectors? Yet through His death and triumphant resurrection, Jesus ushers peace into this Kingdom of chaos, and creates a new culture of a kingdom that just doesn’t fit with expectations or the culture of that day.
If, as Jesus says, the tiny mustard seed is like the Kingdom, it needs a sower, someone who believes in the potential of the small, insignificant and ordinary. Together, sower and seed and the Holy Spirit work to grow a Kingdom that is communal, counter-cultural and created through the insignificant.
Deacons, in your corner of the Kingdom, you are called to be the sower. A mustard seed reveals its potency when crushed; joining God in building this Kingdom will not be easy. But it can bring the peace and shalom of community, and it can create a powerful vision of something different that the world has rarely sees –something the world desperately needs.
It starts with the insignificant: a phone call, a “hand up,” a partnership. So deacons, sow your seed. And bring the peace of Christ in your corner of the Kingdom.
This is not exactly a straightforward dinner invitation. It comes from Simon, a Pharisee, and it comes after a progression of encounters between the law-keeping Pharisees and Jesus, who is clearly not what the Pharisees expect of a teacher.
The Pharisees are, at first, clearly puzzled and mildly alarmed at the things Jesus does. They accuse Him of blasphemy when He heals and forgives the paralytic. They grumble that Jesus eats with a tax collector. They see Him as unlawful when He and His disciples pick grain and eat it on the Sabbath. However, when Jesus heals on the Sabbath, publically and in front of everyone, the Pharisees are “furious” and begin “to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.” (Luke 6:11). The next encounter comes after Simon’s invitation to dinner.
In the context of all that has already happened, it seems clear that eating at Simon’s house will not be a simple social call. By inviting Jesus to a formal dinner, the Pharisee is inviting Jesus into a context in which a certain decorum is expected and religious debate is encouraged. It probably seems like a perfect place to trap Jesus. And Simon’s lack of proper welcome might just betray his true motives. But Jesus knows Simon’s heart and is ready to use this opportunity to show him a better way.
When the woman from the town enters the dinner, something rare and amazing happens. This woman, whom the Bible says lived a “sinful life,” in essence displaces Simon as host of the dinner. And her welcome is beautiful! She lavishly pours out her love at Jesus’ feet, and Jesus graciously receives it and recognizes the value of her hospitality. Simon does not give Jesus water for washing; yet this woman wets Jesus’ feet with her tears. Simon does not welcome Jesus with a kiss; yet the woman even kisses his feet. Jesus restores her dignity by giving her a “place” of honour, receiving her gift, and forgiving her sins.
And yet, Jesus is also host. He cares for the woman and pours out that forgiveness generously. With Jesus, the roles are not clearly defined. They shift around, making both the act of giving and receiving equally important within the context of hospitality. Pharisees know all about law and truth. Jesus adds grace to the truth, to widen the welcome and create a climate of hospitality that pushes boundaries and overturns expectations.
Deacons, if hospitality sounds to you like the work of a committee, perhaps it is time to reclaim the practice within your diaconal work. It means being intentional about welcoming the stranger, but it also means affirming each person’s dignity and worth.
And yet, if this puts the deacon perpetually in the position of host, a critical dimension is lost. Jesus gave to the Pharisee and to the woman the gift of His wisdom, His grace and His forgiveness. However, Jesus was also guest: He received from the woman and from the Pharisee alike. This recognition fundamentally challenges the imbalance of power between a person with needs and a person (or diaconate) with resources.
Understanding that everyone has something to give and that everyone is blessed by receiving creates a welcome and hospitality that builds community, affirms dignity and maintains generous spaces of inclusion. Be blessed as you do justice through hospitality.
Jesus will soon begin His ministry on earth. So the timing is right, and the devil is determined to try him. Satan takes this opportunity to try and twist Jesus’ coming ministry to fit his own purposes. Perhaps he might be able to tempt Jesus to misuse His power. Jesus has been fasting for 40 days. He is hungry, physically weak, and as vulnerable as the Son of God can be. But, despite all of that, we know that there is no way the devil can change the beautiful purpose that God has ordained for Jesus’ time on earth.
Although Jesus’ return to Nazareth might have been some time after His temptation in the wilderness, Luke chooses to place those stories side-by-side in his gospel. What a contrast between the “ministry” Satan tries to tempt Jesus into and the very opposite that Jesus reveals as His calling!
Jesus stands in the temple and reads from the scroll of Isaiah. To the people, He is reading a prophecy. To Jesus, He is proclaiming His mission. It is a glorious declaration of who He is and what He has come to do. Jesus is strong in the Spirit, anointed with purpose, chosen for ministry, and burning for justice.
Every word Jesus speaks points to so much more than the “gracious words” the people hear Him speak. He is praised for His teaching, known for His miracles, yet there does not seem to be one person in the temple who sees the heart of God opened before them like Isaiah’s scroll.
Jesus has come for rich and poor, for the captive, the ill, and the oppressed. Jesus is on the margins, even in his home town, and He will bring His purposes to the margins as well.
It is impossible to try and disconnect the miracles and teaching of Jesus from His heart for justice. At every turn, at every miracle, His words and actions are shaped by a desire to make things right, to reconcile, to restore.
He speaks Beatitudes that undercut Jewish legalism. He confronts the powerful. He heals both a Jewish leper and a Canaanite’s daughter. He restores dignity to the outcast demon -possessed man and pauses for a life-changing conversation with a Samaritan woman.
He is revered as a Rabbi, but is rejected in his home town. He pays His taxes from the mouth of a fish, but from His mouth comes a warning about economic injustice where the poor are uncared for. He redefines and expands what it means to be family, and recreates community from the margins out.
He tells parables that turn upside down society and the way it works. Jesus’ teachings and miracles become living proof of a better way.
Let Jesus’ better way be an inspiration for the ministry of deacons. Let it free you to be the deacons you are called and chosen to be – serving within your gifts and following your passions and compassion.
Seek to restore and to reconcile. Take each act of charity, relief and mercy and look deeper to see if there is a way to make things right. Do not be content, wherever possible, to give help without your time, your listening ear, and your love.
So, do ministry. Do justice. Love always. And pray for the anointing of the Holy Spirit to flood your hearts until you are overflowing with love and a passion for His justice in your community and in this world.
A couple of years ago, Methodist deacon David Clark spoke at an Anglican #distinctivedeacons’ conference in Wydale. Afterwards, his presentation was described as one of the most stimulating they could remember. David’s vision for the diaconate is both global and prophetic. See what you think! Here is his latest paper: if you wish to quote from it, please always attribute to him.
A diaconal church and order of mission
The shape of things to come
Summary of paper
This paper is prompted by the fact that the world is facing a unique set of global challenges. It argues that if we do not get our act together, humankind may eventually self-destruct.
However, the Christian story, and those acting in response to it down the ages, have left the world with a rich legacy that offers us the chance to survive and flourish. It is a legacy personified by the life of Christ and manifest in the gifts of the kingdom community – life, liberation, love and learning. Such a legacy could make possible the coming into being of one world as a global community of communities.
This legacy has been entrusted to Christians to treasure and communicate. Yet, at this critical moment in history, the church in the West finds itself, on the one hand, pre-occupied with survival and, on the other, embodying a privatized and closed understanding of its faith.
The paper argues that for the church to enable humanity to grasp the good news of the gospel and claim the gifts of the kingdom community, it must become a diaconal or servant church. This means becoming a servant both of the kingdom community and of humankind.
A diaconal church also requires new forms of servant leadership. The task of such leadership is to bring the legacy of Christian faith into the mainstream of human affairs and equip the people of God to enable social collectives, from the local to the global, to manifest the gifts of the kingdom community. Key to this undertaking is the creation of a diaconal order of mission.
The paper explains why this should be a diaconal order. It identifies a number of things currently preventing such an order coming into being and how they might be addressed. It argues that for such an order to become a microcosm of the kingdom community and to be empowered for its mission task it should take on the form a religious order.
The paper contends that for a diaconal order of mission to come into being, an essential requirement is that the diaconate as it currently exists is liberated from anachronistic roles and responsibilities and able to take its place as ‘a full and equal order’ alongside presbyters. It is suggested that within a diaconal church presbyteral ministry could be renewed by becoming an order of continuity.
The Christian legacy
Our world is in a mess! And it is a problem of our own making. There is no need here to do more than mention the litany of potentially self-destructive crises that now encompass the globe. From the destructive consequences of climate change to the extinction of a myriad living species, from weapons of mass destruction to a worldwide web that facilitates false news and leads to the debasement of human values, from the tenacity of poverty and starvation to the proliferation of civil war and violence – such challenges have placed an immense question mark over our future as a human race.
However, making confusion worse confounded, we have failed to mature as a human race and to learn that unless we work together there is no hope of successfully addressing those crises which now threaten our existence. As COVID-19 is making crystal clear, unless we build a world that becomes a global community of communities working together to face the challenges ahead, then humankind could all too soon become a passing phenomenon in the history of evolution.
On the other hand, we live in a world which remains founded on a rich legacy of Christian faith. As Tom Holland has argued with great eloquence, there would be no hope of creating one world if the message of Christianity had not permeated every aspect of western civilization and beyond. This has enabled us to gain a vision, however blurred, of what ‘God’s kingdom on earth’ might look like. It is a vision of a kingdom community which embraces humankind as a whole without destroying the identity and dignity of the part, be that individual or collective.
The fact that we are able to challenge those things that would dehumanize any of our fellow human beings and treasure the planet as a thing of beauty and beneficence are virtues that derive from the life, teaching and passion of Christ and the sharing of the good news of ‘the kingdom come’ down the ages. However much that story has been exploited to justify human greed and cruelty, by powers secular and sacred, its deepest meaning has continued to permeate and enrich countless generations. It is the only story which offers ‘faith, hope and love… (which) abide’ to a world in crisis.
Church and kingdom
Despite its many failures, the church still retains ‘the keys of the kingdom’. However, the church is not the kingdom. It is the servant of the kingdom, and of the Trinity which brought it into being. The church has continued over two millennia to witness to this kingdom and its gifts of life, liberation, love and learning as manifest in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. It continues today to bear witness to that kingdom as the archetype community, a model of wholeness offered to a fragmented and struggling world.
The gifts of the kingdom community go hand-in-hand with responsibilities. For example, the gift of life lays upon humankind the obligation to exercise proper stewardship of the planet; the gift of liberation requires us to pursue justice, exercise forgiveness and strive for reconciliation; the gift of love compels us to accept that the poor, the weak, the marginalized and the oppressed have as much dignity and worth in the sight of God as every other human being; and the gift of learning requires us to commit ourselves to the quest for truth and integrity.
At the same time, the lordship of the Trinity, and its Great Commandment – that we should love God and our neighbor – challenges every other form of authority, secular and sacred, above all any power which attempts to usurp the divine legitimation of the Christian way of life and of what it means to be human.
The importance of kingdom and Trinity remind us that there is urgent need for the church to give much more attention to the meaning of a kingdom theology for our world today.
From a compromised to a diaconal church
Because Christians have such a vital message for our time, it is a tragedy that we so frequently collude with a world which thinks it can go it alone, using up the capital of its Christian inheritance without serious consequences. It is dispiriting that we have become captive to a naïve optimism which relies on human nature and the supposedly inherent virtues of humanity to see us through the uniquely global crises which lie ahead. Have we, along with those who reject the West’s Christian legacy, forgotten that half a century ago human nature gave impetus to the rise of Fascism and the horrors of the holocaust, to Stalinism and the slaughter of millions his people, and to Maoism and the horrendous cultural revolution?
A further calamity is that just when the church is needed to reclaim and proclaim the universal and inclusive message of the kingdom community, millions of Christians have retreated into a privatized and closed form of faith which means salvation for them but for nobody else. By so doing, they have contracted out of challenging the powers that now dehumanize and divide humanity, threatening global fragmentation and the destruction of the planet.
At the same time, the church in the West still remains captive to an anachronistic Christendom way of being. This assumes that it will continue to be able to influence the life of society as an ‘established’ religion, that a hierarchical and clerical doctrine of leadership will continue to carry weight, and that its traditional symbols and rituals will retain their potency with dwindling communities of faith to sustain them. This critical situation requires much more honest recognition of, and far deeper debate about the nature and mission of the church to come than appears evident at the moment.
It is crucial to recognize that we are failing the divine imperative to communicate that the coming of the kingdom community promises salvation for the whole of humankind. It is the promise of a world which can be one in Christ because transformed by the gifts of life, liberation, love and learning. It promises humankind a universal sense of solidarity. At the same time, it affirms human identities of a more circumscribed kind, be they of gender, ethnicity, race or nationhood, provided we recognize that we are ultimately one people because God is a God of love, and to love God is to love our neighbor.
If the church is to reclaim and proclaim the good news of the gospel and the gifts of the kingdom for the salvation of humankind, it must reclaim its true calling as a ‘diaconal’ or servant church. That means striving to reclaim its calling as the servant of the kingdom community, and thus of humankind, by working to enable every group, association, institution and nation to manifest the gifts of that community. It entails working with others to build communities, from the local to the global, transformed by the gifts of the kingdom community. A servant church pursues its mission through the ‘weakness’ of ‘the crucified God’ and not the power of human domination.
A diaconal church is synonymous with servant leadership. The calling of the latter is to make the vision of the kingdom community a reality. It is the contention of this paper that such a form of servant leadership has, embodied in the diaconate, been ready and waiting in the wings since the days of the early church.
The problem has been that as the church became politicized, it began to clone Roman forms of civil authority, integrating these into an hierarchical institution with the diaconate ever more marginalized. It was this institution which, in due course, came to exercise hegemonic domination over the western world. Nor did the Reformation do more than shift the locus of domination, leaving the church as a cohort of rival denominations vying with each other for influence over an increasingly disillusioned world. In this context, it remains a miracle that the Christian narrative of gospel and kingdom carried on being recounted and acted upon, and that, over the centuries, it has permeated the entire life of western civilization and beyond. That legacy is a tribute to the uniqueness and tenacity of the Christian narrative and the dedication and discernment of many faithful servants of Christ over the years.
It is the contention of this paper that to bring this legacy, with its potential to create a global community of communities and a new world order to bear on the crises humankind now faces, requires a diaconal church to commission a diaconal order of mission as exemplifying servant leadership and a means of proclaiming the great news of the kingdom.
A diaconal order of mission
The creation of such a diaconal order of mission would make it clear that the lordship of the Trinity and the primacy of the Great Commandment takes precedence over all forms of hegemonic ecclesiastical authority. The calling of that order would be to encourage human collectives to become microcosms of the kingdom community and engaged in such tasks as the preservation of the planet (the gift of life); the affirmation of the vulnerable and marginalized (the gift of love); the exercise of justice, forgiveness and reconciliation (the gift of liberation); and the quest for truth which is then spoken to power (the gift of learning). The creation of such an order would enable a diaconal church to bear witness to the fact that the future of humanity depends on the good news of the kingdom being heeded and acted upon.
Why should this order of mission be a diaconal order?
In the first place, because the diaconate is already there. Though often hidden or neglected, it has remained an established order of ministry since the days of the early church. The diaconate, in one form or another, is still embedded in the life and work of the majority of denominations. Nor is there any need to invent another form of ministry when the diaconate is in pole position to respond to the needs of a world in danger.
Secondly, since its inception the diaconate has epitomized what is means to be a servant church. One of its primary concerns, as servant leaders, has always been to identify with the powerless, vulnerable and marginalized. From the days of the early church, when the poor, sick and bereaved were its major concern, to the re-emergence of the diaconate in mid-nineteenth century Europe to serve those suffering because of the consequences of the industrial revolution and urbanization, the diaconate has born witness to the contention of Christian faith that the weak, neglected or oppressed have worth and dignity in the sight of God. So significant was this identification with humanity in its weakness that, early on in the life of the church, Ignatius identified the deacon with ‘Christ the Servant’.
Thirdly, from the beginning, the diaconate was not only concerned with the marginalized. It fulfilled a leadership role of considerable importance in the early Christian community at a localand regional level. In the latter situation, the deacon often occupied a position as the representative of the bishop and was prominent in the church’s administrative, financial and legal affairs. In such cases, deacons inevitably became involved in and knowledgeable about the ways and concerns of the wider world.
Fourthly, the diaconate has always worked alongside and sought to equip the laity, the diaconal church’s key missionary resource, for its ministry in daily life. In the early church, the diaconate was deeply involved in educating Christian converts about the meaning of the faith. In the nineteenth century, its educational role extended to children, whether from Christian homes or not, as well as to adults.
Finally, the diaconate has always been an order of ministry well suited to adapt to the changing needs of society and world. Over the years it has fulfilled a wide diversity of responsibilities enabling the church to engage with far-reaching economic, social and cultural changes. It has also witnessed to this changing scene in its contribution to worship, symbolically standing on the threshold between church and world.
Creating a diaconal order of mission
That the diaconate is so well positioned to take on the responsibilities of a new order of mission does not mean that the church is ready for it to do so. A number of significant developments need to take place for such an order to come into being.
In the first place, the diaconate needs to be liberated from roles tied to certain periods of history. Foremost here is a presumption that the primary ministry of the diaconate must be ‘humble service’. Such a ministry remains important. Nevertheless, the critical kairos moment humankind now faces requires that a diaconal church commissions the diaconate, always responsive to the spirit of the age, to take on the larger and even more demanding task of enabling human collectives of all kinds to manifest the gifts of the kingdom community; life, liberation, love and learning. This requires a new diaconal order of mission committed and equipped to enable the worlds of business and finance, education, health and welfare, law and order, and, of course, government, to manifest those gifts.
This new focus of responsibility does not mean that a new diaconal order must go it alone. Far from it. The only way in which the communal transformation of society and world is feasible is for the diaconate to (re)animate, (re)enable and (re)equip ‘the people of God in the world’, as the church’s primary resource for mission, and to work alongside them. Until the mid-twentieth century many lay people were aware of and committed to living out their faith in public life. Since then, the church in the West has turned inwards and allowed the time and energy of its laity to be expended on its own sustainability. A diaconal order of mission would reverse this change of direction.
Because a diaconal order of mission would be dedicated to the building of the kingdom community in wider society, it would need new skills. One such is the confidence and ability to exercise the responsibilities of servant leadership. Unfortunately, centuries of being rejected as ‘a full and equal order’ has produced a diaconate whose members sometimes demonstrate an acceptance of, if not subservience to an entrenched male clericalism. At the same time, some deacons think that to assume a more prominent leadership role in church and world smacks of presumption, and even disloyalty to the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Others fear that exercising such a role may impose on them responsibilities beyond their capacities and require skills which they do not possess. If, therefore, deacons are to assume a key leadership role in a diaconal church, their training needs to embrace an awareness of kingdom theology, the skills and qualities of servant leadership and the ability to equip the people of God for mission in public life.
It is important for the diaconate as an order of mission, at present often widely dispersed and often compelled to work as lone rangers, to have greater coherence and experience a stronger sense of solidarity. One way of this being achieved is for it to become a religious order. This would reflect but not be moulded by the form of religious orders in the past. Its members would be female and male, single and married and include those who were financially supported by the order and self-supported. Its primary purpose would be to model for church and world what it means to be a microcosm of the kingdom community in today’s world.
A diaconal order of mission would carry greater credibility and significance if it were able to embrace and give coherence to the bewildering diversity of ministries – such as so-called ‘mission enablers’, ‘pioneer ministries’ and, even worse, ‘mission champions’ – which the church in the West is currently inventing to try to stem its decline. Such ministries frequently have vague or vast job descriptions, are unrelated to each other and, more important, to the ministry of the people of God in the world. It would give coherence to such ministries, and add experience and skills to a diaconal order of mission, if they were incorporated into the latter.
Finally, a new order of mission needs to be wholeheartedly affirmed by the church to come. This means the latter abandoning the hierarchical model of ordination which first became entrenched when the early church began to clone the approach to civil authority adopted by the Roman world. Out of this emerged the now anachronistic doctrine of ordination being ‘cumulative’ and, later, of a so-called ‘transitional diaconate’. These and other constraining consequences of the past, such as the existence of a single gender diaconate in certain churches, mean that liberating the diaconate to address the needs of today’s world will not be easy. However, this in no way negates the imperative case for change.
The shape of presbyteral ministry within a diaconal church is not the subject of this paper. Suffice it to suggest that, in time, fulfilling a role complementary to that of a renewed diaconate, presbyteral ministry could itself be renewed and empowered by being reframed as an ‘order of continuity’. This is because there still exists the vital task of ‘keeping the home fires of faith burning’ and, in particular, of enabling a diaconal church to worship, pray and learn in ways that inspire, equip and empower it to nurture and resource the people of God for their essential task, alongside a renewed diaconate, of building one world in Christ.
A diaconal imperative
I end this paper where I began by returning to the critical situation in which our world now finds itself and the rich legacy of Christian faith on which we as a human race need to draw if we are to survive and flourish. The nature of a kingdom theology, and the features and form of the diaconal church and the diaconal order of mission now required to make that Christian legacy a reality in today’s world, need informed and ongoing discussion. It is an urgent debate yet one which has hardly begun. However, of this I am convinced. The direction of travel which I outline in this paper is that in which the church worldwide must begin to take if it is to fulfil the purpose for which the Trinity brought it into being.
David Clark became a member of the British Methodist Diaconal Order in 2005. Prior to that, he worked as a Methodist presbyter in Sheffield and inner-city London. From 1973 until 2000 he was a ‘sector minister’ and senior lecturer in community education at Westhill College, Birmingham, a member of the Selly Oak Federation of Mission Colleges.
He played a leading role in the British Christian Community Movement of the 1970s and 1980s, set up and directed the Christians in Public Life Programme from 1992 to 2001, founded the Human City Institute in 1997, and the Kingdom at Work Project in 2014.
He holds a MA in history from Oxford University, a PhD in urban sociology from Sheffield University, and a MEd in community education from Birmingham University.
He is retired but still active and writing.
He can be contacted at email@example.com
M. Barnett (1995, third ed.) The Diaconate: A Full and Equal Order (Harrisburg, PA:Trinity Press)
Clark, D. (2005, London: Epworth; second printing 2014) Breaking the Mould of Christendom: Kingdom community, diaconal church and the liberation of the laity. Peterborough: Upfront Publishing
Clark, D. (ed.) (2008)The Diaconal Church – beyond the mould of Christendom (London: Epworth Press: (2017) Peterborough: Upfront Publishing; reprinted
Clark, D. (2016) Building Kingdom Communities – with the diaconate as a new order of mission (Peterborough: Fast-print Publishing)
Clark, D. (2018) The gift of a renewed diaconate – and the contribution of British Methodism (Peterborough: Fast-print)
Collins, J. N. (1990) Diakonia: Re-interpreting the Ancient Sources. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Collins, J.N. (2014) Diakonia Studies: Critical issues in ministry. Oxford: Oxford University Press
DIAKONIA. The World Federation of Diaconal Associations and Communities (for legal purposes domiciled in the Netherlands) – www.diakonia-world.org
Ditewig, W. T. (2007) The Emerging Diaconate – Servants Leaders in a Servant Church. New York/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press
Epting, S. W. (2015) Unexpected Consequences – The Diaconate Renewed. New York: Morehouse Publishing
Francis (Pope) (2015) Laudato Si (On care for our common home). UK: Amazon
Holland, Tom (2019) Dominion – The Making of the Western Mind. London: Abacus
Jackson, M (ed.) (2019) The Diaconate in Ecumenical Perspective – Ecclesiology, Liturgy and Practice. Durham: The Sacristy Press
Möltmann, J. (1973) The Crucified God. London: SCM Press
Staton, M. W. (2013) ‘The Development of Diaconal Ministry in the Methodist Church in Britain’ in Theology and Ministry – An Online Journal. (Vol. 2) University of Durham: St John’s College – www.durham.ac.uk/theologyandministry
Robinson, J. (1965) The New Reformation? SCM-Canterbury Press: London
The Windsor Statement of the United Kingdom Ecumenical Diaconal Consultation. (1997, October 1-3) Birmingham: Methodist Diaconal Order.
Issued following a consultation between the Church of Scotland, the Scottish Episcopal Church, the British Methodist Church, the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England. The consultation also included conversations with a United Reformed Church CRCW and a deacon in training in the Orthodox Church.
 A phrase first used by J. M. Barnett, The Diaconate: A Full and Equal Order.
 Tom Holland (2019) Dominion – the Making of the Western Mind
 William Ditewig, a leading Roman Catholic deacon in the United States, states, in The Emerging Diaconate, that from the fifth century onwards the diaconate, hitherto a leadership calling of considerable importance in the early church, steadily declined (p. 75). A key reason for this was ‘the development of the idea of the cursus honorum’ within the church of the Constantinian era. The cursus honorum was imported from the Roman civil administration and indicated a succession of grades through which one progressed from the lower to the higher. Thus the practice of ‘rising through the ranks’, in the form of sequential ordination, began increasingly to shape the ordained leadership of Christendom from that era onwards.
 As Holland, op.cit., argues with great acumen and persuasiveness.
 One noteworthy recognition of this calling is found in the ecumenical Windsor Declaration of 1997. This called for the vocation of a renewed diaconate to be: ‘Christ-focused, people-centred and lived out in a lifestyle both active and contemplative… We increasingly perceive our role to be pioneering and prophetic, responding to needs, proactive in opportunity through commitment to mission and pastoral care within and beyond the Church. Opening doors of opportunity, encouraging others to take risks, the contemporary diaconate acting in its capacity as an ‘‘agent of change’’, engages imaginatively and collaboratively with issues of justice, poverty, social and environmental concerns. We often find ourselves spanning boundaries, especially official ones of Church and society.’
 Michael Jackson’s The Diaconate in Ecumenical Perspective is a ground-breaking symposium which demonstrates the richness but extreme diversity of current expressions of diaconal ministry. Some of these would seem in a good position to move towards becoming an order of mission. Others are at present far removed from such a development. A useful overview of the forms of and opinions concerning the diaconate contained in this symposium has been produced by David Clark and Maurice Staton (see Bibliography).
 This assumption about the diaconal role in the early church and after has been authoritatively challenged by John Collins.
 One encouraging development in the middle of the last century was the reaffirmation of the primacy of the laity in the mission of the church, as in the case of Vatican II, a development which has sadly succumbed to a tenacious clericalism in recent decades.
 One of the foremost examples today of a diaconal order as a religious order is the British Methodist Diaconal Order. For a description of this see Maurice Staton ‘The Development of Diaconal Ministry in the Methodist Church in Britain’, and David Clark’s The Gift of a Renewed Diaconate. pp. 3-7, 69-79.
 This assumes that the priest continues to embody the hallmarks of the deacon; and the bishop continues to embody the hallmarks of the deacon and the priest.
 There is increasing questioning of the validity of the ‘transitional’ diaconate from deacons and presbyters, including a growing number of Anglican bishops.
See also articles by Susanne Epting and Alison Peden in Michael Jackson’s The Diaconate in Ecumenical Perspective, pp. 35-52.
 See articles by Gloria Jones and Brian Butcher in Michael Jackson’s The Diaconate in Ecumenical Perspective, pp. 72-87.
 For a detailed description of prebyteral ministry as an order of continuity see David Clark, Building Kingdom Communities, pp. 141-157.
Thanks, Michael! He then goes on to raise the thorny Issue of Sequential and Cumulative Ordination, looking at the different opinions in the Church of England and the Roman Catholic church, and considering again the wisdom and likelihood of abolishing the ‘transitional’ diaconate.
By and large, opinion in the Church of England views the diaconal ministry of service as an integral part of, and hence a necessary preparation for, the priesthood, to the extent that many advocate a transitional diaconate extending several years rather than the traditional year. At the limit, says Francis Young, presbyters and bishops are “another group of deacons” and you don’t need “distinctive deacons to represent the diaconate.” The notion of direct or per saltum ordination to the priesthood and abolition of the transitional diaconate gains no traction in the Church of England, although it has been widely discussed elsewhere.
This is a fascinating article, with a fresh ‘take’ on the genesis of the diaconate, and a strong emphasis on the exodus as parallelled, patterned and transformed by the church in Acts.
With the choice of the Seven, it is not only the diaconate but ordained ministry that is coming into being before our eyes, inviting us to consider this episode not only as a window onto the diaconate but onto Christian ordination as such. This would explain why Luke shows not the slightest interest in how the Seven go about dealing with food. His attention is focused on how Stephen, “full of grace and power, did great wonders among the people” (6:8). After Stephen’s martyrdom, he directs his attention to another one of the Seven, Philip, a great evangelist, healer, and catechist (8:2–40). His mission to the hated Samaritans and his baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch (probably a Jew but unclean by virtue of his castration) pave the way for the church’s oncoming embrace of Gentiles. Both Stephen and Philip are living out the agenda they were set apart for. Stephen calls the church back into exodus mode; Philip is constantly moving from one wilderness road to another, proclaiming the good news to outcasts and strangers as he goes. We are not to imagine this agenda as theirs alone. It is the agenda of a church that has come to terms with its own need to be chastened, reimagined, and thrust out onto new paths. Together, Stephen and Philip exemplify the fundamental purpose of ordained ministry. As agents of the people they are to keep the people on track.
For the expert in the law, it is all about clearly defined rules. And he knows them, too. He knows them so well he thinks he can challenge Jesus. How sad that he completely misses the point. How sad that what fills his head fails to penetrate his heart. Jesus came to fulfil the law, to free him from the rules, and to give him eternal life. If he knew that, it would completely change everything. He would not stand there debating, either. He would be out doing.
Jesus’ story about the Samaritan and the beaten man is a perfect example of how Jesus changes the rules. Does the expert see himself in the story? Can he recognize that he is also a “road crosser,” like the priest and the Levite? Perhaps he should also see himself in the wounded man – someone with a different kind of wound. A man also in need of compassion.
There is only one way to respond to Jesus’ final question. The expert is forced to answer in a way that must have made him squirm: the Samaritan –an outsider, an enemy –is the neighbour to the wounded man. Jesus has expertly tested the expert. There is nothing left to say.
Compassion, like that of the Samaritan’s, cannot be about rules. Compassion must engage the heart. As love for our Heavenly Father deepens and broadens, compassion for our neighbour will flow out of that love. As we more and more understand what it is to receive grace, we will be grace-filled and will love our neighbour out of thankfulness.
Who is our neighbour? We answer with the expert that our neighbour is the one in need. But perhaps we should first see the need in ourselves. We are not so different from our neighbour; the “wounds” may just look different, like the Samaritan. He may not have had external wounds but he was despised and marginalized in Jewish society. Let compassion come from those places of pain and weakness that we share.
And notice the kind of compassion Jesus offers is practical. The Samaritan happened to be on the same road as the beaten man. He was thorough and generous in his help, but he helped within his means. The Samaritan took care of the man’s wounds, but it meant paying the innkeeper to look after him beyond that initial care.
Similarly, we may look for opportunities to be compassionate where we are. There may be different places to serve, and some may ask us to go outside of our comfort zone. We must be thorough –not only looking to immediate needs, but thinking deeper about the injustices that contribute to the context. We must also think about longer-term solutions for the people to whom we show compassion. And there may be an “innkeeper” whose partnership will help, when it is beyond our capacity to respond further.
Jesus is practical. He turns a test around, and into an opportunity for instruction. The parable silences His accuser, but it can also teach so much about the compassion that Jesus Himself exhibited in His life and ministry. Praise God that in a small way each one of us, in our own context, may proclaim freedom from the rules, and allow our hearts to be engaged for the hurting, the mistreated and the marginalized.
Jesus knows the crowds around Him. He has been to Capernaum before. The last time He was here, the crowds had listened and watched Him with amazement, quick to recognize that Jesus was different from other teachers and religious leaders. The people had not been able to contain their amazement at His teaching, His authority, and His power. The news about Him had spread around the entire region.
It is no wonder then, that on His return to Capernaum, Jesus has drawn a large crowd. So large, in fact, that there seems to be no way to get close to Him. For many, it is enough just to hear Him speak. For four determined friends, however, it is not enough. The story is familiar: the friends carry the paralyzed man up to the roof, cut a hole in it, and lower the man to Jesus.
There is urgent need here and clear determination. Like the crowds below them, the friends have likely seen and heard how amazing Jesus is. They also have hope. They hope in the healing that Jesus can provide. But notice that Jesus sees the faith of the four friends. Faith goes a step further –it is being sure of what we hope for (Hebrews 11:1a). And what does Jesus do in response to their faith? He forgives and then heals.
Jesus has a different idea of hope. He is the source of all hope, and He knows truest need. Before healing the man who cannot walk, Jesus forgives his sins. Of course He is mindful of the crowds, mindful of the teachers of the law gathered around Him and judging Him. He is teaching them something, too – revealing who He is by showing that both forgiveness and healing are possible with God. So if the lesson for the leaders seems to be about authority, perhaps the lesson for the four friends is more about hope.
Hope is precious. It is a powerful motivator. It compels us to envision something better. In an imperfect and often painful world, the beautiful promise of Heaven’s perfection is the source of our hope. What a privilege it is to share the vision of what is to come. Yet meeting needs and sharing hope are often connected. The hopeful vision of justice for the poor and marginalized, the possibility of a better life or of new possibilities is grounded in a more hopeful vision of a world renewed and redeemed by God, transformed and perfect. This is the true source of hope.
Deacons, you are agents of hope. As you meet needs and bless your community with the compassion of Christ, you will be bringing hope. And hope does not disappoint, because the hope you bring is rooted and grounded in your faith in a God who loves justice, and has a heart for the poor and marginalized. Our God will bring reconciliation and justice. This is the God in whom you put your faith. This is the God who will give you what you need to inspire hope.
Simply by your love and your actions, your neighbours will begin to envision a different future. As you build and establish relationships, and as trust and love develops, keep your mind and heart open to the prompting of the Spirit to share the source of all hope.
Praise God that He is already at work in your community and invites you to join Him in bringing hope!