At our recent national conference ‘Deacons on the Move’, Deacon Alison Handcock (Bath and Wells)

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led our final worship which included this reflection, read by different voices, which she calls simply ‘With‘.  A number of people were very struck by it and have asked for a copy:  Alison is happy for you to use it.

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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 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.

(Different Voices)

  1. 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.
  1. But we are called to go together. ..to ‘be’ and to ‘go’ WITH Him and WITH others to places beyond our boundaries.
  1. But both prove difficult at times;  for ‘WITH’ requires us to listen. . . to truly listen, to him and to others.
  1. WITH’ forces us to let go of control and our preconceived ideas.
  1. WITH’ confronts the language of comparison and coercion by respecting and rejoicing in difference.
  1. WITH’ challenges us to walk slower and more intentionally, to carefully navigate choppy waters in order to see a different view.
  1. 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.
  1. ‘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.
  1. WITH’ is counter cultural, it goes against the grain . . . take no sandals, no purse, no attitude that will hinder what Jesus says.
  1. 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.
  1. ‘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’.

Deacon Alison Handcock (Deacons’ conference 2018)


(Twitter image With Winner)

('With' is slightly edited for length and for ease of use)


Deacon Alison Handcock is the first to respond to my invitation for deacon stories about how your diaconal ministry crosses boundaries.  Here is her story:

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Boundary crossing seems key to me.
As a woman in a predominantly male deanery (with Conservative Evangelical/REFORM Area Dean) there are times when crossing the boundaries of tradition, gender and theology can be painful and challenging.  But I believe it is foundational to the gospel of reconciliation and helps towards greater understanding.  I sit on the ‘Magnificat Parish’ strategy group in the diocese (Bath and Wells name for UPA estates ministry) and the Mission Enabler Group, often giving voice to those who are not around the table,  particularly the marginalised.
I was involved today in Pioneer supervision training and found myself straddling and speaking up for both the pioneer and inherited leaders perspectives.  On placement recently I spent some time with a Buddhist chatting about social action in the village and spirituality, and found we had such a lot in common.
In the church I find myself crossing boundaries of tradition and innovation in order to try to facilitate/create worship that relates to the community, and challenges the church congregations to look outward and to serve in those beyond our walls:  for example, taking part in our around the campfire christmas celebration with the local community association, or supporting our community pet service.
I have found myself in conversations with LGBT people and  trying to bridge the gap and apologising for the hurt that has often been caused by ‘the church’.
Recently I was invited by a social worker who wants to work with the church to visit a family who couldn’t afford a school uniform.  We supplied the uniform and a Lay Pastoral Assistant to visit regularly.
Working WITH is key to diaconal ministry; always in partnership WITH.
When I worked for the chaplaincy at RNAS Yeovilton, having had no military background, it felt like cross-cultural mission in terms of learning a ‘new language’ and negotiating the dynamics of power in the structures.
Other boundaries that I try to cross regularly are ecumenical, involving townwide churches working together, as well as linking the diocese with parish/deanery.
‘Pioneers’ speak of cross cultural mission and crossing boundaries too.
It seems that scarcely a day goes by without Alison crossing boundaries of one kind or another.  Many thanks to her for sharing this with us.
What’s your story?  Do send it to me at deacons@tutanota.com


For me,  Reader ministry was about bringing insights and perspectives from everyday life as a lay person into the liturgical and preaching life of the church for all ages.

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Now I’m a Deacon I get the opportunity to:

  • represent the Church visibly and sacramentally in the marketplace and to bridge the gap between church and world
  • baptise when requests for baptism arise out of my relationships in the community
  • model to the church and world the ministry of Jesus by engaging with those ‘on the edge’, and speaking up for those without a voice
  • empower and equip the church to make Jesus known through their own discipleship and desire to serve.

Deacons I hope can be instrumental in articulating and modelling a more kingdom-focussed, all inclusive, servant-hearted structure in the Church and thus more able to ‘Set God’s People Free’ – both clergy and laity.

I love the idea of David moving from presbyter to deacon . . . I think it speaks much about the humility and equality Jesus (and the Benedictines) modelled.

Alison Handcock, Bath and Wells diocese