CALLED TO BE A DEACON: Miriam Swaffield

(Dated 17 June 2018)
In a couple of weeks time, July 1st in fact, there might appear a photo or two online that will feature a bunch of people, including me, wearing some unusual clothes (that I have borrowed), standing around York Minster and a statement that will announce the ‘ordination of deacons’. And on that day, I’ll be one of them. So for the church families I am part of, this story is for you…
I walked into a local Church of England faith community nearly ten years ago as a fresher looking for the right place to call ‘home’ whilst studying at the University of York. I found a ‘fresh expression of church’ called G2 to be a place with Jesus at the heart of the vision and accessible for my housemates to try church, and so it’s where I settled, served, and was raised into leadership. I stayed in York post-uni for another six years serving on the leadership team of G2, because I so believe in what Jesus is up to amongst us. And since our church turned out to be part of a much bigger, older family called the Church of England, it was initially by circumstance, rather than choice, that I’ve been in the Anglican Church for the best part of a decade and felt no call to go anywhere else.
Three years ago I began studying a part-time Masters in Theology, Mission and Ministry at Cranmer Hall, a Christian training college that’s part of the University of Durham. I did this because I found myself teaching and preaching the Bible much more than I expected all over the place, and really wanted help to make sure I was doing so as best as I can. I also very kindly got invited to sit in on lots more classes going on at Cranmer, and by the generosity of Fusion (the movement I work for) I was released to commute a day a week during term time up to Durham, so that I could benefit from more training and equipping during my Masters years. And so I attended all the Church of England leaders-in-training classes as well, and discovered lots of things I didn’t know, and also got my thinking stretched on things I thought I did!
The last three years have also involved a proper wrestle with God, myself, my ego, my nearest and dearest, and those in senior leadership around me, about the idea that God might be calling me to be ordained in the Church of England. By ordained I mean like officially blessed and recognised as a leader within the Church of England, for the benefit of the one whole church of God. (In other words, the Church of England basically say “we can vouch for her as a leader who is anointed, supported, trained, trusted and accountable, and we want to recognise and confirm God’s work and call on her to serve his universal church.”) This was a steep learning curve for me as I wasn’t used to this kind of thing. My dad is a Baptist minister, so I had to learn about a different system and how senior church leadership is understood for the Church of England. Three years down the line I have found peace with the idea of being ordained as a deacon.
What’s a deacon? Well it’s not a glamorous or well known job description these days (which I love about it!) but the call on a deacon is to really get the church mobilised around mission, those on the margins, the out-of-the-buildings-and-into-the-world kinda stuff we are desperate for, and particularly to preach the good news of God’s Kingdom to those most in need. This resonates with what I want my life to be about, why I moved myself to Middlesbrough last Autumn, and what I do in my work with Fusion as we equip the church to reach students and transform universities.
In the short term, nothing changes about my day to day life, not even my clothes! (That is, unless I want to wear a dog collar on the daily and update my passport with “Rev” before my name…). I am more committed than ever to my full time job helping lead Fusion forwards as we see God stir his church powerfully across Europe. I am continuing to be an active part of St Barnabas church in Middlesbrough, helping lead the evening service, and also kick start a new season of student mission across Teesside. My oversight, support and further coaching continues to be primarily from Rev Christian Selvaratnam, the legendary leader of G2, Rev Matthew Porter and locally Bishop Paul Ferguson also kindly looks out for me. Together as a G2 strategy team, we continue to seek to serve other places, churches, and people, and to play our part in seeing the revitalisation of the church, especially in the North of England, and we are experimenting with how to do this in lots of ways all the time. So it’s kind of business as usual.
I can’t answer questions of “why are you doing this?” Or “why do you think you need this if you’re doing it already?” with any better explanation than “I think Jesus has asked it of me.” Simply, my yes is to him, even though I don’t fully know why, and maybe it’ll only fully make sense in twenty years time. I don’t subscribe to everything everyone might assume it means to be part of the Church of England, just like any other person wouldn’t do about their church community or denomination or any sweeping assumptions people make. This doesn’t mean I suddenly love all of the systems, structures of denominations, because I don’t. And no, I’m sorry to say this doesn’t mean I am now “like the Vicar of Dibley” (even though she was the only female senior church leader I’d ever seen growing up!).
I do believe in the local church, being part of a family that’s bigger than you, and I do desperately believe in radical obedience to God even when it costs or seems strange. My yes is to Jesus. My yes is to the belief that G2 has a part of play in the wider Church of England’s vision and renewal. My yes is to being trained, accountable and “from somewhere” as I travel all over the world working with churches. I’m not a maverick itinerant with no home. I live somewhere, serve somewhere, am being looked after, looked out for, and grounded somewhere. And it is the Church of England who have thrown the weight of their support, encouragement and blessing behind me. And that feels like it just might be a gift from God even if it wasn’t expected or imagined.


The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, ordained 17 serving Readers to be Deacons in the Church of God during a service in York Minster on Sunday 13th January 2019.

As Readers the candidates were admitted and licensed after a process of selection and training and have served as licensed assistant lay ministers, supporting local churches and clergy in a variety of roles including as teachers, preachers, worship leaders and co-ordinators of community outreach amongst people of all ages. After a process of prayer and discernment, the Archbishop ordained the 17 candidates as Deacons to reflect the development of their individual ministry, which is recognisable in the description of a Deacon’s work used in the ordination service:

‘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.’

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The Archbishop of York said, “I have had the great privilege to meet Readers across the Diocese who are exercising their ministry both in the church but also reaching out in mission to their communities – supporting local community projects, working with schools and care homes, engaging with people who wouldn’t normally come to church.  This missional, servant-hearted work is more usually recognised in the church as the ministry of a Deacon.  It is a great joy to be with these servants of God and his Church as they take this next step in their journey following where he leads, and sometimes after many years of faithful service already. Praise be to our God who is always calling us onward!”

The candidates, who continue to serve in their present parishes, are as follows:

  • Diane Berry serves in the Benefice of South Holderness Coast. With Alan she has two daughters and five grandchildren. Having first felt called to be a Deacon in 2008 when employed by a church as a Children and Youth Worker, Diane moved to Withernsea to be a Teaching Assistant, and after training and became a Reader in November 2017.  “In early 2018 I was invited to consider Deacon ministry, ten years after I first felt called. Amazingly, God brings those he calls to where they need to be despite any obstacles.”
  • Bronnie Broadhurst has been a Reader for 25 years and serves in Pocklington. A church member all her life, she sang in the choir at six and was confirmed at age 12. Bronnie has two married daughters and two grandchildren. Her ministry has grown to involve her in school collective worship, home communions, leading the pastoral team, visiting care homes, taking funerals, sharing Baptism and Confirmation preparation, and she believes that God has called her now to become a Deacon. “The call to take God’s Word into the community and be able to baptise affirmed this.  I have been inspired by the Archbishop on his Pilgrimages and am convinced the Holy Spirit will give me what I need to follow God’s calling.”
  • Janet Caldwell has served as a Reader at St Cuthbert’s, Ormesby, for for 11 years. She first felt called to Christian ministry at 17, and after many twists and turns along the way she did not expect to be accepted in 2018 for ordination as Deacon. “My late parents and grandparents were crucial in the development of my faith and trust they will be celebrating with me on 13th January if on another shore! I first visited York Minster when I was four and was fascinated by Archbishop Thomson’s dog.”
  • Judith Dean serves as a Reader at Seamer with Ayton and Cayton. “I have been a reader for four years, and as my ministry developed it became increasingly out in the community, to be with and to support those in the more rural areas of our parish. At work, being general manager of a garden centre, I also have the opportunity to act as chaplain.”
  • Kath Dean has served as a Reader for ten years in St Oswald and St Chad, Grove Hill in Middlesbrough. Married to Barry for 44 years, they have three children and six grand-children; family life is very important. She leads The Genesis Project providing the local community with various Kids’ Clubs, a Parent and Toddler Group, a yearly family holiday at Wydale’s Emmaus Centre and a free weekly Community Lunch. “I felt the call to ordination before becoming a Reader but the priesthood didn’t seem the right way to go, so when recently being offered the chance to be ordained as a Distinctive Deacon I just knew that this was right for me.”
  • Jean Fowler has served for four years as a Reader at Bridlington Priory, where an ‘inspirational Rector’ has allowed her to do everything from leading a Pet Blessing Service to preaching to hundreds of people at midnight mass. “When I look at my journey I realise that the steps that I have taken have always been taken through the encouragement of others. Of course God was behind it all but somehow I lacked the confidence to see in myself what he and others could see. It has been amazing and it is only when I sit and really study where I came from and where I am now that I realise that I was being prepared for what God had in mind all along.  It just took me a while to catch up.”
  • David Haddon-Reece serves as a Reader in Lastingham with Appleton le Moors, Rosedale and Cropton. An engineer and physicist in archaeological science whose hobbies include heraldry, music, recreational mathematics, clocks and country living, David’s Christian faith was rekindled on early retirement in 1990, leading him to serve as churchwarden, organist and (since 2002) Reader, as well marrying the Revd Christine. “In my pilgrimage of spiritual growth, it’s been a real privilege to serve as a minister, as an Electrics and Lighting Advisor, and an Honorary Chaplain at York Minster. Ordination to Deacon offers a wonderful opportunity to make God even more visible among the people of His Kingdom.”
  • Margaret Hall has served as a Reader since 2015 in West Buckrose. Describing herself as having been a ‘mixed-up kid’, she became a Christian at 23. “Suddenly, I was quite clear about what I was here for and where I was going – and that the whole world needed to know about this God I had found!” Margaret has found Reader ministry fulfilling and purposeful, and now feels God’s calling to become a Deacon as the next step along the path he has mapped for her. “My desire now is to be faithful to that path”.
  • Shirley Hebden has served as a Reader since 2013 in Beeford with Lissett and Dunnington with Frodingham and Foston with Leven and Brandesburton, after a career in adult education working in prisons, college and the community. “I then felt the call to further develop my ministry in the community. This led to offering myself for ordination to the permanent diaconate. I have recently completed a B.A. in Theology, Ministry & Mission and enjoy times with family and friends, reading, walking, cooking for others and quizzing.”
  • Dot Hicks serves as a Reader at St Mary’s, Strensall, with two daughters and four grandsons. Her spare time is spent researching family history. “When I came to faith I began a journey with God. My journey eventually took me down the training route to become a Reader, a role I have enjoyed for just over four years. My journey did not end there; God had other plans for me, just as he has for every one of us. This time I was called to consider becoming a Deacon and so where God leads me I will follow.”
  • Peter Higson became a Reader in 2006 in the Diocese of Glasgow & Galloway after studying at the Theological Institute of the Scottish Episcopal Church, and now serves in the Benefice of Middle Esk Moor. After taking early retirement from a career in banking he completed a Bachelor of Divinity degree at the University of Glasgow before moving to Yorkshire. Peter combines the role of Reader with volunteer work on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, and believes his call to be a Deacon will give new focus and drive to spreading a Christian presence.
  • Judy Lindsey has served as a Reader in New Earswick and Huntington for 27 years. She has been married to David for 48 years with three sons and seven  grandchildren nearby. Judy retired last year from psychiatric nursing after 20 years working at The Retreat Hospital. “I actually felt the first call to ordained ministry as an eight-year-old Brownie during our monthly church service in Cheshire, so it is not a recent idea! My interests are painting,  reading, films, theatre and travelling, and I am looking forward to returning to Jerusalem in April.”
  • Wendy Plant serves as a Reader in Sherburn in Elmet with Barkston Ash, Saxton, Aberford and  Micklefield. Over 40 years her ministry as a Reader has developed from mainly preaching and teaching to include work in the community, regularly assisting at the Eucharist in a nursing home specialising in dementia care and leading special services, taking school assemblies, Confirmation preparation and leading projects centred on the church within the community. “Hopefully my future ministry will gain from my experience as an active Grandma to 2 teenagers (involved in worship), having a working single parent son and being married to a retired priest as well as formerly being an Assistant Headteacher in a deprived area of Leeds.”
  • Bob Sidgwick has served as a Reader in Thirsk for nearly ten years. An Army veteran of 22 years’ service, he’s now a keen biker and spends a lot of time with bikers, evangelising and talking about his faith, and serving as Chaplain to a branch of the British Legion Riders known as the Yorkshire Hooligans. Bob’s wife Pauline serves as a Reader alongside him; they have three children, seven grandchildren and ten Great grandchildren. “I consider myself as a Christian under construction; God has not finished with me yet, and this seems the next step he has for me. During my training as a Reader I was diagnosed with oesophagus cancer; during my illness I knew people were holding me in their prayers. I do truly believe that prayer does work; God has a major part in my life and I continue to become stronger in my faith every day.”
  • Ken Townley became a Reader in Wakefield Diocese in 1995 and has served in the Barmby Moor Group of parishes for the last 15 years. He worked for ICI for 40 years and retired as a senior manager involved in safety management. For over 25 years he volunteered in various parts of the health service. Ken and his wife Dot are active members of the Mothers’ Union; they have 2 married children and four grandchildren. “I see being a Deacon being the next step on my Christian journey and an opportunity to bring the good news to the people of Barmby Moor group and the surrounding villages.”
  • John Wells has served for 13 years as a Reader at St Mary with Holy Apostles, Scarborough, where he has developed a ministry outside the walls of the church as well as within. He has been involved in ‘Fresh Expressions of Church’; with his wife and working together with other churches he has led Alpha Courses and Healing on the Streets in Scarborough for five years. He is married with two children and five grandchildren, and interests in sport (particularly football and cricket), music (as a listener) and theatre. “I have been involved in social action via the Rainbow Centre and as vice chair of Westway Open Arms. I am committed to introducing people to Jesus.”
  • Sally Wilson has served as a Reader since 2011 in Danby with Castleton, Commondale, Westerdale and Moorsholm. She is married to Barry with two sons. Over the last couple of years her work has expanded to include working in schools, with the elderly and the wider community.  “I felt that God was calling me to ordained ministry and when the opportunity came to apply for the diaconate, things all fell into place! I am excited but humbled by the chance to serve God in a different way – and to draw others to him.”

Please pray for these new deacons.


This is enormously heartening news from the Archbishop of York.  He is a strong supporter of the diaconate.  Many of us have known for a long time that there are Readers who are exercising a diaconal rather than a Reader ministry, and who, if they had been made aware of the diaconate at the time they candidated for ministry, would have wanted seriously to consider it.  What this article omits, is that ++John has said that Readers being ordained as Deacons must stay in the Order of Deacon for seven years before they can candidate for priesthood.   This is important to prevent people seeing the diaconate merely as a back door to priesthood, rather than a vital ministry in its own right.

If this bold initiative works well, it would be such good news for the diaconate, and pave the way perhaps for a national movement.  Now that would be exciting.  We pray on!

From the Church Times article.

LICENSED Readers in the diocese of York are being invited to consider ordination to the diaconate under a scheme proposed by the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu.

In a letter to all licensed lay Readers and Readers with permission to officiate in the diocese, sent in September and seen by the Church Times this week, Dr Sentamu speaks of a pilot ministry scheme started last year in the Northern Ryedale deanery, a large rural deanery of York.

“I have invited Readers to consider whether their ministry is already that of a Deacon and to begin to discern with their incumbents whether they are being called to ordination,” he writes. “Not everyone who is a Reader is called in this way — many Readers will consider themselves to be called to the equally important ministry of pastor [or] teacher rather than a Deacon.”

Dr Sentamu says that he was inspired by the “missional, servant-hearted” ministry of Readers during his recent pilgrimage around the northern dioceses. If the pilot is successful, the strategy would be implemented, deanery by deanery, this year, he writes.

No ordinations have yet taken place, but Dr Sentamu will be ordaining the first two deacons as part of the initiative, in April.

The diocesan Warden of Readers, the Ven. Samantha Rushton, the Archdeacon of Cleveland, explained on Tuesday: “This is just one aspect of a wide-ranging review of ministry that we are undertaking as part of the refresh of our diocesan strategy.”

One question, she said, was whether Reader-deacons would remain deacons, or progress to the priesthood. “We have become used to the idea that the diaconate is a transitional ministry, just a staging post to ‘full ordination’. That is not what the diaconate is supposed to be about.

“This is an important ministry in its own right, and the Readers who will be ordained to this ministry are those who are already exercising a diaconal-shaped ministry, and will continue to do so after ordination. It may be that their calling will change over time, and they may be called to the priesthood, but that is unlikely to be any time soon.”

It was too early to say how much uptake there would be, Archdeacon Rushton said, but she understood that other dioceses were exploring a general “renewal” of the diaconal ministry. “We are still testing the water. We are aware that the Church’s understanding of the diaconate has been a little neglected for some time; so we are building understanding as we develop our ministry strategy.”

In his letter, Dr Sentamu enclosed a description of the required criteria for those considering ordination to the diaconate. This included having the support of the incumbent and PCC, not having been divorced and remarried (or their spouse having been divorced and remarried), and “not belonging to the British National Party [BNP] or any organisation whose constitution, policies, objectives, or public statements are incompatible with the Church of England’s commitment to promoting racial equality”.

Potential candidates should also note, it says, that ordained ministers are unable to take certain positions within the Church which are exclusively lay, such as being a member of the House of Laity at General Synod, diocesan and deanery Synods; “lay dean”; churchwarden; and member of a PCC if no longer licensed to the parish.

Candidates would be required to attend post-ordination training for three years: an “apprenticeship-style scheme” which would be developed by the York School of Ministry and the diocesan training team. “This is also an ongoing work in progress,” Archdeacon Rushton said, “and is being tailored to recognise the theological training and ecclesiastical experience of those being ordained as deacons who have already served as Readers.”


Recently, the Archbishop of York, an enthusiastic advocate, support and friend of the diaconate, published his Presidential Address to his Diocesan Synod (5 November 2016) advocating a fresh approach to ministry.

He asked for copies to be distributed to everyone in  church communities across the Diocese of York.

This is now available in booklet form:  see link and also this blog’s pages (right hand side)

Here’s what he says about deacons:

Their aim is that the work of service may go on. The word used for service is diakonia; and the main idea which lies behind this word is that of practical service. The office-bearer is not to be a person who simply talks on matters of theology and of Church law; they are in office to see that practical service of God’s poor and lonely people goes on.

This means that every mission unit (parish) must have office-bearers who are equipped by the Gifts of Grace. In every mission unit there must be a desire for the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Evangelists, pastors and teachers, a Renewed Diaconal Ministry, Presbyters, and differing ministries by every one. When the Ministry of Readers was restored 150 years ago, they were meant to be the go-between the Church and the World. Frankly this is what the office-bearer of Deacon is as we see in Acts 6 and in our Ordinal.
The Ordination of Deacons
God calls his people to follow Christ, and forms us into a royal priesthood, a holy nation, to declare the wonderful deeds of him who has called us out of darkness into his marvellous light..[3]
The Church is the Body of Christ, the people of God and the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit. .[4] In baptism the whole Church is summoned to witness to God’s love and to work for the coming of his kingdom.
To serve this royal priesthood, God has given a variety of ministries. Deacons are ordained so that the people of God may be better equipped [5] 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. [6]
[3] cf 1 Peter 2.9; Exodus 19.6; Revelation 1.6, 5.10
[4] cf 1 Corinthians 12.27; 1 Peter 2.10; 1 Corinthians 3.16
[5] cf Ephesians 4.12
[6] cf John 13.14


It would be good to have a Leadership Team in every Mission Unit.
It would be good to have Prayer-Triplets in every Mission Unit.
It would be good for every Leadership Team to discern the gifts in the Body of Christ in that place; and we will commission them.
It would be good to turn Multi-Benefice Parishes into manageable United Parishes, and to hold an act of worship in every church on Sunday. We will train catechists to do this.

Radically, he also is encouraging Readers who believe their ministry is primarily diaconal, to explore the diaconate with vocations advisers: 

Clearly some Readers know themselves to be called to the ministry of pastor/teacher. We honour this. Maybe they should be commissioned as such – at their licensing. But some may know themselves to be called to the ministry of deacon. These we should ordain and like in the Porvoo Churches they will not be allowed to seek the possibility of Ordination to the Priesthood before seven years in the Ministry of Deacon.

The full document can be found here